Jeff Davidson's book, Simpler Living, was Amazon Kindle #1 in its category, first quarter, 2012. Jeff is featured in the NY Times, Forbes, Chicago Tribune, Businessweek, Fortune, Organized Executive, and Success.

Make Efficiency a Routine

Efficiency can be described as doing a job correctly, or as the measure of productivity and how swiftly you can accomplish something.

Efficiency Related Activities

  • Establish a routine of departing the house easily in the morning
  • Set out clothes, work materials, or briefcase the night before
  • Address overnight communications (phone message, fax, email) before mid-morning
  • Be professional but succinct on the phone
  • Type email responses correctly on the first try
  • Minimize break time
  • Use spare time during the day to complete smaller tasks
  • Bring a bag lunch and eat at your desk
  • Handle errands in a circular route
  • Delay errands that can wait
  • Update files as a part of a daily routine
  • Assemble meeting notes and conduct or attend meetings on time
  • Stick to the daily agendas as closely as possible
  • Straighten up after completing a task instead of letting things pile up
  • Maintain flagging energy in the late afternoon
  • Finish up as many things as possible before departing
  • Exercise right after work
  • Visit the gas station as necessary

Efficiency is Admirable

In the quest to get things done, many career professionals are able to display high levels of efficiency in dispatching this task and that, however the more compelling issue is: are they even embarking on the right task? Are they tackling that task or project to which it makes the most sense to be devoting their time and attention?

On a daily basis, recognize that with any type of activity, while efficiency is desirable and admirable, effectiveness is mandatory. Unfortunately, the present day workplace, as it has evolved, often conveys that motion and activity are more important than closure and results. As a result, you see people dashing about like chickens about to lose their heads.

Those who develop a solid reputation for getting things done, particularly those who aspire to leadership, learn how to master the nuances. They understand that it’s one thing to produce, say a new software program, debug it, and ship it out the door to users, and another thing for the software to be effective. The efficiency of creation, design, and delivery of the product might indeed be admirable.

On the other hand, in the attempt to bring the product quickly to the market, if the debugging process is not sufficiently thorough — suppose that some notable bugs slip by the testers, and users end up discovering them — or the product suffers from featuritis, the geekiness that predominates in the early stages of any new technology, the consumers may deem the product to be, shall we say, not that effective. If it really causes problems for them, their choice of descriptive terminology might be even more demonstrative, as in “it sucks.”

To become a get-it-done type of career professional, make the commitment to perform your work efficiently while supporting the over-arching quest to attain objectives effectively. Shield yourself from information and communication overload, and focus on results. Consider this: A major bug that goes undetected causes significant problems for users and likely will result in significant problems for the company. What is the value in having an efficient process, before delivering the product to the market, if it is not an effective process?

When Pure Efficiency Equals Effectiveness

Oddly, efficiency in itself sometimes is all that’s needed for effectiveness. For many years, I heard the stories about Chamra Tasmala (name changed to protect the fabulously wealthy), who was one of my neighbors when I lived in Chapel Hill. She allegedly was a superstar real estate agent. I read that she had won an award for selling or renting $18 million worth of commercial property over so many years. My quick calculation showed that she was raking in more than $400,000 annually.

As time passed, I was considering relocating my office. I called Chamra, who identified several properties that potentially met my criteria. I was eager to visit sites with Chamra because I was interested to see what she had found for me and to witness first-hand a legendary real estate agent in action.

Chamra was presentable, neither striking nor decrepit. She exuded some measure of success — nice car, no flashy jewelry, and the minimum trappings of fashion. I thought she must have a highly engaging interactive style; perhaps her honed and refined persuasive skills coupled with direct eye contact were enough to make anyone think she had found you the location that smartly suited your needs.

To my amazement, she didn’t come close to impressing me with her interpersonal or selling skills. Her style consisted of opening the door, showing me around, and saying, “Here’s the reception area, here’s the bathroom, here’s the kitchenette. Well, what do you think?” I kept saying to myself “there’s got to be more to her than this.”

Where were the keen insights? The witticisms? The extra touches? The connection with my business dreams? All were glaringly absent. She didn’t possess any special skills. She never called me by name. I felt I was with a first-time agent who was unprepared and in a hurry to boot. Her efforts seemed bared bones.

I soon realized that she had mastered the critical issue in her industry which was to find many prospects to whom she could show many properties. In essence, she played the numbers game and she played it well. I thought of all those agents, not merely in real estate but also in many other businesses, who earn their living by generating prospects, selling them a product, and earning a commission.

I also thought of all the books, articles, and everything else that’s been written on “what you need to know and do” to be successful in such a business. Now, in the span of but a few minutes, Chamra’s approach to real estate thoroughly trivialized the importance of these criteria.

As a top commercial real estate agent she was living proof that traditional success advice wasn’t necessarily essential for success. I began to understand that the essence of success in most industries is misunderstood by most. All the guidance given by all the schlockmeisters (people who have all sorts of advice to give, some of it questionable, on all sorts of topics) was hardly necessary.

Efficiency Alone is Often Insufficient

Focusing on a few critical elements made all the difference for Chamra. Simply being efficient, in and of itself, usually does not add up to effectiveness. In a manufacturing concern, for example, different departments may value efficiency or effectiveness over that or the other.
  • A product manager may be predisposed to ship a volume of products (efficiency) while a marketing manager is concerned with how customers rate the product (effectiveness).
  • A human resources manager may be attuned to how well people are fulfilling the roles for which they were hired (effectiveness), while a shift supervisor is more concerned with not exceeding his quarter budget for labor (efficiency).

Coming Undone

It’s possible to be efficient to the point of losing effectiveness, i.e. win the battle but lose the war. An efficient person is predisposed to staying busy, the effective person keeps the desired ends in mind.

You might be highly proficient at knocking off one task after another on your to-do list. When you focus more on effectiveness, plowing through your list takes a backseat to strategizing how to best handle the items on the list. Some items, perhaps, can be delegated. Something else might be deferred. Two items might be combined, and so on.

If you’re in sales and you’re making calls on prospects daily, being efficient would entail calling on as many as you can. Being effective would mean concentrating more time and energy on higher potential prospects and probing for their underlying objectives.

An over-emphasis on efficiency, often characterized by attempting to handle too much at once, can lead to burnout. Some professionals proceed as if they can handle everything as long as they stay focused. This is embodied by the sales manager who wants to increase his department’s quarterly volume by 12%, inspire his territory managers each day, enroll in an evening course at a local university, spend more time with his wife and kids, rise to a position of leadership in his professional society, and maintain peak fitness.

Such professionals harbor the notion that if they can find a way to work more efficiently, they’ll be able to “get it all done.” So, they race through some tasks as fast as possible, slow down a bit for others, rarely pause and reflect, and remain in that mode for hours or days or weeks on end.

When doing things rapidly doesn’t seem to be enough, this manager stays on the job longer each day. To be sure, there are times when it makes sense to put in a long day. When weekly work hours start to stack up and cut into one’s personal time, stress, anxiety, and exhaustion are all too predictable. The stakes seemingly increase as one’s perspective decreases.

Some managers fall into the “I must do it all” trap because they don’t trust others. Some fall because they have no inkling of how to delegate effectively. Others succumb because they see coworkers all around them putting in exorbitantly long hours. Hence they believe that this is the only way to approach one’s work and get things done. The key is to create and maintain a sense of balance between the two. Success comes when both effectiveness and efficiency meet.

Jeff Davidson is "The Work-Life Balance Expert®," is a preeminent time management authority, has written 65 mainstream books, and is an electrifying professional speaker, making 886 presentations to clients such as Lockheed Martin, Eckerd, Kaiser Permanente, IBM, American Express, Lufthansa, Swissotel, Re/Max, USAA, Worthington Steel, and the World Bank. Jeff is Executive Director of the Breathing Space Institute and the author of books such as:
  • Simpler Living (Skyhorse Publishing)
  • Dial It Down--Live it Up (Sourcebooks)
  • The 60 Second Innovator (Adams Media)
  • Breathing Space (CreateSpace)
  • Accomplishing Your Goals (Smart Guide Publications)
Jeff is the premier thought leader on work-life balance issues and has been widely quoted in the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, New York Times, USA Today, Businessweek, Forbes, and Fortune. Cited by Sharing Ideas Magazine as a "Consummate Speaker," Jeff believes that career professionals today in all industries have a responsibility to achieve their own sense of work-life balance, and he supports that quest through his website

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