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Effectiveness Before Efficiency

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One of the most common problems that people have when they discover that they can implement strategies and techniques for being efficient, is that they often do so at the expense of effectiveness. Effectiveness is far more important than efficiency.

Effectiveness describes getting to an outcome – even if it takes longer. It is the art of getting things done.

Efficiency is the art of getting to that outcome faster.

This concept of effectiveness before efficiency comes from a sub-section of Agile computer programmers (also: check out our Agile Results articles on how to implement this for yourself). The short version is that Agile programming is a process of rapid software development, where you use multiple iterations and prototypes to push through an application at breakneck speed. With such an emphasis on speed, it’s no surprise that most Agile programmers are all about efficiency. But a small group of them have recognized that it is often better to be effective rather than efficient.

The main problem with placing efficiency before effectiveness is that some people end up wanting to do things fast/perfectly, before they’ve even started doing them at all. This of course, creates some problems. You’ll often see people procrastinate, try to perfect some tiny detail, or take a long time to get things started when they’re trying to be efficient before being effective (there some irony there, I know). What happens is this: they’ll start doing something, realize that their chosen path is “too slow” and then switch to another process… and another, and another – the net effect is inefficiency, and ineffectiveness.

Sometimes, it’s better to just dive in and do something the slow but proven way┬árather than to try to make it more effective at the get-go. Another common symptom is where people are stuck in a never-ending learning loop, absorbing and compiling information to do things highly effectively, rather than trying them out first.

Let’s look at some of the ways to overcome this tendency, and how to strike a balance between being both (or as my primary school maths teacher put it, “speed and accuracy”).

Why Effectiveness First

As mentioned above, the biggest problem with putting efficiency before effectiveness is that most people never get started on the task – they simply end up looking for better and better ways to do it, and never go anywhere.

A better approach is to learn while doing, and iterate. This is the idea that you can’t write down a kitchen recipe until you’ve tried and experimented with it. Try it first, write it down, refine, and refine, and refine until you have it right (efficient). There is no way you can understand everything about a task or process until you’ve tried it.

Now there is an exception to this – certain people have the capability to run simulations in their mind that correlate 1:1 with the real world. I’m certainly not one of those people, and I suspect that if you are, you would already be working amongst geniuses in a secret government facility somewhere.

Asian Effectiveness?

Obviously the name of this blog is Asian Efficiency – we love doing things better and faster. But there are also times where getting to the outcome is more important than doing it the most optimal way.

A good balance is this: when you’re doing something for the first time (say learning a new skill), go about it the way that people who have already done it recommend first – and once you’ve tried it their way, then you can go back and try to find or tweak a more efficient way.

To give an example, there are lot of people who try to learn online marketing. And what they do is that they keep reading and reading and reading and looking for “better ways” (i.e., efficiency), when really they should just try one way first, examine the results, and then improve upon it.

Next Actions

  • If you’re stuck on something in your life where you don’t seem to be making progress, try it the non-efficient-but-effective way first.
  • Once you’ve given that a go, refine and refine – until you can do it efficiently.

Photo by: captainmcdan

Disagree? Have a different perspective? Let me know in the comments!

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jon November 28, 2011 at 12:03AM

I agree with you guys! I’ll definitely start applying this today. I guess it’s time for me to do rather than to continue on just planning on the best way. xP

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Info Center March 19, 2014 at 12:55PM

You definitely want to make sure that you have the effective method down before you start looking for a faster way to do something. You don’t want to sacrifice quality for quantity.

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