The Renegade Organizer
Office Organized. Business Systemized. Profits Maximized.

Deathmatch: Efficiency vs. Effectiveness

Ok, so it’s not really a death match, but you have to admit that would be really cool.  Two concepts enter, one concept leaves…

Seriously, I have noticed a lot of confusion about efficiency and effectiveness: what are they, what is the difference, which is more important. I see people getting caught up in being as efficient as possible and sacrificing results because of it.

Consider this quote by Peter Drucker:

“Nothing is less productive than to make more efficient what should not be done at all.”  Couldn’t have said it better myself!

Since this is Renegade Organizing we won’t be using the textbook ideas that I learned in school about efficiency and effectiveness, we’ll be using what I’ve learned about them in the real world.  While I’m at it since I’m not a college freshman writing a paper, I’ll spare you the sentence that starts “Webster’s Dictionary defines…” and get right to the meat of it.

The main difference between the two is that efficiency is a tool, effectiveness is an end result.

Measuring efficiency can be very tricky, and often takes us to the minimal possible measurement.  To riff off a previous blog for example, let’s say that I want to see how efficient I am dealing with my paper.  Since the amount of paper that comes into my office each day, week or month varies it’s difficult measure and compare by day, week or month.  I can measure how long it takes me to deal with each piece of paper, but the sheer volume of different types of paper and ways that they need to be dealt with makes that impractical.  I can group the types of paper, see how long it takes me to do each type of task and use that measurement, but since similar tasks can require more or less work on a case by case basis,  that’s not a very reliable measurement.  So I can make smaller groups of my original groups…ok you get the idea? This type of analysis can be complex and you often end up with measurements that are either imprecise or not very real-world applicable.

Effectiveness is typically much easier to determine.  Let’s say that I define effective paper management as dealing with every piece of paper on or before the deadline on which is has to be dealt.  That’s pretty easy to measure – by day, week, month, year, type of paper etc.  It’s a yes or no question. There are lots of tools to get me there, efficiency is only one option.

Efficiency is all about least.  Doing things in the least amount of time, with the least amount of effort, and the least amount of waste, often based upon the smallest possible measurable increment.

Effectiveness is about the most.  Doing the most possible, making the most of each activity, achieving the most goals – effectiveness is a big picture measurement.

I don’t know about you, but I’m generally a big fan of most over least.  That being said, there is definitely a place for each and it is not my intention to suggestion that efficiency is not important.  However, there are always times when efficiency and effectiveness are in conflict and one must choose between the two. For example, it’s not particularly efficient to lock the door as I leave my house in the morning (especially if I’m carrying my purse, briefcase, dance bag, gym bag, and talking on my cell phone).  However, I take the extra time to do it because I believe that it is effective at preventing a break-in and preventing a break-in is important to me.

The trick here is to keep your eye on the ball – the end result that you desire – and if either efficiency or effectiveness must be sacrificed, then I would suggest that it be efficiency.  Again using the paper management example:  Is it more efficient to only touch your paper once?  Perhaps – if your goal is to spend the least amount of time touching your paper.  Unfortunately, if you have to follow any piece of paper you pick up to completion, your inability to set your own priorities can really hurt your ability to be effective in doing the things that you need to do to reach your loftier goals – you know, goals like being able to afford food and housing.  Therefore, I say if it comes down to a choice let’s remember that efficiency is just one of many tools that can create effectiveness.  You wouldn’t feel bad for laying down your hammer if it wasn’t the right tool for the job, would you?   Sometimes efficiency is not the right tool for the job, so free yourself from the fear of being inefficient use whatever tools will make you effective.

What do you think?  Don’t be shy – just click on “leave comment” above (just under the blog title)  and tell us how you really feel.

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One Response to “Deathmatch: Efficiency vs. Effectiveness”

  1. Great article. You have taken something that many folks struggle with and boiled it down in a practical manner. I get asked about efficiency and effectiveness quite often. I really like the “least” and “most” Well done Renegade. Very……effective!


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