Efficiency or Effectiveness: Which One Should I Focus On?

The tortoise and the hare race

Is it better to focus on efficiency or effectiveness?

I’m sure you’ve heard of the story of “The Tortoise and the Hare”. It goes like this, more or less:

One day a tortoise, tired of being ridiculed for being slow, challenged a hare to a race. The hare was super confident in its speed, so halfway through the race it decided to take a nap, seeing how far behind the tortoise was.
However, it slept too much, and in the end lost the race to the tortoise, who kept going, step by step by step, without quitting.

Although the moral of the story is to never underestimate your opponent, today I want to borrow this story to explain something different.

Efficiency VS Effectiveness

“Efficiency is doing things right, Effectiveness is doing the right things”
— Peter Drucker

When a “beginner” approaches the self-improvement world in search of productivity techniques, they usually make the following mistake: they focus on efficiency, instead of effectiveness.

Efficiency per se is not a bad thing. In fact, it is quite awesome! It’s the art of doing things faster and better, using the least amount of time and effort possible.

Effectiveness, instead, is more focused on getting the desired result. It is about accomplishing goals, even if the tools or strategies used require more time and energy.

Efficiency is the hare: the ability to win the race faster.

Effectiveness is the tortoise: the ability to stay focused on the desired result, to keep going, even if extremely slowly, and ultimately win the race.

Which one is better? When trying to accomplish more, which should come first? Effectiveness or Efficiency?

Effectiveness First, But…

There should be no doubt about this: effectiveness is far more important than efficiency.

Yes, being effective can be more tiring and time-consuming than being efficient, but at least you get valuable results.

On the other hand, efficiency is just a tool. It doesn’t separate between good and bad, useful and useless, right and wrong.

If you put efficiency first, you can easily end up doing irrelevant things extremely well and fast, without getting any real value.

You know, it’s like studying and doing a lot of Math exercises to prepare for a test, but then you find out that the test is actually on English Literature and the Math test was two weeks ago, so the good act of studying Math becomes pointless.

When focusing too much on efficiency, you also risk falling into the “perfectionist trap”. You start planning in extreme detail how you’re gonna do things perfectly and fast but, after spending way too much time on this, you realize that maybe there’s an even better way, and start planning again.

And while you neglect effectiveness because you’re busy finding ways to become more efficient, the slow-moving tortoise has already surpassed you.

So yeah, effectiveness > efficiency.

But…

If you only focus on doing the right things, but neglect following an efficient plan and using efficient tools, then you’re still going to suffer.

Even though the tortoise was doing the right thing, it was painfully slow, so it would have easily lost to any other opponent who didn’t waste their time doing irrelevant things like the hare did.

So, yes, effectiveness is better than efficiency. But just focusing on being effective is not the key to getting maximum results.

Then what is? Well, you probably already guessed it…

Efficientiveness* Is The Way

*You probably won’t find this in the dictionary. Guess I invented a new word 😀

So, if effectiveness is doing the right things and efficiency is doing things right, then:

“Efficientiveness is doing the right things, the right way.”
— Paolo Wang

The best way to achieve maximum productivity and to accomplish your goals is not efficiency nor it is effectiveness. It’s a combination of both.

The hare was really efficient, it had everything it needed to win the race, but neglected being effective.

The turtle, on the other hand, was really effective, it was focused on getting the result, and kept going until it won the race. But it didn’t do it efficiently.

However, if one of them had incorporated the other’s effectiveness or efficiency, they would have had a 100% probability of winning the race.

I know I know, the tortoise can’t realistically become fast just because it decides so. But you can, you can be both effective and efficient.

You can be efficientive.

What To Do Next

The answer to the title: “Efficiency or Effectiveness: Which One Should I Focus On?” should be clear now.

You understand now that the correct strategy is to focus on a combination of Effectiveness first, and Efficiency second.

Next, what I want you to do is to start implementing efficientiveness in your daily life. For example:

  • Don’t just blindly go through your to-do list and try to check as many tasks as possible. Ask yourself if every item on the list is really relevant to you and your goals; delete those who are not. Then find better ways to complete the remaining tasks. Remember: effective first, efficient second.
  • If you want to lose weight, ask yourself what would be THE right thing to do. In this case, it would be to eat healthy and get rid of junk food (exercising is important, as well, obviously, but not as important as eathing healthy). Then you can find ways to make it more efficient, for example: prepare one week’s meals in the weekend, so that during the week it’s going to be easier to stick with the habit.
  • If you want to learn a new skill, let’s say drawing, first focus on the effective thing to do (actually trying to draw), then implement efficiency (following a tutorial, using a better pencil, learning from a book) so you can do the right thing (the act of drawing), the right way. If you only focus on studying ways to draw better but neglect the act of actually drawing, you’re not going to learn the skill.

Now go!

It’s time to be as goal-oriented as the tortoise and as high-performing as the hare (when it’s not sleeping 😉 )

PS: yeah, I know that Efficientively sounds like you should put efficiency first and doing things effectively second, but it sounded better than Effecticiently, so I opted for it.

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