In this article you will discover the key difference between productivity and efficiency, and which one will help you achieve your goals.
Productivity vs efficiency is a discussion between quantity and quality. A productive person is known as someone who gets things done. Although their accomplishments may be short-lived if they did not build their strategy for the long-haul. In most of our lives, productivity and efficiency are at odds with each other.
When you are focusing on productivity, your efficiency is the first thing to suffer. Likewise, when you are confirming your plans are thoughtful and well-crafted, you run the risk of burying your goal in months of red tape.
Productivity In Your Life
Measuring productivity tends to be straightforward, so it is usually where people place their focus. People usually calculate productivity by measuring a person’s output during two similar time periods. For example, if you read two books in January and four books in February, you were more productive in February.
Businesses will calculate productivity by comparing employees, departments, and locations. For instance, the California office of a firm generated $60,000 in March, while the Florida office generated $50,000 in the same month, making the California office more productive.
Productivity’s Blind Spot
Because most people measure productivity by calculating output, you have probably felt at least once in your life that productivity was capturing the complete picture.
If your supervisor asks you for a report by end of day, they are thinking it is a reasonable request. While it is true the report only takes 30 minutes to create, that is not the only thing you are working on today.
If the report was your only task, you agree you should have it completed by the end of the day. However, your department added a new employee and you agreed to train them on all the processes.
Depending on the complexity of your role and the engagement of the trainee, it could take you an entire day to walk step-by-step through your work. You also have a few additional time sensitive matters that you accepted last week and they have the same deadline.
As you are starting to see, when you only capture someone’s output to determine if they are being productive, you are lacking key information.
You open yourself up to the possibility of thinking someone had a less productive week, when they were more productive than last week.
Efficiency, the Other Half of the Productivity Coin
If productivity focuses on your output, then efficiency emphasizes the quality of your work, which usually focuses on saving time or conserving resources.
Think of your productivity as the revenue you generated from a sale, and think of your efficiency as the money you get to take home after you pay your expenses.
Using the business example from before, while the California office generated $60,000 in sales, they spent $20,000 in related seminar and travel expenses. The Florida office generated their sales by using an inexpensive online-webinar platform, so the Florida office was more efficient and generated larger profits.
Efficiency also accounts for quality in relation to time.
For example, Autumn and Alek work in a call-center where their job was to survey 100 customers per day. Autumn reached her number after she called 150 customers and Alek reached her number after calling 300 customers.
While they both achieved their productivity milestone, Autumn was more efficient because she only had to call an extra 50 people, while Alek had to call an additional 200 people.
Is There Such a Thing as Being Too Efficient?
Like productivity, focusing solely on efficiency can lead to unintended consequences. You do not want to complete your work hastily, but you also do not want to set the unreasonable expectation that you can achieve perfection.
Challenges, missteps, and failure are a part of growth and achieving results.
Whenever you focus too much on quality, you will find yourself coping with self-doubt, anxiety, and procrastination. If you are in a leadership position, your team may be too scared to produce anything because they are so worried about making a mistake.
Out of fear, everyone remains in the analysis phase as they continue to plan for every possible outcome. Even though it is tempting to celebrate successful perfectionists like Steve Jobs and others, there are studies that confirm most successful people in any given field are less likely to be perfectionist.
Perfectionism keeps most people from making decisions because the anxiety about making mistakes holds them back.
Striking a Balance Between Productivity and Efficiency
When trying to decide whether productivity or efficiency is more important, it is important to understand you need both. Accomplishing your goals and keeping your resolutions provide a great feeling, but you are going to want to measure the cost.
You need to monitor the amount of time and resources you invested into achieving your goal. There is a point of diminishing returns where you are producing at such a high output, your work is full of errors and requires additional attention.
The same diminishing returns exist if you are concerned about quality to the point you are teetering on perfectionism — as perfectionists have an unhealthy fear of failure that keeps them from producing anywhere near optimum levels.
Three Strategies to Maximize Your Results
1. Be Intentional with Your Time and Resources
Start by attempting to maintain your current level of production while lowering the resources you use.
This strategy requires you to be intentional with your goals. For example, if you oversaw the marketing budget for a multi-billion-dollar company, you may be reaching your results, but only because of you are flooding the market with ads.
If you wanted to increase your efficiency without impacting your productivity, what would you do?
One simple strategy is to conduct a review of all your marketing campaigns. Once you have completed the review, you can rank your campaigns based on their return on investment.
You can then increase your productivity and efficiency by reallocating the money you spent on the bottom 10% of ads and moving them to your top 10% of ads.
2. Reduce Waste
Another strategy that will provide an immediate impact is for you to focus on reducing your waste. Again, we are going to implement techniques that will positively impact your efficiency and productivity.
Start reducing waste by finding less expensive alternatives that will accomplish the same tasks you are currently producing.
As was the case with our business example where the California office spent significantly more money that the Florida office. Are there more cost effective, but reputable options that you have not explored yet?
It is a great idea to review your expenses annually to see if there are places you can improve. If you are not sure, shop around to see if your prices are in line with the market.
You can even employ this technique with your own personal finances.
Have you ever wondered why every car insurance commercial promises they can help you save 40%+ on car insurance? It is because most people do not update their auto coverage on a regular basis. Since automobiles are a depreciating asset, your car is losing value every year.
If you bought your vehicle for $20,000, then it may only be worth $15,000 after the first year. However, if you are still paying insurance based on a $20,000 value, you are naturally going to be paying more if you received insurance based on a $15,000 value.
Therefore, when you call the new insurance company, they are going to offer you insurance based on the vehicle’s current value of $15,000.
The reason car insurance companies are so confident they can save you money is because they know you are paying for insurance on a $20,000 car when your car may be worth half or a third of that.
3. Prioritize Your Goals
The third approach to help you balance productivity and efficiency is to prioritize your goals. If you want to avoid falling into the perfectionism trap, you are going to have to admit you cannot have everything exactly the way you want.
You are going to need to decide what matters to you most and be willing to sacrifice other less important goals to ensure you achieve your top priority.
For instance, the truck driving industry is extremely competitive and as a result, truck drivers must focus on keeping costs down and operating higher efficiency. To manage their costs, truck drivers like to make sure they are never driving an empty truck. If they have a delivery in Miami, they want to make sure they have a pickup in Miami to cover the drive back.
Anytime a truck driver is unable to find cargo for their drive back, they are wasting time and resources. Imagine if your next pickup was in Atlanta. Without cargo, that entire drive would be an uncovered expense and those can add up quickly.
To ensure they have their costs under control, truck drivers will prioritize ensuring they are not driving empty over all other goals and objectives.
Sometimes the driver is unable to find a pickup at their drop-off location at the same rate they hauled the cargo down. However, since they have prioritized “not driving empty,” they do not have an issue offering reduced pricing when they find themselves in this situation.
If they did not prioritize their goals, they would be waiting in Miami for a back-haul that would cover their drive to Atlanta. Perfectionism tells you that you must accomplish all your goals or none of them.
When You Cannot Have It All
When you find yourself faced with difficult decisions, take a moment, and determine what matters to you most. If you can only accomplish one or two goals, which one will provide the greatest impact?
Then, take the time to understand and account for the necessary shift you will need to make to your productivity or efficiency levels. In the case of the truck driver, they sacrificed their productivity by taking a lower rate for their back-haul. Yet, they increased their efficiency because they covered their costs and made a small profit with their lowered rate.
What it ultimately means is the truck driver increased his productivity because the choice was not between their normal rate or a reduced rate, it was between an empty haul and a reduced rate haul.
By being intentional with your time and resources, reducing waste, and prioritizing your goals, you can increase your overall efficiency and productivity.
No matter the goal you have set for yourself in your life, there will always be a benefit to working more efficiently and balancing that with increased productivity.
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