Most people researching productivity tips spend about 90% of their time reading about cool new to-do apps, email tools, or note-taking software. In reality, these tools improve your productivity by about only 10%. They make you just a little more efficient.
But efficiency is not what it’s about. Not until you’ve covered a fundamental building block of productivity — the one thing most people skip. I believe the obsession with efficiency is a massive distraction from the one thing that matters in productivity: effectiveness.
Being effective is all about working on the right things. The tasks and projects that truly move the needle. This is what yields the most productive results. Logically, it’s where you should spend the majority of your time, energy, and attention.
Efficiency, on the other hand, is about doing any task — no matter the importance — a little faster and a little better. Of course, that’s good. Especially when applied to highly valuable tasks and projects. But it’s not nearly as essential as most people make it.
“Efficiency is doing the thing right. Effectiveness is doing the right thing.” — Peter Drucker
Instead of spending so much time researching the latest productivity tools and hacks, it’s much more important to spend that time reflecting on whether you’re truly effective with your work or not.
Ask yourself, is this task genuinely moving the needle towards my goals? Does this project lead to meaningful outcomes such as impact, profit, growth, or increased happiness?
You can work with high efficiency, but if the tasks that you’re working on are non-essential, it doesn’t matter much. Despite being highly efficient, you can still be unproductive.
Prioritization is critical when it comes to being effective. You need to become a master at separating the essential from the non-essential. Identifying the vital few among the trivial many. Picking the mission-critical tasks among the clutter.
Take a look at your past week and reflect for a moment. How much time did you spend on truly mission-critical tasks? And how much time did you spend on tasks that didn’t really move the needle much (aka, busywork)?
“There is nothing quite so useless, as doing with great efficiency, something that should not be done at all.” — Peter Drucker
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One of the best ways to prioritize your tasks and projects is by asking yourself high-quality questions. Here are a few of my personal favorites:
By asking yourself these questions, you uncover which tasks are the most important. When you consistently prioritize these tasks over non-essential work, that’s when you maximize effectiveness. This is what truly matters in productivity.
Researching efficiency doesn’t make much sense when you don’t know how to be truly effective yet. It’s a distraction from your work. It’s not what productivity is about.
Only when you’re confident in your effectiveness, think about becoming more efficient. That’s when you can try to do the work a little faster and a bit better. That’s when that cool new productivity app might come in handy.
Once again, I can’t stress the importance enough: About 90% of the impact is made by being truly effective — by working on tasks and projects that actually matter. Only 10% of the impact comes from efficiency.
“Productivity isn’t about being a workhorse, keeping busy or burning the midnight oil… It’s more about priorities, planning and fiercely protecting your time.” — Margarita Tartakovsky
You can have all the productivity apps in the world and work incredibly fast and focused, but if you’re working on low-impact projects, it doesn’t really matter. In that case, efficiency is just a distraction from productivity.
On the other hand, if you know your priorities and protect your time and energy for them, it doesn’t matter that much at what level of efficiency you operate. Your work makes an impact — and that’s real productivity.
Remember, being effective leads to exponential improvements in productivity. Tools and hack, on the other hand, only lead to incremental improvements in your productivity.
Therefore, as an action point for this article, ask yourself the questions presented above and work on maximizing your effectiveness.
To Your Personal Growth,
Founder Personal Growth Lab