Beware thy word “Efficiency”

20 Dec
Image

“He who chases two rabbits catches neither.” The same is true of efficiency and effectiveness.

I’m going to offer you one million dollars for you to pick one of these words….and only one…. to define your life or business; “effective” or “efficient.” Which one do you pick? The answer is that you should pick effective. Today’s article explains why.

Let me start with what efficiency really means. Being efficient means that you pay attention to the cost/benefit of your actions. It means that you increasingly spend less time, or less money, or less effort than you did to get the same result. It means that you calculate your return-on-investment and came out ahead. Above all else, it means that you make sure that you are not putting in more than you are getting out. Efficiency means that you value fairness, logic, and security. Efficiency means that you are smart and careful.

How is this different than being effective? Well, being effective means that you are willing to take risks. It means that you focus on getting the job done regardless of the cost. It means that come hell or high water (and if you’re trying to achieve anything of significance there will be high water) you are going to achieve what you set out to do. Effectiveness means that you execute even if you waste some resources along the way. Effectiveness means that you value success, learning, and adventure.

So, in a way these two drives complement each other. One is creative (effective) and one is corrective (efficiency). But there is a problem. The default setting of the universe is corrective. You don’t have to do anything to make that part of it happen. Just think about how hard it is to climb a mountain and how easy it is to fall off one. Or how hard it is to build a reputation and how easy it is to lose one. The world’s thermostat is naturally set at “cold, unforgiving, and unimpressed.” So in order to achieve anything you have to be absolutely, obsessively, retardedly committed to the goal (even then there are no guarantees) just to offset this natural downward pull.

Since we were children, we’ve been taught to focus on how much effort we put in. During group projects we were very aware who was putting in more effort (see “social loafing”) because we wanted it to be “fair.” When we got older we were taught to focus on return-on-investment and think in terms of cost/benefit ratios. I’m here to tell you that if you really want to achieve an amazing result, then you need to forget about all that bullshit.

Most people think that efficiency is a good thing and there are certain conditions when it’s appropriate (you’re running a large project or organization). But thinking in terms of how you manage your life, there is far more downside than upside.

Why does focusing on efficiency suck so hard? Well, because when we set out to achieve some awesome goal, we start by focusing on the result. We start by trying to be effective. Then, because results are slow to appear, we slowly start second-guessing their actions. Instead of asking, “is this moving me toward my goal?” we start asking, “is this particular action the BEST use of my time?” “Should I make some cold calls or should I do some more marketing?” “Should I go for a run or lift weights?” Eventually, we become so exhausted with trying to maximize our choices that we forget that the ultimate purpose wasn’t to “spend their time wisely” but to actually accomplish a goal.

This phenomena is so common I call it, “the effectiveness to efficiency flip.” It’s just another one of Resistance’s favorite tricks (read The Power of Resistance). Therefore, since you can only have one primary question, (if you doubt this, read the definition of “primary”) you must choose wisely.

Is this the BEST use of my time?

Is this moving me toward my goal? ✓

So, how do you break this bad habit? Well, awareness is a good start. Understand that efficiency is really only a concern for a fully developed system or organization (I’ll be saying more about this in a future article). So if you are starting, then you must absolutely obsess about being effective. Trying to be efficient is just an excuse to keep yourself from taking action. The second thing you must do is stop trying to be BOTH efficient and effective. I know it seems innocent enough (which is precisely why it’s dangerous), but as I outlined above, efficiency and effectiveness are actually pulling you in two different directions. You must get off the fence and decide.

Second, let go of your ego. The default setting of the world is, “waste is bad.” God forbid you were to spend your time or resources doing something that didn’t pan out. I think it’s a fair estimate to say that for every 100 units of effort you should expect roughly 10 units of result. So, that’s about 90 units of waste right there. And this is being generous. Don’t listen to the 99.9% of the people who have convinced themselves to play it safe. Follow the 1% who are brave enough to break a few eggs and have them land on their face.

“Bang for the buck” it not what you are looking for when it comes to achieving your goals. What you are looking for is BANG. This is because the reality of all noble pursuits is that you will always put in 100 times the effort than you think you’ll need to. That’s exactly why so few people succeed. They’ll spend all of their time looking for a short cut, looking for a way to only put in what they’re getting out. They view their place in the world as a series of transactions. Give and take. Tit for tat. They are always guarded to make sure they don’t end up with the short end of the stick. The reality is that you want to be successful you have to love the short end of the stick.

The true masters will tell you that this ratio is perfectly acceptable and will be more than you ever need to achieve everything that you want.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: