The five minute workout. The sweepstakes giveaway. The 10 simple ways to increase your productivity. Seven habits of highly successful people. Three core rules of effective leadership.
All of this is a result of our biology.
The brain is an energy-saving machine. It is designed to be lazy. Think less, act less, save the calories, so that we don’t starve.
But we live in a world of abundance. We have nearly free food, nearly free entertainment, and nearly insane obesity levels. Being controlled by an energy-saving machine is definitely Not a Good Idea. That’s a topic for another time.
But the brain’s laziness causes us to create shortcuts in their mind. Then we see these shortcuts as efficient, and equate them with productivity.
That’s error number one. Efficiency is only a tiny part of productivity.
Yet we see them as the same because efficiency is almost but not quite the same thing as effectiveness and effectiveness is almost but not quite the same thing as productivity. Our brain creates yet another shortcut – if it’s almost the same, it’s good enough, let’s treat it as the same. They’re not.
Efficiency means doing the most with the least.
If you’re folding paper, efficiency means creating the most creases with the fewest arm movements. It says nothing about whether those creases are in the right place, or whether you should be folding the paper at all.
But if you focus on efficiency you can fold a lot of paper in a fairly short amount of time. Efficiency, at least in the beginning, is very easy to increase by training.
When we start a task for the first time, we’re very rarely efficient. We don’t have the training and the knowledge to be efficient. Therefore, a small amount of effort put into training increases our efficiency in great, big leaps.
This does not mean that we automatically increase our effectiveness. Yet we still do it.
Because increasing efficiency is easy. And because measuring efficiency is easy. Look at what you have produced. Look at how much resources you used. Train. Repeat. One baseline. O0ne improvement. One comparison. And instantly, you can plot a chart of how great you are.
Unfortunately, after those first easy steps, increasing efficiency becomes a losing game. There is a limit to how efficient we can be. You can’t type faster than about 12 000 words per hour. You can’t weld car frames faster than a certain limit. There are natural constraints to our efficiency. And as we come closer to them, the effort to increase our efficiency becomes so costly that we’re actually losing time, effort, money and resources in pursuing it.
That’s about the time when people wake up and start to focus on their effectiveness.
Effectiveness is the measure of how fast we are approaching our goals. It’s a lot harder to measure than efficiency.
To be effective, you have to know what your goals are. That’s the most important part, your goals.
You then have to transform those goals into something specific and measurable. You have to then measure where you are and where you are going, and compare that to the measure of your goals.
However, this is front-loading your cost. At the start, increasing efficiency beats increasing effectiveness hands down.
But as you develop, effectiveness triumphs.
There is no limit to how effective you can be. If you switch processes or switch goals or pivot in some other significant way, you can increase your effectiveness by leaps and bounds, without touching your efficiency.
Which brings us to the third word: productivity.
Being productive includes both efficiency and effectiveness. If you are very efficient, but not effective, you won’t be very productive. You’re threading water very fast. You’re excellent at manufacturing widgets, but if those widgets, just pile up in your warehouse you’ll go bankrupt.
Being effective without being efficient is possible. But that leaves you open to the possibility that someone else will do what you do more efficiently and undercut you on price or time or quality.
And then people will stop buying whatever it is you’re effectively producing and start buying what your competition is producing both effectively and efficiently.
As a side note: this can be offset by not being fungible. Basically if what you are producing is yourself, such as being an artist, it doesn’t really matter if you’re Prince, or the artist formerly known as Prince. Or if you write new music. You can’t be replaced.
But back to the rat race.
To be insanely productive, we need to be efficient and effective over time.
You take time, you direct it with your effectiveness. You shape it into stuff with your efficiency, and you end up with a measure of productivity.
So effectiveness * efficiency * time = productivity.
Be half as effective in twice the time, and you get the same amount of produced effect.
Which brings us back to the most important part, the goal. Productivity is a measure of how much you have decreased the distance between where you are now, and your goals.
Meaning that sometimes, you can very productively give up. Or down-scale. Or change goals. You don’t need to go to the most distant shore. Sometimes the piña coladas are just as fine on the rocky beach.
But assume that you retain your goal. Assume that you can’t increase your efficiency much more. What then?
Then you focus on hours, and you’ve got two choices. Use the hours to increase your effectiveness, or use the hours to increase your productivity.
If you’re close to your goal, go for productivity. Increasing effectiveness suffers from diminishing returns the closer you get to your goal. If you’re close, throw in the hours and reach your goals.
If you’re far away, put your hours into increasing your effectiveness. Figure out the easiest way to increase your effectiveness, then do it. Maybe it’s learning to type faster. Maybe it’s learning to plot, or edit, or sell. Maybe its something completely different. It all depends on your goal. But figure it out.
Then go for productivity. Work, but not forever. Input just enough hours to evaluate if you need to increase your effectiveness more, or if going for productivity will be enough.
At some point, you’ll figure out that going all in for productivity is all you need. That’s when it’s butt-in-chair time. Produce. Keep producing.
The trap here is forgetting to evaluate. You might get stuck in an ineffective or inefficient way of spending your hours. So plan on stopping. Plan on thinking. Force your brain to sue That’s the way to be productive.