Efficiency vs. Effectiveness

Efficiency vs. Effectiveness

“Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.” – Peter Drucker

I wish it were that simple.

In the ever-increasing speed of work, we often confuse efficiency with effectiveness. The work is coming so fast that we can’t tell the difference. The result, of which, is a culture of busyness. We find ourselves in a perpetual game of whack-a-mole without having time to think about whether the right work is getting done. Or whether we’re even doing it right. (But for me – that is secondary).

The other day, a counterpart of mine invited me to schedule time with him through his calendly (web-based scheduling tool). Efficient? Yes, for him!! Effective? Hell no! The meeting hasn’t happened and not because web-based scheduling is the issue. I suspect that will become the norm in the not too distant future. The issue is that he sent me to schedule a meeting that we both have a stake in. He could have put energy into making things easier for me. The energy that he spent was instead put towards redirecting me to make it easier for him, not making it easier for me.


Expanding on Drucker’s definition – being efficient ignores people dynamics, feelings, etc.. — which is not something one computer system has to consider when engaging with another computer system. If all we want to be is cogs then perhaps efficiency should be prioritized.

Being effective factors in the personalities and needs of the individuals in accomplishing the goals. You don’t ignore the world that people are inhabiting when you are being effective. Instead, you factor these elements into creating the best solution given the constraints.

The difference between one person being effective and that same person being efficient is often the ability to focus on what makes us human. Empathy, Feelings, Life, Pandemics, Remote Learning – all of that shit. It’s messy, and it’s what makes us unique.

As we work at the speed of light, we need to discern whether we are doing things right or doing the right things or just doing. During a pandemic – if you have to lean on one option – I hope you choose to be effective. Because being humane and doing the right work is the human option.

References and Resources

Andrew Tarvin – Humor that Works

The difference between effectiveness and efficiency

Supporting Music

Pavement – Range Life

Jawbox – 68

Hum – Stars

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