Efficiency, Productivity, and Effectiveness

In the area of time management – or attention management which is a more accurate term – the three words efficiency, productivity and effectiveness are sometimes misused as if they were interchangeable. And if they are not blurred in that way, they are often wrongly considered as three competing horses, where you have to make a bet on one and not the other two. However, their mutual interdependency is strong.

  • Efficiency is often about speed. How fast can you execute a sub procedure? And even better: how fast can you execute the very same sub procedure one trillion times? More general it’s about consuming as little resources – doesn’t have to be time – as possible, while executing your sub procedure. An efficient person or organization excel and doesn’t waste any energy, time, or resources. But you might not deliver anything in the end.
  • Productivity is about creating a complete product. The result of your work is a whole; a thing that can be used. Efficiency is very important for productivity. Suppose that a mail is a product. The mail must at least consist of a letter and a stamped envelope with the receiver’s address. Efficiency without productivity is to impressively fast create 100 stamped envelopes, but no receiver’s address and no letter. It would be more productive to produce 10 complete mails with letter, stamp and address, in the same span of time. Low efficiency impedes productivity. If you write the addresses really slowly, then in the end of the day you might only have produced one single mail. Productivity is the ratio of produced output to supplied input. If you never ship anything, then produced output and the ratio is zero, no matter how hard you’ve worked.
  • Effectiveness is about creating products that matters. I mean things that add value to other contexts, systems or people. Productivity is very important for effectiveness. Productivity without effectiveness is to write a fabulous business letter, and then send it to 100 random people around the world. The effectiveness is increased if you send the letter to the people who can boost your business. Low productivity impedes effectiveness. Even if you create complete mails, they don’t add any value – cause desired effect – if they’re not sent to the right persons.

So, effectiveness relies on productivity. And productivity relies on efficiency. In a pull based attention management method, you start with effectiveness. Your choice of intended effect will guide you to the best kind of productivity, which in turn will help you see what sort of efficiency you need.

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