The right things

It was Peter Drucker who made the distinction: efficiency is doing things right and effectiveness is doing the right things. The difference is subtle, but significant. And like most penetrating insights, it raises a question. “What the hell am I supposed to do with that?” 

Here’s an answer.

Most people optimise for efficiency. They look at what they’re doing and ask, “How can I do it better?” Less people shoot for effectiveness and ask themselves, “What should I be doing instead? Is this the best use of my time?” Neither approach is wrong. Both efficiency and effectiveness are good things to acquire. But we must remember to ask them both on a regular basis.

In Getting Things Done, David Allen talks about the importance of a weekly review. A block of time where you look at the week gone past and prepare for the week ahead. People like Sebastian Marshall and Taylor Pearson have taken this idea and run with it. They’ve developed sophisticated protocols for reviews of their work and life.

Me? I’m not that organised. For better or worse, I prefer to be a little less structured. But, like them and many others, I do recognise the value and importance of a regular reflective period. I understand the benefit of cycling between action and reflection. So, with Drucker’s insight in hand, here’s what I propose. It’s a simpler version of these regular reflective protocols that people who are more organised than me carry out. It consists of one of two questions:

A) Am I doing the right things?
B) Am I doing things right?

How you split them is up to you. You could change the question every week: A, B, A, B and so on. But that might not allow you to penetrate and really uncover an answer to the question. So instead, you could go for something like this: A, A, A, A, B, B, B, B. Or you could take it to an extreme and focus on a single one of those questions for six months at a time. 

However you choose to do it—and whatever medium you choose to find an answer to the question in—I think it’s helpful to remember that efficiency is the yin to the yang of effectiveness. Both are required to make your way in the world and climb above a certain level.

Although, I will say this. If someone held a gun to my head and forced me to choose between efficiency and effectiveness, I’d choose the latter without a moment’s hesitation. I think Peter Drucker would agree with me. It’s much better to be effective and inefficient than it is to be ineffective but efficient.