I’ve really enjoyed the slowing down and re-evaluation this past year has forced upon us. While my business has grown, my work feels different; I feel different. I’m more grounded, there is less busyness and a deeper presence in my work. I attribute this to doing less, which has made me much more effective, and I have my dog, Molly, to thank for this.
Molly requires getting outside regularly and she doesn’t let me sit too long without wanting to play, so her needs have forced me to take breaks. My morning ritual of coffee and dog cuddles has replaced the rushing around that used to start my day. I take a break for lunch and again for a dog walk in the afternoon. All these breaks are new for me. Something I knew I ‘should’ve’ been doing but I wouldn’t let myself.
I used to judge myself for not maximizing every minute of the day, considering it procrastination. Getting angry with myself for wasting time or not getting my shit done. I even have a sign in my office to remind me to ‘Get Shit Done’.
While it’s important to get shit done. It’s even more important to get the right shit done. Even efficiency and productivity can be taken too far.
Efficiency is not necessarily Effective
Efficiency is a huge value of mine. My old boss used to compliment me (at least I took it as a compliment) that I didn’t leave well enough alone. I was constantly trying to improve a process or system, to make it easier or simpler. If it’s organizing my space or systematizing a process. I’m organized and efficient and I take pride in this, as I’m sure you do too.
Organizations are obsessed with efficiency, which is one reason the larger an organization becomes the more centralized policies and management becomes. Otherwise, the lack of consistency and adherence to conformity would create wasteful redundancies. This modern bureaucracy helps to create clarity for divisions of labor, policies for order, and hierarchy for decision-making.
But there is a dark side to this, as I’m sure you’ve experienced with any large body of administration, be it government or business, it’s not always very effective.
On the individual level, it means you can be so efficient that you don’t leave any buffer of space for the unexpected (and life is full of the unexpected). So as soon as something you didn’t perfectly plan for comes up, you either get behind on a deadline, overwhelmed, or throw your self-care out the window.
When this happens, you are no longer as effective. It could be because you’re tired and making more mistakes, or not able to prioritize so you’re spending too much time on the wrong thing, or you’re overwhelmed and not able to focus.
The stronger the drive towards efficiency has the countereffect of driving effectiveness down.
Tom DeMarco explains in Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency, “You’re efficient when you do something with minimum waste. And you’re effective when you’re doing the right something.”
Procrastinating, when used to think, can be a good tool in becoming effective. It’s how you can get clear on what’s important, not just what feels urgent or is the easiest thing to do because it’s in front of you.
Being Efficient AND Effective
If you want to be efficient and effective; slow down, create space, and be discerning.
Slow down to reflect. Reflection is necessary to be thoughtful in your responses, to be discerning with what you take on, and to capture learnings to adjust to the future.
If you’re in default, auto-response mode, that’s a clear sign you’re not being very effective.
Instead, create space on your calendar for this reflection on a daily or weekly basis. At a minimum do this on a weekly basis. Look ahead to plan when you’ll do your work and create a buffer for the unexpected. Then add even more buffer time.
When planning, always overestimate the amount of time you think it’ll take by at least 50% or more, this is because of the planning fallacy. As Daniel Kahneman describes in Thinking, Fast and Slow, the planning fallacy is a phenomenon that occurs when you have to predict how much time you’ll need to complete a future task, it’s overly optimistic resulting in underestimating the time needed. The optimistic bias only impacts predictions about your own tasks; when you must predict task completion times for others, you tend to exhibit a pessimistic bias, overestimating the time needed. Put simply, you will exaggerate your own capacity believing you can do more in less time.
If you feel like you don’t have enough time to create that space, then you need to seriously prioritize and make some tough decisions (be discerning).
Start with understanding the ‘why’ behind what you’re doing. An effective person knows the connection between an activity and how it contributes towards their goal or vision.
It’s common to start doing something and just keep doing it because that’s what you’d always done. And it’s quite possible you’ve outgrown the reason for doing it or it’s no longer as important or necessary.
Time to re-evaluate your routine, your processes, the way you do just about everything.
This goes for home and work. What are you doing that doesn’t need to be done, can be done at a lower standard or delegated (if you’re thinking it’s just easier to do it myself… think again)?
Being discerning and being able to say no is how you move from the land of busyness to the land of effectiveness.
Reflect on what you have on your to-do list and be brutal while asking yourself these questions:
- Is this important and meaningful?
- How will it further me along towards my big goals (visionary goals)?
- What could I do that is a more valuable use of my time?
If you aren’t sure if you’re just being busy or you’re effectively productive, this is a fun way to assess where you’re at.
If you’re having a hard time getting out of the busy mode and need a thought partner to help you be more effective, I’m here for you.