What is the difference between productivity and efficiency in terms of work, both professionally and personally? Why do these differences matter in terms of quantity and quality of daily workflow? Learn how to be more productive and more efficient, and how knowing the difference can help you be more successful at your job as well as in your personal life.
What is productivity?
Productivity is a measure of quantity – how much you manage to get done in a specific time frame. If your goal today is to accomplish five specific tasks, and you end up accomplishing six, you were more productive than you originally planned. Tracking success by productivity means focusing on how much you are getting done in as little time as possible.
Unfortunately, this often means that those who focus heavily on productivity often end up sacrificing quality for quantity, because their only goal is to get as much done as possible regardless of the cost.
What is efficiency?
Unlike productivity, efficiency is a measure of quality – how well you performed a set of specific tasks. If your goal yesterday was to accomplish five things yesterday, and today you accomplish four, you were technically less productive today than you were yesterday. However, if the reason you accomplished fewer tasks today is because the quality of your work increased between yesterday and today, than you were technically more efficient today than you were yesterday.
Efficiency is a way of making sure you are getting good work done. Taking longer to complete a task might mean that you accomplish fewer tasks throughout a given day, but that is sometimes worth the sacrifice if it means you end up doing better work, providing more value to whomever you might work for.
How to be more productive
Productivity, in a sense, is about crossing things off of a list. Think of products being assembled on an assembly line. As long as every part gets put into place, all that matters is that as much material is produced as possible. Therefore, the major keys to optimal productivity involve getting things done without stopping, getting distracted or wasting any time. Typically you would focus on productivity if you were doing results focused work, such as sales. In the end, if all that mattered was making the most possible sales in one month, you would need to focus only on making as many sales as possible.
When trying to be more productive, do not spend more time on a task than is necessary. Create a system that allows you to perform a specific task in exactly the amount of time it will take you to get it done, and stick to that system each time you perform that task when it is time to repeat it. Let’s say you are in charge of approving client invoices at the end of each month. Going in every month, you should know exactly the steps you need to take to complete that task and exactly how long it will take.
How to work more efficiently
Efficiency is more about time management than anything else. It’s about making sure that you are doing the highest quality work in the least amount of time. Therefore, in order to work more efficiently, you must take steps to ensure you are spending all your time doing the work that matters the most, and not wasting any time doing work you should not be doing.
In cases of business settings, you can delegate “mindless” tasks to an assistant so that you do not have to spend time doing those things, for example. This ensures that you are able to spend more time doing larger tasks very well, to increase the quality of work you are doing. If you are rushing to complete small tasks that someone else could easily do for you, you are allowing less time to do good work.
Why it’s important to know the difference
Is it possible to work both productively and efficiently? It is, actually – but you have to decide, for every single task you must complete, which is most important for that task. Let’s go back to the invoice approval example. That would be considered a productivity task, because it is the same process every single time you are expected to do it. You can get it done quickly, and quality, as long as the task is performed correctly, does not matter nearly as much as quantity – getting all invoices approved before they must be sent to accounting at the end of every month.
However, you will also have efficiency tasks – items on your to do list that will probably take longer to complete, and must be completed carefully. With these kinds of tasks, quantity often does not matter as much as quality. You may still have a deadline and are expected to get it done, but these are likely tasks that don’t always have a set process to them. If you do them poorly, they do not count.
Implementing both productivity and efficiency into your workflow is essential for making sure you are not spending more time on a task than you need to. It also ensures you are accomplishing as much as possible when necessary, but also focusing on doing quality work on tasks that require more time and discipline. Finding a balance between these two different types of work can help you divide your tasks into those that require productive behavior and those that need efficient thinking in order to be completed.
No matter the type of work you do, there is an appropriate type of work fit for anything and everything on your to do list. Be sure that you never sacrifice good work for quick work when quality is more important, and don’t try to do a task perfectly when quantity is your end goal. This is why it is essential to know the difference between these two types of work, so that you can make sure that no matter what you are doing, you are doing it the way it was designed to be done.