Why Being “Efficient” is a Useless Productivity Strategy

Here’s the no B.S. answer many of us have been looking to define:

Efficiency asks “how much output was produced by this amount or this specific type of input?”

Productivity just asks “how much and what kind of output was produced?”

This means:

You can be incredibly efficient and produce something of high (or low) quality.

You can be incredibly inefficient and still produce one thing at a similar level of quality.

What most of us want to know isn’t actually either of these. We just want to know if our time and energy created something equal to or greater than our expectations.

Most software projects that use the Waterfall method of development fail. It’s something like 80% of the projects come out over budget, past deadline, or with inadequate features.

If the outcome we want isn’t what we produce, it doesn’t matter how efficient we were.

If we fail, we’ve got to re-make the product or deal with not having it at all. So either way, it’s going to cost at least twice as much! Not exactly ideal outcomes.

Keep this in mind the next time you ask yourself about your productivity:

Efficiency is activity per unit time.

It’s like the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). If there’s an oil spill in Alaska, the America’s GDP goes UP! This means we’re measuring activity, not productivity!

Productivity is finished work at the level of expected quality or outcome.

Sometimes it might take an entire Sunday of camping with friends, adrenaline injected motorcycle racing or solitary painting in the room above the garage to allow your brain to produce the work that’s required for high productivity.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of being active and forget to be productive.

Some easy times to forget this:

  • Responding to emails.
  • Checking your phone for notifications.
  • Reading the comments in every Slack channel.

Remember that there are a lot of very smart people who are getting paid to make sure that you don’t leave your phone whenever you unlock it.

If you’re like me and have to use your brain for a living, this should be terrifying.


Go to your phone’s settings right now and turn off notifications for email, Facebook, and any other app that steals your attention. You can check these apps on your time.

Synchronous communication is so 2001.

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