Effective vs. efficient

There are two general ways to improve what you’re doing: become more effective or become more efficient.

Efficiency is when you do the same things faster or with less waste. For example, you might find a better way to run a project status meeting so it takes 30 minutes on average rather than 45 minutes.

Effectiveness is finding a way to improve outcomes, perhaps by doing something very differently. You might change your whole approach to the work. For example, project teams updating task status as they go may result in the elimination of project status meetings.

Efficient telegraph operators would find ways to send telegraphs more quickly–perhaps by improving their knowledge of morse code. Effective telegraph operators would step back to look for ways to improve outcomes, perhaps by switching to selling fax machines or e-mail systems.

Generally speaking, people focus on efficiency. It’s easier to think about small improvements than to ask “why” and identify different approaches.

However, focusing on effectiveness can dramatically improve outcomes. The 80/20 principle is a particular approach to improving effectiveness.