Busy doing nothing? Are you effective or merely efficient?
Long-standing readers of my articles and Audit Agony Aunt responses will have heard me wax-lyrical many-a-time about the difference between effectiveness and efficiency. I make no apology today for returning to my soap box. In this VUCA milieu of constant change, ever-accelerating pace and deepening complexity, it is more critical than ever to have tools and techniques that enable us to optimise our personal productivity and protect our work-life balance. We have to accept reality; in the face of an array of seemingly infinite options, no longer can we do, or have, it all. And while twentieth century time management tips, focusing on how we work better as opposed to what we work on, may still be useful, applied in isolation they are simply no longer up to the job.
'Efficiency is doing things right: effectiveness is doing the right things', Peter Drucker
So we are all busy. At work, at rest, at play and at home - the daily, hourly, minute by minute demands and choices we face seem to rise exponentially...
But are you busy doing the things that matter most? I can't answer for you in the domains of rest, play and home, but your choices in these areas do provide solid bedrock for your professional success. Check out our Resilience Programme to understand the importance of your physical and psychological wellbeing and its implications for how you cope at work.
But coping at work is just the start, of course. You need to be able to deliver, to flourish and to perform to the highest standards, just to keep up, never mind getting ahead in today's competitive marketplace. Misdirected effort, distraction and perfectionism can all masquerade as efficiency. But being efficient is not the same as being effective: efficiency is getting things done, effectiveness is getting things done to worthwhile effect. In other words effectiveness is about the value of your outputs.
Do the things that count most...and don't procrastinate
Remember the Pareto 80:20 principle? 80% of consequences stem from 20% of causes. So in time management 80% of results stem from 20% of work. Now turn that to good effect and ensure you spend 80% of your time on the things that really matter. How?
Start with an audit, an audit of your own time allocation. Faced with unproductive tasks that contribute to no greater good, you should check out the alternatives.
Be tough on yourself. Ask yourself - who else could do this? Does it need to be done at all? Am I setting up this rigorous e-filing system because it’s a quick-win (and more satisfying than applying my judgement to a messy issue around process violation)? Or can I truly say it is the best way to audit the 'Digitalized Widget Group' accounts?
And when you've figured out what counts the most - get on and do it or schedule your commitment. Being effective means being in control. Procrastination eventually turns the important into the urgent and operating under red-alert is nobody's idea of effectiveness or efficiency.
Is the task really for you? Could a different skill-set be better? Learn to delegate – but not abdicate - responsibility. Find the right person for the job, and invest in that person: time, training, resources. Choose Charlie because Charlie shows aptitude: don’t just choose him because you can't face it or don’t understand it - that’s abdicating responsibility. And when the job goes over budget, don’t blame Charlie if (s)he's been spending all his time trying to figure out what baffled you.
Learn to let go
I've said it before and I'll say it again; you really need to understand when good enough is good enough! It's hard, this one: some people never get it. But in a VUCA context, dealing with uncertainty and ambiguity, you have to develop the confidence and good judgement to decide when to let go. You can't know and do everything and you can't constantly strive for perfection. Effectiveness now is more about applying an informed and considered materiality to every aspect of what we do professionally and to know where to draw the line, evaluate and take a measured risk.
Measure what matters
Inputs are easy to measure. They are also quite satisfying: I've worked 50 hours this week, of course I've been busy, of course I've been working hard. Measuring outputs is much trickier. It takes qualitative as well as quantitative techniques; it needs judgement as well as a fair bit of planning and contextualising. Measuring inputs will not tell you how effective you have been, it might give you some metrics about your efficiency but you'll ascertain nothing about optimising the return on investment of your time. If there's one single thing you can do right now to improve your effectiveness it's to start to measure your outputs - what you have delivered, what you have achieved and what progress you have made against your targets and objectives. Then, and only then, can you start looking at the efficiency side of the equation (the how). And until that point, take heed at one definition of the (oh so familiar) busy fool, which is quite simply, glorious efficiency devoid of effectiveness!
Which topic would you like to read about next month? Look over the list of topics in the original Audit Advantage article here and let us know your choice for the next topic we should cover.