Productivity, efficiency or neither. What approach is best?

Productivity and efficiency have always been valued traits in any organization and even a criteria for employees. But in fact they are not synonyms. So, before deciding to improve either of them you need to know their differences. 

In short, productivity is how much work is produced or completed by your business, and efficiency is how many resources were used in order to complete that work.

Simply put, productivity is output per unit of time, and it is also measured only by output. So, if productivity is doing the most work in less time, you do in fact get a lot of things done but the quality of your work is in question. There’s also a question of “can you be too productive?”. And the answer is yes. If you solely focus on doing the most work, you can be less creative, your work-life relationship can be imbalanced, the quality of your work doesn’t meet the standards of your company, you can even experience burnout. But, a healthy productivity can be achieved, through technology solutions, an increased focus on teamwork and collaboration, or effective time management. All in all, productivity shouldn’t be feared, but embraced in a balanced, healthy way.

What about efficiency? Efficiency, on the other hand, is the best possible output for each unit of time. That is, doing things right. The value is reflected in a business’s profits, success, and your bottom line. Just some of the benefits of efficiency are optimal resource usage, decreased errors and a happier workplace. 

To sum up, when you show your employees that their work should be efficient, that is, focused on doing the right things, quality and creativity, and encourage them to use some productivity hacks like time management tools, new technology etc. they will achieve their peak level of efficiency and productivity. Because an efficient employee is an invaluable resource for your business.

But as we asked ourselves “can you be too productive?” we must also ask ourselves  “can you be too efficient?”

In his TED Talk “The paradox of efficiency”, writer and historian Edward Tenner warnes that being obsessed with efficiency can make us inefficient. He proposes a new concept called Inspired Inefficiency, witch you can achieve by following these 7 simple pieces of advice:

  1. Say yes to serendipity, because even the “wrong” decision or mistakes can produce something productive.
  2. Get up from the couch and say no to voice commands, because it simply makes you healthier.
  3. Monetize your mistakes, because every mistake can be an opportunity.
  4. Sometimes try the hard way, it can be more rewarding.
  5. Get security through diversity, because the environment is always changing.
  6. Achieve safety through redundancy and skills, because we cannot always rely on autopilot.
  7. Be rationally extravagant and don’t cut back on your creativity in favour of efficiency. 

He summed up with an example of how Charles Darwin dealt with a problem. He made a circular pathway around his house, where he would just simply walk and think about the problem. Although it could be seen as a waste of time and energy, simply inefficient, it is exactly that which strengthened his efficiency. Because sometimes “the best way to move forward is to walk in circles”. 

Ultimately there is much to take away from every perspective. While productivity may be the answer for some, it can lead to a burnout for others. And although being efficient may be the answer your company has been looking for, we must remember that making mistakes, and taking the longer path can also lead to success. We would say that the key here is balance and intuition. Find our what works for your team and regularly check up on them, and adapt accordingly. And, whatever you chose to do, don’t forget that sometimes even doing nothing, can be efficient.