Efficiency vs. Productivity
Monday, March 27, 2023

Efficiency vs. Productivity

To achieve your goals, you need a bit of both.

Efficiency and productivity are key goals in every workplace. Many people use the words interchangeably, regarding them as synonyms of each other. However, efficiency and productivity are actually two very different things that need to work together to be truly effective.

Whether you’re a large corporation, a small enterprise, or a one-person operation, efficiency and productivity should be your ultimate aim. But, what’s the difference between the two, do you need one to achieve the other, and how can you ensure you work as efficiently and as productively as possible?

What is Productivity?

Male and Female Businesspeople measuring productivity

Productivity is all about results and the amount of work you can get done within a certain time period. It’s easy to measure, which is why many people focus on productivity when analyzing their work and success.

Manufacturing companies may measure productivity by looking at the output of each employee per hour or the overall number of products produced per day. However, just because someone is productive doesn’t mean they’re effective.

For example, a company employs 10 people who produce 1,000 units in the first week. The following week sees output increase to 1,250 units by the same 10 employees, an excellent 25% increase in productivity. However, to get more done, corners were cut which resulted in a day spent checking the batch for errors.

Producing 1,250 widgets a week may look great on a productivity spreadsheet, but if additional time has to be used for quality checking and 250 units are faulty, then the company’s not been as productive as it initially thought.

What is Efficiency?

Efficiency refers to how well you use the resources at your disposal to achieve a task. In the majority of cases, those resources are time and effort.

To understand how efficient you are, you measure how much time and effort it takes to complete tasks. The more time and resources it takes to finish a job, the less efficient you’re being. However, you also need to take into account the quality of the end product as there’s no point in speeding through a task, thereby using less time if the work you produce is of inferior quality.

For example, churning out 1,000 words in two hours may feel like you’ve been really efficient. But, it’s not very efficient if you have to rewrite half of them as they’re not up to a high enough standard. In this instance, the more efficient working practice would be to assign some of your valuable time to research and prepping for the task at hand.

The Correlation Between Efficiency and Productivity?

Productivity focuses on results while efficiency is about using resources effectively to create those results. The two are different but closely connected and interdependent, working hand in hand to achieve the best results.

Increasing productivity means you complete more work within the same time period. To boost efficiency, you need to focus on reaching the same level of output while using fewer resources, i.e. in a shorter amount of time.

Simply Improving Productivity and Efficiency Isn’t the Answer

On the surface, trying to achieve more in a shorter timeframe may seem like the smart way to work. It increases both efficiency and productivity. However, we’ve all heard the fable of the hare and the tortoise. Just because you’re quick doesn’t make you the winner. Sometimes it’s better to use your time and effort more effectively, maybe on planning and prep work before starting a task, to achieve the best result and be more productive in the long run.

Let’s look at sales calls as an example. Peter and Jane are asked to make as many cold calls as possible in an hour. Peter makes 8 calls and Jane makes 10, making Jane the more productive of the two.

When they’re given a list of 40 potential clients to call, Jane finishes her calls a whole hour before Peter. Again, Jane appears to be the more efficient of the two as she’s taken less time to complete the task.

So, it seems that Jane is the better and more effective of our sales reps, right? But what if you learn that Peter has a greater conversion rate and generates more revenue for his employer? In this instance, Peter is the more effective rep.

Although he takes slightly longer to be as productive as Jane, Peter spends time researching his potential clients to personalize each call and pushes additional services that help increase the revenue on each sale.

Simply put, efficiency and productivity can sometimes lead to people being busy but not achieving anything. The better practice is working smartly, focusing on increasing the amount of work generated while still producing the highest standard of output.

How to Improve Efficiency and Productivity

Three business people making progress together

Productivity is our ultimate goal. But, sometimes we all need to reassess and refocus our working practices and use our resources more efficiently to improve our productivity. Here are our top tips for improving efficiency and achieving peak productivity.

Avoid Multitasking

You may think multitasking is the key to achieving more. However, the truth is that multitasking is a myth. When you think you’re being super efficient, what you’re actually doing is task switching, shifting your attention from one thing to another without really focusing on one particular task. It’s also a waste of time as you lose precious seconds and minutes as you switch between tasks while your mind tries to refocus on the new job at hand

Instead of trying to tackle multiple tasks simultaneously, focus on one thing at a time. By doing so, you’ll make efficient use of the precious resource called time enabling you to be productive and achieve the most you can throughout your day.

Get Organized

Declutter your workspace and create a workday schedule by setting aside chunks of time for different tasks. Not only will this help you focus on one thing at a time, but it will also improve your efficiency and help boost your overall productivity.

Utilize Your Productive Times

Prioritize your to-do list and work out when you’re at your most alert, either through analyzing your energy levels throughout the day or identifying your chronotype. This lets you plan to work on the most important and complex tasks during your most productive times, set aside sessions for easier tasks when your energy levels are lower, and plan breaks to give your body and mind a chance to recover and refocus.

A well-planned schedule makes efficient use of your time and energy levels to help maximize productivity.

Avoid Distractions

It’s unnecessary to instantly respond to every notification and ping you receive on your phone. Many emails, texts, messages, and phone calls can wait until a scheduled admin session. To avoid being constantly interrupted, turn on Do Not Disturb.

Inform team members that you’ll be unavailable during your deep work sessions so they know to avoid disrupting you during this time. Activate the Do Not Disturb or Focus Assist setting on your smartphone, laptop, and other devices to prevent being interrupted by email alerts and push notifications.

Use Technology to Your Advantage

Make the most of technology to help keep you on track throughout your working day and save you from wasting time doing things manually. Use a timer or desktop productivity app to ensure you stick to your schedule by setting it to alert you at the beginning and end of different sessions. During deep work times, apps such as kōno will also automatically switch on the Do Not Disturb settings on your device and block access to those distracting social media websites you find yourself checking every 30 minutes.

Use Your Time Wisely

We all have a limited amount of time during our working day to deliver results, so what counts is how you use the hours you have. With proper planning and by utilizing the resources at your disposal, you can increase efficiency to get more done and ultimately achieve your productivity goals.

Jackie Smart
LinkedIn Profile

Efficiency vs. Productivity FAQs

Efficiency vs. productivity: what's the difference?

Output in relation to time is called productivity. Because productivity is determined by evaluating production over the same time period, assessing productivity is simple. On the other hand, the best output for each unit of time is efficiency. By carrying out tasks correctly, you achieve your best degree of productivity and efficiency.

Which is more important: efficiency or productivity?

Efficiency is the ability to do the same amount of work in less time. In contrast, productivity is completing more work in the same amount of time. Although they are two distinct entities and concepts, it's crucial to remember that they are interconnected.

Can you be productive without being efficient?

You can be productive even if you're not efficient. While meeting deadlines and completing things swiftly indicate that you are productive, poor-quality work indicates that you are not being as efficient as you can be. To execute activities as successfully as possible, productivity and efficiency frequently go hand in hand.

Is it possible to be efficient but not productive?

Yes, it is possible to be efficient but not productive. Even though your work is of the highest caliber, your efficiency is not translating into productivity if you consistently miss project deadlines. To get the greatest results, productivity and efficiency must work together.

How do you measure efficiency and productivity?

The output you create each hour or the total quantity of things produced daily can be used to gauge productivity. You gauge how much time and effort it takes to perform activities to determine your efficiency. You are becoming less effective the more time and resources it takes to complete a task.

What are some common misconceptions about efficiency and productivity?

The idea that "more hours equals more work" is illogical. Long hours of labor result in decreased performance, disgruntled employees, and poorer output. Additionally, multitasking, recognized and valued as a method of accomplishing many tasks simultaneously, is not a suitable productivity method. It turns out that multitasking slows us down and increases our number of mistakes.

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