Personal Development

Efficient VS Effective: 5 Core Differences

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My great aunts were both incredible cooks. They could make the most amazing feasts for their guests by being efficient and effective, and I learned to love the kitchen as I grew up at their feet. 

Aunt Daisy was a stunning and efficient cook, and while she didn’t have the best kitchen and she had to make do with what was available, she produced lovely meals in a jiffy. My Aunt Millia had access to expensive meats, loads of fancy cooking paraphernalia, and she could also make glorious feasts… but it would be quite costly and took all day to prepare because she was effective at what she did. 

Aunt Daisy was efficient, as she used recipes to prepare her meals. My Aunt Millia was effective, producing great meals that she invented, but she needed the best ingredients. 

Knowing the difference between being efficient and effective is important when you want to get things done in life. Which is best? Or is it best to have a little of both Aunt Daisy and Aunt Millia in your work ethic? I dove deep to find out.

What Does It Mean to Be Efficient?

To be efficient means you accomplish something with the least amount of waste of resources like time, money, or materials. An example of an efficiently accomplished task is when you host a meal for friends on a tight budget, with the least amount of effort, and still ensure that everyone has enough to eat and enjoys the meal.  

Being efficient provides successful results, and you don’t need much to get there. 

What Does It Mean to Be Effective?

To be effective is when you do something to the best possible standard. Accomplishing a task effectively means you get success at all costs. When you focus on being effective, you don’t always consider the way you get there, as long as you get there and obtain the best end result. 

Effectively baking a cake may mean you have no regard for ingredients, as long as the cake is the best and most elaborate cake ever. 

Being effective produces a “wow” result, but there is a cost to it.  

Efficient Vs Effective: Aren’t These the Same?

The short answer is “no”. While some may use the terms effective and efficient interchangeably, these are not the same.

While both produce a successful result, efficiency is more cost-effective and geared to doing things “right” and with no wastage. Being effective is also a desirable quality as you do things properly, producing the best possible result, no matter the effort, time, and materials used. 

Neither is better than the other. In life, you need to have both efficiency and efficacy, though most of us are predisposed toward one or the other. 

Benefits of Being Effective

The benefits of being effective is mostly associated with the business world and communication. Effective communication has many benefits, but there are also benefits to being effective in other areas of your life. 

Effective communication is:

  • Being easily understood
  • Accurate about who is supposed to do what
  • Achieves its goal, but some confusion may occur as you try new ways to share information

Being effective in your life approach means you:

  • Reach goals exactly as you envisioned in an act of perfection
  • You are satisfied when your hard work pays off, and you truly reach the pinnacle of what you seek to achieve
  • Inspire others, often catching the limelight with what you can do
  • Develop great confidence 
  • Are in demand with others who look up to you 
  • Inspire others to succeed too
  • You are able to critically think about the best way to get the most out of any situation

But there are also negatives to being effective all the time. If you are hell-bent on being the best, succeeding at all costs, and never being less than perfect, you will be holding yourself to an impossible standard. Failure is also very possible, and you may not have the ability to succeed every time, despite having all the resources. 

Pro Tip: Want to Be More Effective? Become aware of time, but look at results. Make the right decisions, communicate well, and think out of the box. 

Benefits of Being Efficient

Efficiency is about doing things in a way that’s considered right, using your time and what facilities you have available to you to your best ability and reaching goals that may have seemed out of reach (given how little you have to work with). 

There are many benefits to being efficient. When you are efficient, you:

  • Inspire others to keep trying through hard work, despite adversity 
  • Achieve success, even if there may still be some room for improvement
  • Don’t waste time, facilities, materials, people, or effort by working logically
  • Develop confidence and creativity 
  • Accept you have tried your best, and you are content with a good result, even if it’s not the best possible outcome

Being efficient has a few cons too. An efficient person may not always achieve the best success or reach the best promotions at work, as they don’t stand out as much as someone who is effective.  

Pro Tip: Want to Be More Efficient? Being more efficient happens when you stop multitasking, focus on the end goal and getting there fast. Keep track of time and cut back on wastage, and let go of perfection. 

5 Core Differences Between Being Efficient and Effective in Life

Knowing the differences between being efficient and being effective can help you play to the best aspects of your life, work, and efforts. Here are a few differences between being effective and being efficient.  

1. A Focus on Effort

When you are efficiency focused, you want to achieve a task with the least amount of effort possible. It’s not that you are lazy, but rather that you are aware how efforts can be applied elsewhere, so saving effort frees up energy for other tasks too. 

Someone who is effectively focused will not concern themselves with how much effort is required to achieve a successful result as they focus on the end product only. Effectively driven people also don’t care whether their efforts are draining and prevent them achieving other things as long as they can reach the final and perfected goal. 

To simplify: Efficiency has the motto of “work smarter, not harder.” Effectiveness believes in “working as hard as it takes to get the best.”  

2. Focusing on Process, Not Only Results

Efficiency is not only about getting to the end goal, but it’s also about how you get there. My aunt Millia didn’t mind how much time she spent in the kitchen, as long as she made a final meal that would wow the crowds. 

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Focusing on process, not only results means emphasizing the journey towards achieving your goals rather than just the end goal itself.

But my aunt Daisy was focused on the process of making food. Her meals were more wholesome but she focused on following existing recipes to get to a finished meal, simply because she wasn’t blinded by achieving perfection. She could roast a chicken from her recipe book and wash up before a meal at the same time. 

To simplify: Efficiency is about ensuring you pay attention along the way so you can make the right decisions for your use of materials to reach a goal. Effectiveness directs all its attention to the final result, and because of this, the end result may be surprising and better than anticipated. 

So, being efficient means you stick to what you know works best, while effectiveness finds a new way. 

3. Time Conscious 

Those who are effective don’t really care as much about the amount of time it takes them to do something, as long as they do that something to perfection. This is a great quality for those who need to achieve excellence in their craft, such as master bakers, artists, and more. 

In contrast, being efficient is about being able to achieve success in as short a time as possible. Instead of trying to get the very best result, you focus on getting to an acceptable result in a limited time. 

To simplify: Efficiency is about getting things done quickly so you can do other things, while effectiveness is about getting the best possible result, no matter the time invested.  

4. Awareness and Adherence to Rules 

Those of us who are efficient know there are certain rules that help us get to the end quicker. We follow those rules to ensure we don’t go too far off the beaten path, saving time, effort, and energy along the way. 

Effective people are less concerned with rules. They may decide they want to serve two types of meat with a meal because it will be a better result, regardless of whether it’s cost-effective or not, or if the people at the meal will be able to eat as much food. 

To simplify: Effective people don’t mind breaking norms and rules to achieve what they consider to be excellence. Efficient people follow the path ahead of them as it’s the fastest way to get from point one to point two.  

5. Adaptability 

Efficient people aren’t always adaptive. When something happens that they didn’t plan on, it can take a moment before they switch gears. Being adaptable means being able to think outside the box, but efficient people think in the box, going for the most direct path to a known objective. 

Effective people can take an indirect route to an objective, even changing the objective to develop it into a better result. Those who are effective are more flexible and less bound by the path laid before them. 

To simplify: If you are efficient, you seek to do things in the way that has been proven to work. You don’t adapt well to change or crisis, but you will follow the process and procedures that are known to work best. 

Effective people can roll with life’s punches, focusing on the goal and finding new ways to get to that goal. Effective people make great leaders because they can work with those who follow routines and create new ways to reach success.  

How to Integrate the Best of Efficiency and Effectiveness in Life

If you’re wondering which is best: efficiency vs effectiveness, the answer is neither. Both efficiency and effectiveness are needed to run a successful work environment, and you need both to achieve personal excellence

Integrating efficiency and effectiveness creates the best of both worlds. When you are both effective and efficient, you become a creative leader who falls back on well-traveled paths to reach the new end goal. While you try to achieve the best, you also focus on getting that final goal accomplished with as little wastage of effort and energy as possible.   

Final Thoughts on Being Efficient Vs Effective

Which would you prefer to be? Efficient or effective? Both are essential to being the best possible worker, earner, achiever, and leader. Real leaders shine at being effective and efficient in equal measure

When you work with a team, you need to include the viewpoints of all team members… whether they are efficient or effective, creating a holistic view and solution. An efficient team member will go for what is right, but it may not be the best choice at that time (even though it’s the most cost-effective). This is where an effective team member can help them find excellence and a creative solution

Having learned from both my great aunts, I would consider myself to be both efficient and effective. When I tackle a project (baking a cake or leading a marketing team), I consider the final goal. I then look at the right, but least taxing decision, to achieve that goal.

I tend to be more efficiency focused as I have a short temper, but I can also strive for perfection along the way. How about you?

Help yourself figure things out, and make the most of efficiency and effectiveness, by reading  our guide with 65 productivity affirmations.

Finally, if you want to level up your productivity and time management skills, then watch this free video about the 9 productivity habits you can build at work.

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Efficient VS Effective: 5 Core Differences

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