There are a million things each day clamoring for your attention and it can feel like you’ve failed if you did not get to everything on the to-do list.

How do we balance being both efficient and effective?

Of course, efficiency means achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort and/or expense. Effectiveness, on the other hand, is the degree to which something is successful in producing a desired result.

I would rather not waste my time and energy to become efficient at a task or process that is not the best use of my time. Yet, I also don’t want to focus all my time on a successful outcome without consideration of the resource cost. There are strategies that can help improve efficiency and effectiveness.        

The first step is to prioritize your most important tasks. Just having a to-do list is not enough. You could technically spend all day checking things off your list, which may feel very efficient but is not quite as effective if you are not hitting the items that are going the have the greatest impact. Consider the Eisenhower Matrix; you really want to focus your time on what is “urgent and important,” as well as “not urgent but also important.” Schedule time into your calendar for the known important projects according to urgency.  

Some projects are going to require significant time and mental effort. There is just no way around it. Make sure that you schedule this work at an optimal time slot when you have energy, this is typically in the morning for most.

Realistically, these projects may need to be broken into smaller, more manageable goals, so spend some time in the planning phase rather than running out of time. Avoid all distractions during this time, including email. At work, let your team know you will be unavailable for that time period, so they know to keep matters until after. You may also want to designate who will be responsible for what while you are unavailable. Of course, you will have to follow that with a block of time when you can be available to your team.

Also realize there will be the unexpected and urgent matters that pop up, so build in enough of a buffer in your schedule that you can address those if needed.

During these scheduled work blocks you will invariably have thoughts pop up regarding other projects or things that need your attention. It might be tempting to try and multitask, but you have to resist the urge. Science is clear on this; you cannot use the same mental resource for two different tasks. When you switch between two tasks you lose valuable time trying to refocus. You will be much more efficient and effective leaving the second task until you are done with the first. If you are concerned that you may forget, get in the habit of keeping a follow-up list handy so you can simply write the idea down and come back to it later.  

Another key to managing efficiency and effectiveness is to take breaks. This may sound counterintuitive, but breaks are necessary to manage energy, which ultimately allow you to be more productive. It can be as small as standing up every 30 minutes and taking a brisk walk for 10 minutes every two hours. You also have to recharge from time to time. Make sure you get enough exercise, nutrition, water and social connection.  

Finally, reserve your energy and time for the big decisions. Resist the temptation to have your hands in every project. Instead, build a strong support system and delegate according to strengths. Think of delegation as an opportunity for you and them to grow and shine. Just make sure to schedule regular check-ins to get an update on how the projects are progressing, so you can keep your finger on the pulse.   

- Dr. Siquilla Liebetrau, clinical director, Bowen Center