The Downsides of Efficiency

The Downsides of Efficiency

I love efficiency. I seek it in most things, and I admire it in the efforts of others. Little is as upsetting to me as having to redo a task, or having to take the long way around, or having a project or outcome stalled or derailed. However, someone recently pointed out (jokingly, I hope) that my need for efficiency may be borderline pathological. That gave me pause, and made me think about the downsides of efficiency, especially in the work setting.

I believe most people want to be efficient, but there are times when striving for efficiency becomes a negative. This can happen for several reasons. First is that old adage, “haste makes waste.” When you are in a hurry, you tend to cut corners. In business, this can lead to significant errors, even lost business. That email or text you send or copy to the wrong person, misspelling that important client’s name, or sending incorrect dates or times for conference calls or a big meeting all can create problems.

Then there’s the idea of “two birds with one stone.” It may be efficient to use a proposal, a presentation, or a letter more than once, but only if you double check it each time before use. For example, you decide it will save effort to use the same proposal for two separate sales pitches, but you neglect to change the client’s company name in one place. The same can happen when you are giving one presentation to several different groups. You realize as soon as you begin to speak that you have the wrong group name on your first slide. With either scenario, you immediately lose credibility. Your need for efficiency has worked against your chance of success.

Time experts are fond of suggesting that if a task will take less than five minutes, you should do it immediately so that it never even makes your “to do” list. That idea can be a great time saver, or it can lead to mistakes. Perhaps the most common mistake is not giving the task enough thought beforehand. A seemingly small request from your boss may have more importance than you first realize. Or responding quickly to a text message or phone call without understanding the position of the caller can leave you unprepared.

If you are the boss or supervisor, most of your staff will learn what level of efficiency is important to you, and they will try to meet your standards. However, if your desire for efficiency is too great, you may be causing your staff to make unnecessary errors or to do sub-par work. It is important that you realize, and accept, that not everyone can be equally task-efficient.

Perhaps the worst outcome that can result from your need for efficiency is a tendency to do tasks yourself instead of delegating them (which actually makes you much less efficient overall). This usually relates to your need for control and a belief that you can always do the job faster and better than others. Additional clues that you may fall in this category include actions like avoiding group projects, or always volunteering to be the team leader, or offering. to write (read this as “be in control of”) the final report.

Take a good look at your expectations regarding efficiency. Discuss them with a few close colleagues or friends and ask what they think about your constant efficiency quest. Try not to be defensive if they suggest you take a bit more time with things or be a bit more lenient with staff and others. The goal is to make certain that your compulsion for efficiency doesn’t lead to inefficiency in the long run.

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