Effectiveness vs. Efficiency And The ADHD Brain

Efficiency and effectiveness. People often use these words interchangeably and on some level, this makes sense since they both play a key role in maximizing productivity.

However, the similarity stops there. In fact, understanding the difference between efficiency and effectiveness is essential. Why? Because recognizing their nuances allows you to approach them in the right order, ultimately helping you save both time and energy.

And while math is not my forte, this equation is clear:

More Time + More Energy = More fun for YOU

Yes, please!

woman working on tablet

So if you’re ready to boost your productivity through both effectiveness and efficiency, be sure to check out episode 165 of the I’m Busy Being Awesome podcast.

You can listen to the episode above or stream it on your favorite podcasting app here:   

Prefer to read? No problem! Keep scrolling for the entire podcast transcript.

In Episode 166: Effectiveness vs. Efficiency And The ADHD Brain You’ll Discover… 

  • The essential difference between effectiveness and efficiency
  • Why both are key for increased productivity
  • How to optimize both in your life

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Episode #166: Effectiveness vs. Efficiency And The ADHD Brain(Transcript) 

Efficiency vs effectiveness

Today we are looking at the role of both effectiveness and efficiency when it comes to productivity and working with your brain. And more specifically, why it’s key to separate and intentionally focus on both.

Now, I think this is such an important topic and distinction to make, but even as I say this, I know it may sound like I’m getting lost in the semantics. Your brain might be thinking, “aren’t effectiveness and efficiency basically the same thing?” And if you are thinking that, you’re definitely not alone.

In fact, when I was doing some research for this episode, what I found was quite fascinating.

When I first plan out an episode, I like to do a quick Google search to see what some of the most common questions are that people have around the topic to help ensure I’m addressing these areas from my personal perspective – especially when I’m looking at productivity concepts since most of them aren’t built for the ADHD brain.

Today when I typed in the search “how to be more effective at work,” all of the search results showed up with titles like “how to be efficient at what you do” and “14 tips to be more efficient at work.” So even when I specifically searched for the term effectiveness, Google responded with tips and strategies for efficiency.

I think this is really interesting because as you’ll find, when we get a little more specific, these two terms are very different.

And this difference matters a lot.

Now, they’re both needed; if we want to work with our brains to increase our productivity, we want to be both efficient and effective. But they’re not the same thing.

Often when I talk with new clients or when I’m on a call with someone who’s thinking about joining we’re busy being awesome, a common term that gets thrown away around is efficient.

They’ll say, “I want to be more efficient at work.” Or “I want to be more efficient with my time.”

Again, I am all about efficiency. I think that implementing strategies and systems to increase efficiency is – quite frankly – a game changer. But it’s not where we want to begin. Beginning with efficiency is not the answer.

In fact, efficiency is part 2 of 3 in a 3-part process. Part one – the thing we need to look at first – is our effectiveness.

I think of it like baking a cake. If we’re baking a cake and began with step 2 rather than step 1, we might try to mix in the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. But since haven’t done step one, which was measuring out the right amount of dry ingredients, this is not a very effective process.

We are not going to produce the result that you want. The same is true with our approach to productivity.

So today we’re talking about the effectiveness, efficiency, and the role that both play together in helping you get things done productively, which is the third step.

As we begin, it seems appropriate to start with some definitions. If I’m being so rigid about the difference between these two words, let’s look at what they actually mean.

Efficiency Vs. Effectiveness – What’s the Difference?

to do list plus woman happy at laptop

Let’s break this down to truly understand the key differences and why they’re important to being productive.

What is Efficiency?

When we think about efficiency, this is our ability to produce a result with the least amount of waste.

Whether that’s time, resources, energy, focus, when we do something efficiently, we do it with the least amount of waste.

For a ridiculous example, if I decided to drive to Minnesota from Massachusetts, it would be much more efficient for me to use my GPS or a map than simply guess and hope I make it there. 

What Does Effectiveness Mean?

On the other hand, effectiveness is your ability to create something that has an impact on one of your bigger overarching goals or long-term objectives.

This might be setting aside an hour of focused work to dig in and write a few sentences of your manuscript, even if you COULD spend that hour answering dozens of emails. If your end goal is to publish your book, it’s much more effective to focus your energy on those few sentences during your focused time. 

Another way of thinking about the difference between effectiveness and efficiency comes from Peter Drucker, who was a well-known author and influential thinker in management.

He talked about efficiency and effectiveness like this…

“Efficiency is doing things right. Effectiveness is doing the right thing.”

I think this is a really beautiful way of looking at the two definitions and creating that separation between the two. Because you could do a bunch of things really efficiently, but if they’re not working toward your bigger objective, then it’s really not effective.

I want to add in a caveat that our ADHD brains do love to focus on very black-and-white all-or-nothing thinking.

So, we might use the word “right” against ourselves.

We might find ourselves spinning out, trying to find the “right way” to do something or making the “right choice” on this project or that project.

If you notice your brain wanting to do this, here’s a gentle reminder to focus on the overarching concept to help us decipher the difference between efficiency – doing things right, and effectiveness – doing the right thing.

When we can put these two together. When we can combine effective decisions and choices with efficient follow-through, that’s what helps us get two step 3, which is an increase in productivity.

Where we are doing effective work in an efficient way. We’re doing the things that matter the most in as streamlined a way as possible. And in my opinion, this is peak productivity.

So hopefully this general idea makes sense. I hope that you’re all with me. Because from there, we can move into how we maximize both our effectiveness and our efficiency in order to optimize our productivity as we work with our ADHD brains.

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Before we look at those concepts and strategies, we need to look at why we are considering this in the first place.

Why are we wanting to increase our effectiveness and our efficiency to be more productive?

This may sound like an absolutely ridiculous question to pose – especially on this podcast. But it is so important to consider, and I say this because it’s easy to get trapped in the hustle culture mentality.

I think a lot of productivity tools, strategies, and concepts out there have a great intention of helping you be more productive… but to what end?

When we constantly push ourselves to get more done, but we have no objective on the other side of it, we essentially create this treadmill of productivity where the point of getting more done is so that we can work faster and keep getting more done.

And believe me, I speak from experience when I say that this is the recipe for burnout.

If we think to ourselves, I need to get more work done. I need to complete more. I need to check more off the list. And the reason behind it is so that you can keep getting more done without a bigger long game why behind it or a goal that you’re working toward, we get stuck on that conveyor belt of hustle.

I encourage you to play around with a different perspective.

Consider that the ultimate goal of being more productive is to complete your work faster so you have more time in your day for things other than work.

Create more time Outside of Work

  • Play and have fun
  • Connect with family and friends
  • Read the books you want to read
  • Try the hobbies you want to pursue
  • Build that side hustle you’ve been thinking about for years
  • Sign up for that ceramics class you’ve always wanted to take, but haven’t had the time

In other words, I encourage you to focus on the end goal of having more time for yourself outside of work.

I invite you to use these tools of increased effectiveness and efficiency so that you can get your work done and be done. Not so you can get your work done and do more work.

The end goal is not to use these tools to turn you into a robot. That’s not going to happen. We are humans. We are humans with lives outside of productivity and work.

For some of you, this might sound really obvious, and you might be rolling your eyes thinking, duh… I know this already. Obviously, I only want to increase my productivity so that I can make more time for fun.

For those of you who might feel really uncomfortable with me saying this, you are in good company. This was a really hard lesson for me to learn personally. I think for a lot of us raised in the 20th and 21st centuries, productivity and staying busy, and checking things off lists are often what we use to measure success.

Heck, I used to wear busy as a badge of honor. 

I’m not saying that working hard and getting things done is inherently a problem.

That’s not at all what I’m saying. And I think if we are clear in our priorities and we pursue them with a level of effectiveness and efficiency in order to ensure we are moving toward our long-game goals, that’s amazing.

Ask The Question: Why?

However, when we make ourselves busy just to feel busy. When we get more done so that we can add more to our To Do List, that’s when I encourage us to step in and question the “why” behind these actions.

  • Why are we pushing ourselves so hard? Is this actually necessary?
  • What is the purpose of this drive for productivity?
  • What is your long game?

When you use these tools in support of that bigger picture, and you set boundaries around your work time so you’re creating a level of balance you want between work and home and relationships and self, that is when you’re using these tools in favor of you.

That’s when you step away from trying to turn yourself into a robot and instead use the tools for you and your human-ness.

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So again, I wanted to offer this caveat because I think it’s really easy for many of us to get trapped on the treadmill of hustle, where work just keeps coming at us. And before we start using these tools, I invite you to step off of that treadmill and outside onto the road or a path so when you’re moving, you’re doing so effectively, efficiently, AND with intention.

We want to make sure that you are making the most of your work time so that you can get the things done that you want to during those hours, and have an abundance of time and space for the rest of your life as well.

Now here’s the deal, the concepts that we’re going to talk about in terms of effectiveness and efficiency are straightforward. But implementation – especially with an ADHD brain that loves to take on new projects and constantly fires with new ideas – does take some practice.

Give yourself that space to practice

  • When you notice your brain thinking, “I should be able to get this right the first time. This isn’t that complicated.” Acknowledge the brain.
  • Then remind yourself, “this is the part where it’s hard. This is the part where it seems like it should be easy. This is the part where it takes practice and that’s OK.”

So, what does this look like? How can we begin implementing these concepts?

As a reminder, we want to begin with creating clarity on our most effective tasks. We want to ensure that we’re focusing our attention on the projects and tasks that move the needle forward rather than keeping us busy spinning our wheels.

Once we’ve identified our most effective projects and goals, then we want to bring in our efficiency and learn how to reduce the drag on our systems to make those effective projects happen more seamlessly.

So let’s talk about both of these categories.

How do we know if we’re being effective?

woman working

What does this actually mean? How can we do it?

As I’ve alluded to, in order to take effective action, it’s critical to know what you’re working on and why you are working on it.

You don’t want to simply stay busy for the act of being busy. I could stay busy answering emails and cleaning out my inbox, and I would get really efficient at doing emails.

But spending time in my inbox is not the most effective action I can take toward my long-term goal of creating generational change for people with ADHD.

So again, get really clear on those bigger-picture goals or long-term projects that you’re working on personally or with your team.

From there, as you break down your plans for the week and the day, you can check in and ensure that you’re working on the projects that will move you toward that long-term goal.

Check in with yourself; do you know what you’re creating at the end of that work block? Have you defined what done looks like?

This is a question I often ask myself and my clients.

What does done look like?

  • When you define done for yourself, you become so much more effective at working toward that long-term objective.
  • Knowing what you’re doing and why you’re doing it helps create clarity.
  • When you zoom out your brain will see how this smaller task or project contributes to your long game goals or your team’s objectives, that’s when you know you’re working on something effective.

Building on this, when you know what you are working on – when you’ve identified your effective projects and focus areas – I encourage you to work on only that in the time that you’ve scheduled. And reduce the multi-tasking or task switching as much as possible.

Now, I realize what I’m saying and to whom I’m saying it. As an ADHD brain speaking to many other ADHD brains or distractible brains telling them to stay focused on the one thing is almost laughable. I get it.

But it’s also still true.

Constraining your focus on the most important things is how we improve our effectiveness. And it is possible to do this – even with an ADHD brain – when you have the correct tools and scaffolding in place to support your unique brain.

When you have those tools and supports, it helps turn the tables and give you the upper hand.

When you can coach your brain to stay focused on those important projects AND support yourself when distractions inevitably happen or procrastination keeps you from getting started as you originally planned, that’s everything.

Also, please notice that I said WHEN, not IF.

For those of us with ADHD, procrastination and distraction are going to happen. This is part of having ADHD. I still do it too. If you don’t get distracted. If you don’t ever procrastinate. You don’t have ADHD. 

The difference is knowing how to support yourself through these obstacles without beating yourself up.

It’s noticing you’re procrastinating or noticing you got distracted and guiding yourself back with acceptance and self-compassion. Learning to do this helps you minimize the amount of time you’re in these uncomfortable transition spaces and get into action doing the things you want to do.  

For many of us, we look at our to-do lists or our schedules and everything seems like a fire. Everything seems urgent. When this happens, it’s so easy to drop into doing-doing-doing without being intentional about what we’re doing. Instead, we’re trying to do do do so we can simply do it all – without any consideration of what’s important. 

Now as you hear me say this, your brain may immediately be thinking: “I don’t know what’s the most important. I can’t possibly choose.”

Your brain might want to spin out in “I don’t know energy.” That’s OK.

This is the part where the brain spins out.

This is the part where the brain gets confused or frustrated.

This is that part of where I’m being a human with ADHD.

When we can recognize this without judgment, it’s much easier to slow down and question our brain. “What if I did know? What if I did know the most effective thing to focus on right now that will move me toward that goal?”

Remind your brain, “I can always do more, but if I only do one thing today, what would that thing be? What would move me forward the most in my long game goal?”

Once you know you’re focused on the most effective tasks and projects, then we get to zoom in on how to do them as efficiently as possible with the least amount of waste.

How can we reduce unnecessary energy or time or resources going into completing this effective task?

Ways To Improve Your Efficiency

There are lots of different ways that you can approach efficiency. I’m going to offer several here, and I encourage you to make note of what might work best for you and your brain. There’s no one right way, there are a lot of different ways and you get to find the ones that feel good for you.

1. Think About Your Schedule

More specifically, building your schedule around your brain, your preferred work style, your lifestyle, and your energy levels.

Keeping these areas in mind are all impactful ways to increase efficiency in doing what you’re doing.

When you’re working with your brain, that’s when you can work most efficiently. 

Ways To Improve Your Schedule

  • Using automation tools
  • Delegate tasks that somebody else could do so you can focus on your zone of genius.
  • Plan your day ahead of time. When you do this, you tax less of your executive function at the start of the day deciding what to do and mapping things out. You’ve already taken care of future-you by doing it the day before.
  • Try batch working to minimize task switching, which we’ve talked about in previous episodes.
  • Cut out distractions. I love to use do not disturb on all of my devices – my phone my computer (anything that dings and pings.) I also like to use the freedom app, which blocks out any app or website on all my devices that I indicate for certain stretches of time. I’ll link to it in the show notes If you’re interested. (Use this link to try Freedom for free – affiliate link)

2. Use Templates To Get Started

You can also use different templates or systems to help make getting started easier.

When you have those templates and systems at the ready, it’s one less obstacle in the way. It’s already started the process for you, which can help make the obstacle of procrastination a bit less intense.

In fact, I shared one of my favorite workflow templates with my we’re busy being awesome group the other day, and I heard so much feedback on how having that workflow made a big difference in breaking down the steps and getting started with so much less resistance.

3. Get Prepared To Work

Building on that, having what you need before you begin also plays a powerful role.

That way you’re not constantly interrupting your flow needing to get up and find the book or locate the eraser or find the Word document buried somewhere in your Google Drive.

When you have everything ready to go at the start of your working block, it allows an opportunity for much greater efficiency.

4. Set Clear Boundaries

On a broader scale when it comes to efficiency, having clear boundaries for yourself is also incredibly powerful.

And when I say this, I mean having clear boundaries between when you’re working and not. Or when you’re doing deep focused work on your long-term projects versus administrative things that might simply be required for your job. 

When you have those clear boundaries – especially between when you’re working and when you’re not – it allows you to have time to prioritize the other areas of your life.

Setting Boundaries ensures you’re making time for…

  • Enough sleep
  • Connecting with important people in your life
  • Making time for movement or getting outside in the fresh air
  • Having space to journal or read
  • Implementing the tools that you learn in podcasts like this

Final Thoughts

Whether you have an ADHD brain or not, these bigger picture life areas like getting enough sleep and rest and relaxation, and connection outside of work are often forgotten.

Effectiveness and efficiency play an important role in our ability to stay engaged during our work hours, and have the ability to redirect ourselves back to our work when procrastination or distraction inevitably happen. 

Again, getting distracted doesn’t have to be a problem. In fact, I think you’ll be amazed at how effective and efficient you are when you can start noticing yourself distracted without judgment and simply redirect back to the work with self-compassion and understanding. I’m telling you, that’s the key.

 If you’re ready to take the concepts you’ve learned and apply them to your life, as well as support your ADHD in a way that works for YOU within a small, supportive community, check out my group coaching program, We’re Busy Being Awesome.

You learn how to:

  • Work with your brain in a way that’s best for you.
  • Create that optimized schedule that fits your brain
  • Coach yourself with self-compassion, so that you’re able to step out of procrastination or distraction and into action so you’re finishing the projects and tasks that matter most to you.
  • Truly boost your productivity through an increase in your effectiveness and efficiency while working with your ADHD brain

If this sounds like your jam and it’s what you’re looking to do, be sure to head to imbusybeingawesome.com/group. We are enrolling now for the next cohort, and I’d love to have you join us.

Want To Join Our Group Coaching Program?!

I will be opening the doors for the next cohort of We’re Busy Being Awesome in a couple of weeks!

Add your name to the waitlist so you’ll be the first to know about program dates and times, plus how you can sign up if it’s a great fit for you.

It’s time to work with your brain, reclaim your time, and start living (in the words of Mary Oliver) your one wild and precious life in the way YOU want to live it. And I’d love to help you do that.

To Recap

Effectiveness and efficiency are not interchangeable concepts. They’re both important, and they’re quite distinct from one another.

As Peter Drucker reminded us, “Efficiency is doing things right. Effectiveness is doing the right things.” And in order to really increase our productivity, we want to ensure we’re focused on both.

As this episode ends, I invite you to…

  1. Create some clarity around both what you are working on and why you are working on it. What is that end goal? What is your long game?
  2. When you increase your productivity, and you get things done more effectively and efficiently, what are you going to do with that time saved? Be sure to create that compelling reason for your brain so it understands why it’s important to work toward that goal.
  3. Use the questions in the strategies that we talked about first for increasing effectiveness and then for improving efficiency to help you move toward those goals.
  4. Continually remind your brain that you are a human and not a robot. Rest and play and sleep are key.

Please don’t use these strategies to keep yourself on the treadmill of more work. Step off that treadmill of non-stop doing. And as you step off, focus on the clarity and direction you’re headed.

Then, start taking effective and efficient actions toward making that goal a reality.

Until next time, keep being awesome. I’ll talk with you soon.

Also, have you grabbed the podcast roadmap yet? It has the most popular IBBA podcast episodes all detailed for you so you can get yourself up to speed and ready to work with your ADHD brain, you can grab it now!

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