“There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.” – Peter F. Drucker 
Effectiveness and Efficiency
Do you know the difference between effectiveness and efficiency? Effectiveness is the relationship between a goal achieved and a goal set, whereas efficiency is the ratio of the achieved goal to the effort. Thus effectiveness is a measure of usefulness and efficiency is one of economy. This is where it gets interesting because the result of efficient working does not have to be following my set goals (or those of my company) and therefore effective at the same time. Moreover, it often happens that we do bullshit efficiently. Checking e-mail 30 times a day to develop an elaborate system of rules and sophisticated techniques to ensure that 30 of these brain farts are processed as quickly as possible is efficient but far from being effective . We often assume that when people are busy, they work on important tasks, implying effectiveness. Unfortunately, this is often not true.
But why does this happen? Two quite clear situations cause this behavior in my opinion. The first and very rare situation is that there is nothing important to do. Now that we have to ask ourselves what to do next we decide more or less obviously, depending on whether I am at work or not, to do tasks/things that are not very effective. Taking a break or doing nothing is usually not an option because we hate not using time and are afraid of social disregard (e.g. by colleagues). Someone who takes a break while other work is called lazy faster then he*she likes, even if it is not guaranteed that the others work effectively. That’s why we prefer to do bullshit instead of a targeted break, at least at work. But as already mentioned this situation is quite rare in my opinion, because many people are looking for new challenges if there is nothing important to do. The second situation is that there are a few critical tasks to get closer to my (or the company) goals. Being busy is then used as an excuse to avoid these most unpleasant tasks. Effective work fails not because of the amount or complexity of tasks, but by distraction or working on unimportant things. There are thousands of useless things you can do (efficiently): Sort Outlook contacts, cleaning up the filing cabinet, write an unimportant report, and so on. Whereas it is difficult, for example, to call the Head of Department to say that something cannot be done as planned and that a new meeting with the customer is needed.
These considerations lead me to the following conclusion: It is much more important what you do than how you do it. Don’t get me wrong, efficiency is something very important. But you should consider it secondary in comparison to effectiveness. So now let’s have a look at the Pareto Law as it is a rule which helps us to identify important/critical tasks.
Pareto’s 80/20 Law
Pareto is a rather well-known and controversial Economist. He became known mainly through the rule named after him: Pareto’s Law. This rule is explained quite simply: 80% of a result comes from 20% of the effort . Depending on the context, you can find different variations of this, like
- 80% of the consequences come from 20% of the causes,
- 80% of the revenue comes from 20% of the products (and/or customers),
- 80% of costs come from 20% of the purchases,
and so on. The exact ratio varies and you find examples from 70/30 to 99/1. Significant is the large gradient. Even though most people realize that this rule can’t apply to everything and is therefore discussed with good reason, Pareto makes a point here. Just from those already mentioned circumstances above, and a few more, we often tend to work ineffective. This creates an imbalance between effort and usefulness results. With this, the Pareto Rule pushes us to identify self-reflectively where we waste time and to find out what is important for our goals. So here you can try to answer the following questions for yourself:
- What 20% causes 80% of my problems?
- What 20% causes 80% of my useful outcomes?
or in a personal way:
- What 20% causes 80% of my unhappiness?
- Which 20% causes 80% of what makes me happy?
These questions can be used to identify critical tasks or circumstances and thus allow us to decide what we should do. Or as in most cases what we should let be, e.g. caring for a lot of customers which only generates a fraction of the revenue. Another simple question that helps us identify what we should do is the following: If you were only allowed to work two hours a day, what tasks would you do and what tasks would you avoid at all costs? This simple question helps to identify the critical tasks and leads us to the final topic: How to get shit done in time.
Time is wasted because there is so much of it . As an employee, you are usually not free to choose how long you want to work each day. Most people have to work between 8-12 hours. While the time of work plays a role in physical labor, it behaves for most creative, constructive, and conceptual jobs like a servitude. As you are obliged to be in the office you choose to create activities to fill the time. Being at work for 8 hours does not mean that you are creative for 8 hours or being able to be creative that long. Also, don’t get me wrong on this, there are days when you can work very effectively for a long time, but often in the context of deadlines. And that’s what the Parkinson’s Law is about:
“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion” – C. Northcote Parkinson 
Or in other words: A task expands to the exact degree that time is available to complete it, not to the degree that it is actually complex . If you had a day to deliver a project, the time pressure would force you to concentrate on your work and do only the most essential things possible. If you had 2 weeks for the same task, it would take you two weeks and you will probably have wasted much more time on unimportant subtasks. This does not mean that we can do everything if we set the deadline short enough, but that we work much more effectively if we set ourselves tight deadlines.
Try it out
To sum it up in one sentence: Doing less lets you achieve more! With Pareto, you can identify your few critical tasks for your goals. And according to Parkinson’s Law, you should shorten the work time so that you stick to these critical tasks and do not inflate the goals unnecessarily. Try it out! Choose a personal goal or your current company task. Ask your self which the really important (sub-)tasks are (80/20 helps). Afterward, shorten your time to work on these tasks to a limit (e.g. 2 hours a day) and set you a tight deadline to deliver. For the deadline, it is important that you feel uncomfortable or it seems impossible. The goal is not to have everything done by tomorrow in magical ways, but to increase the focus. Look after the deadline and see what you have achieved. Probably much more in less time.
One last note: In my opinion, these rules do not serve to maximize the time gained for other work, but to free it up. We should try to create the important in little time and use the remaining time for our interests and private life to have a healthy balance. The goal is not having 4 slots of 2-hour pure effectiveness but having one or two and not wasting the rest of the (work) time.
- Being busy is not equal to being effective.
- Being efficient does not imply being effective.
- We use busyness to postpone critical and unpleasant tasks.
- We use busyness to avoid apparent “time-loss” and social disregard.
- It is much more important what you do than how you do it.
- Pareto gives you the possibility to identify what you should do.
- Parkinson’s Law lets you stay focussed on the important things.
- Doing less let you achieve more.
 Peter Ferdinand Drucker: Managing for Business Effectiveness. Harvard Business Review. 3, May/June, 1963, P. 53–60 (hbr.org opened 04/09/2020).
 Timothy Ferris, 4 Hour Work Week, Page 69
 Bunkley, Nick (March 3, 2008). “Joseph Juran, 103, Pioneer in Quality Control, Dies”. The New York Times. (opened 04/09/2020)
 Timothy Ferris, 4 Hour Work Week, Page 75
 C. Northcote Parkinson, Parkinson’s Law, The Economist. 177, No. 5856, 19. November 1955, P. 635–637.
 M. Mohrmann: Bauvorhaben mithilfe von Lean Projektmanagement neu denken. 4. Auflage. BoD, 2011, ISBN 978-3-8391-4949-2, P. 55.
1 thought on “Time Management: Doing Less lets you Achieve More”
Thanks for the interesting read, especially your elaboration on effectiveness and efficiency. I should have re-read the post not now but before my exams 😀
Much love and enjoy the last hours of your cake-day.