Am I Productive, Efficient, or Effective?

Jim BensonExpert, Featured1 Comment

Productivity: having the power to produce

Efficiency: the ratio of the output to the input of any system

Effectiveness: being able to bring about a desired result

Personal Kanban is considered a Productivity tool, because it gives us the power to produce more.  It is likewise said to increase Efficiency by limiting WIP and increasing focus which means we expend less energy to affect results. This in turn boosts our Effectiveness by providing the information necessary to make better decisions and act on them.

Often people have bursts of productivity, efficiency, or effectiveness – but because they aren’t paying attention to what they’re doing, these events are sometimes dismissed as happy accidents. Personal Kanban makes your work explicit, meaning it constantly shows you what you are doing and what you could be doing. This helps you interpret your options and prioritize you tasks based on current conditions. Personal Kanban also lets us balance productivity, efficiency, and effectiveness, and turn them into three parts of the same machine.

Individually, bursts look like this:

  • Bursts of productivity – You get a lot done, but is it the right stuff?
  • Bursts of efficiency – Work is easily done, but is it focused for maximum effect?
  • Bursts of effectiveness – The right work is done at the right time … this time. Is this process repeatable?

Heroes on Their Way to Work Don't Dress Like You and Me

I call these bursts “hero” events. Over time, things get screwed up and you have to call in a “hero” to fix them quickly. That hero may be you, a temp worker, a consultant, or a friend. But you identify a need so late in the game that you need to work above and beyond to complete the task at hand.

What’s funny is that after these hero events, we feel good. And because we feel good, we think, “That was awesome!” and we ascribe the event to something exceptional. Something that just couldn’t possibly happen every day.

During a recent project in Washington, D.C., I worked alongside members of the Intelligence Community. More than one of them told me that people in the IC  who allegedly had cushy desk jobs inside the Beltway, routinely volunteered for live fire assignments.

These people specifically volunteered to be in harm’s way.

Why? Because it was a period of sustained productivity, efficiency, and effectiveness. People did not have the “luxury” to relentlessly and constantly prioritize. In the field there is no choice but to constantly re-evaluate conditions and re-prioritize actions. Because picking the most important task was the only way to survive, the only way to complete the mission.

There was a mission. There was survival. And those two conjoined drivers created a great deal of focus.

Hopefully we don’t have to risk our lives simply to focus on our work. Personal Kanban provides the structure to allow us to choose the right work for maximum effect repeatably.

For more on how to choose the “right” work, and then how to make sure your processes are repeatable see Prioritization and Retrospectives.

Photo by Randy Son of Robert.

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Jim BensonAm I Productive, Efficient, or Effective?

One Comment on ““Am I Productive, Efficient, or Effective?”

  1. Maritza van den Heuvel

    I find that Personal Kanban is taking the thinking out of how to be productive, giving me more time and energy to focus on maintaining an efficient and effective flow, both at work and at home. In this regard in particular, visualizing the work has quickly shown up areas where “busy work” was getting in the way of being effective.

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