Becoming efficient has a wider application than we think; learn why efficiency matters for everyone, and how thoughtful efficiency can improve your whole life.
Table of Contents
First, let’s define what efficiency is. You can find many definitions and long explanations, but here’s our simple way of defining efficiency:
Efficiency is using the minimum resources needed to get the best results possible.
You can certainly go through life without thinking about efficiency; many people do. However, with many demands, options, and loads of information coming our way, lack of efficiency can add up to big problems. If you’re inefficient with money, you can face financial instability. If you’re inefficient with time, you’ll have trouble finding time for the people you love and hobbies you enjoy. On a larger level, an inefficient use of energy and resources can have a devastating global effect.
Being more efficient, then, can improve the quality of your life by reducing waste (both tangible and intangible) and freeing up more resources for what matters to you.
There’s one important caveat about efficiency. You can work at improving your efficiency, streamline your processes, reduce the time and energy and other resources needed, and still be wasting your time. Why? Because you’re trying to improve your efficiency in an area that doesn’t really matter.
Knowing what matters
There are many areas, tasks, responsibilities, and options in life that are interesting (and can be quite time-consuming) but which, ultimately, do not make much difference in our quality of life, abilities, or achievements.
To know if an area matters or not in your life, consider these four factors:
- The pain level: what amount of pain (inconvenience, discomfort, frustration, etc.) can this area produce in your life? If even the most sub-par situation in this area can only, at most, produce a minor discomfort, it’s probably not worth fixing.
- The reward level: what potential reward (monetary, enjoyment, connection, quality of life, etc.) is possible from this area? As a rule of thumb, the greater the potential reward, the more important this area might be. However, consider whether the potential reward is actually valuable to you. Sometimes we pursue things we’re supposed to value, but don’t pause to consider whether they have meaning and positive effect on us, personally.
- The scope: the more pervasive an area, the more importance it has. Health is a good example of this. We tend to take good health for granted, until we are struck by illness or accident. Then everything in life must halt or slow until we recover. Health is pervasive; its scope is huge, so it is an important area even if “health” is not of much interest to you on a theoretical level.
- The season: some areas are very important for a time, then end. In these cases, it’s a good idea to look at the natural timeline. For example, if you’re planning a vacation and it’s taking a lot of your attention, should you pause to make the planning process more efficient? Probably not: there’s a natural limit on the duration of this activity. It’s short-term; making it more efficient won’t have a long-term effect, because the task itself isn’t long-term. Better to simply get it done. On the other hand, there are some seasons that, while limited, will last long enough to benefit from thoughtful efficiency improvement. Parenting is a good example. Your child won’t be a completely dependent little person for long, but it’s long enough that making things more efficient (particularly in those repeated daily tasks and routines) can bring a lot more ease and comfort for all of you.
Considering the impact
Before you put thought, time, and effort into improving efficiency in some way, consider whether it will have any real impact on your life. If you make things more efficient in some area that has little impact—getting better results with fewer resources—the net effect is still minimum. That’s the opposite of efficiency! It’s often better to quickly deal with short-term problems, rather than trying to optimize the solutions for efficiency. Get it done and cross it off, and move on.
However, for tasks that are required and repeated, for areas with a high pain or high reward potential, and for things that have a large scope or long season, improving efficiency can be very valuable. It takes careful thought, some initial set-up work, and consistent effort to improve processes and upgrade habits. However, you’ll benefit from these changes over and over again.
Efficiency improvement also has a lateral effect; if you improve your efficiency in one area, you free up time and resources (and energy, and attention) to put into another area. You can also frequently apply the same smart efficiency concepts and tools in multiple ways. So improving your efficiency in one key area in your life can have a very positive impact on all areas of your life. That’s why efficiency matters. Thinking about efficiency not just a mental exercise for productivity gurus. It’s a way for everyone to take control over their time and energy, and enjoy every part of life more.