I was discussing the 4–hour Workweek principle of Efficiency vs Effectiveness with a colleague today. Efficiency is doing as many things as possible within a given time – more often called being productive. It’s what we’re trained to do since grade school. It’s what all the time management programs are designed around. It’s what we all think of when we start looking at the pile of things on our desks and wonder how we’ll get them all done.

Efficiency creates slogging — slogging through all the crap we do on a daily basis without really assessing whether what we’re doing is the very best use of time and energy. I am a slogger. So is my colleague. Nose to the grindstone. Dedicated. Hard worker. All these phrases are associated with sloggers. We’re taught from an early age that getting everything done is important. If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well. Yada yada yada. This is just not true. Here are two truisms from Tim Ferris:

  • Doing something unimportant well does not make it important.
  • Requiring a lot of time does not make a task important.

Slogging also leads to wasting time. Are you checking e-mail 50–100 times a day? Why? Probably because you feel like you need to respond to things immediately. Do you answer every phone call? Why? Probably because you feel compelled to respond to every inquiry. But every time I check e-mail, or answer the phone, or do anything that distracts me from doing the one important thing I lose 30–45 minutes of time just getting my head back into the important thing. By that time some new interruption has probably occurred and the cycle starts over. At the end of the day lots of unimportant things have been completed, but the one important thing is still sitting there, waiting. And waiting. And so I slog through the night to get it done.

Corporate people are great sloggers. They spend their entire day going to pointless meetings, answering e-mails, and returning phone calls. Then they either come in early, stay late, or come in on weekends to do the important things that only they can do. And the more “productivity” goes up, the more they slog.

Effectiveness is doing the right thing, the one important thing, and only that thing. It requires taking a hard look at everything you do and asking yourself one question — “If this is the only thing I accomplish today, will I feel like it was a good day?” If the answer is no, don’t do it. Just move on to something else. Find the one thing that will make it a good day. If there is time left when you’re finished find something else and ask the same question again.

Truly effective people never have more than two or three things on their To-Do list, and each of those things is significant. Everything else gets ignored or delegated. Virgin brand billionaire Richard Branson has reportedly said that everything he needs to do to run his empire can be accomplished in 30 minutes a day. I don’t know if this is true or not, but I do know that people like Branson have a fundamentally different view of the world than most folks, and they don’t slog their way through life.

Slogging creates stress. Effectiveness creates freedom. Slogging is like Brownian motion – random movement that doesn’t get you anywhere. Effectiveness is what creates meaningful output. And meaningful output — e.g. accomplishment — is what creates success.

Here’s my new motto — No More Slogging.

As I mentioned in last week’s outsourcing update, my Virtual Assistant made an appointment for me with a local staffing service. Thursday afternoon Kristie from Elite Staffing came to my office and we talked about the task I have at hand. We agreed to a trial period at a very reasonable hourly rate and she’ll be back on Monday to pick up the boxes of papers and files I’m now raking off my desk.

The plan is to have Kristie sort and file the backlog of mail, papers, and miscellany I have accumulated over the past two years. Once that’s done I’ll have her start scanning the papers that I actually need to keep and shred the ones I don’t.

I also went to see a nearby Padgett Business Services office this week. I’ve used them to do my taxes before, but I’ve never had anyone actually do my bookkeeping. This definitely needs to be outsourced, as I never keep this up to date. The plan is for Padgett to setup QuickBooks Online so I can access it from anywhere and can grant access to whoever I need in order to get my data entered.

I started out trying to work with Brickwork India on the QuickBooks setup, but it just didn’t feel right. Bookkeeping just seems like something I needed to keep close to home, at least until I get the process worked out. I may have Brickwork, or some other supplier, do the backlog of data entry if Padgett doesn’t have a reasonable enough fee for that type of work, but for now I’ll look for other opportunities to use Brickwork.