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.