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Efficient or productive

The best analogy for efficiency is the assembly line. As an assembly line worker, things come in front of me, I deal with it as quickly as I can and it moves to the next person on the line. My efficiency is determined by how much I can get done in a given period of time - my shift, with no thought or control over the impact my work delivers.

True, most of us are not doing assembly line work today. We are doing knowledge work instead. But still, we obsess over efficiency a lot. We strive to constantly deal with the emails and notifications and messages that are put in front of us, as quickly as we can. We run from one meeting to another whose agenda is set by someone else. And quite often, we lose sight of the impact our work delivers while being mired in the busywork of efficiently answering emails and chat messages about our work.

Productivity, on the other hand, isn't about getting as much as possible done in as little time as possible. Instead, it is about delivering the most impact in the least time (or with least resources). Even if it means spending days without attending a single meeting, or letting the email pile up.

We tend to confuse efficiency with productivity and movement with progress. In the day to day details, they appear very similar, but when you zoom out, you will see the stark difference.

Optimize for productivity and progress, not for efficiency and movement.

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