Why You Should Stop Trying to Be So Efficient
If your aim is to be more efficient, getting more work done in less time, there are certainly no shortage of people who claim they can help you. From time use gurus, to promoters of the Pomodoro technique to those peddling various schemes to keep email from running your life, being more efficient seems like an obvious way to increase your chances of succeeding in your business (and also your marriage).
But not everyone is merrily riding along on the productivity bandwagon. Writing for the Unreasonable.is, Daniel Epstein, who has founded nine companies, points out that if we chase efficiency, we can very well end up quite far from our original goals. He uses the metaphor of mountain climbing:
Let’s pretend for a minute that you have the aspiration of breaking a new record by climbing a mountain faster than anyone else in history. You are striving to be one of the fastest alpinists on earth. So you train painstakingly and relentlessly for years on end. You shape your entire life, your priorities, your sleep schedule, your friendships and your relationships around your singular goal. You spend your life savings and to afford the actual climb, you raise sponsorship and borrow money from friends and family. Finally, after having spent a small-fortune and many years of your life, the day comes for you to prep for the big journey. You reach the base of the peak and you push forward with focus, precision, and unfettered ambition. The weather is perfect and everything is clicking into place. Eventually, as fate would have it, you reach the summit. You look down at your watch and you realize that you have set a new world record. You have climbed that peak faster than any person before you! You just made history.
That said, the most important question, far more important than the pace at which you reached the summit, is whether or not you climbed the right mountain. Today, I believe one of the most common causes of failure in the startup world is simple: you climbed the wrong mountain and you felt great the entire way up because you were moving at an incredibly fast pace.
Covering lots of distance, in other words, is of course awesome, but only if you’re running in the right direction. "You must first work smart, then hard. Working hard first is an empty sense of productivity to an end not worth caring about," Epstein concludes.
So, to be fair, it’s not the Epstein is against efficiency in the right context. When you know where you’re going and roughly how you’re going to get there, efficiency is, of course, a worthy thing to pursue. But if you’re worried about systems, schemes and streamlined management frameworks but haven’t yet nailed down whether you’re headed in the right direction, you could end up like someone rushing frantically to an appointment only to realize when they come to the door that they’ve gone to entirely the wrong location. Speed is worthless without direction. Get that right first.
Do you worry about productivity to avoid worrying about more difficult questions like your vision and goals?
JESSICA STILLMAN | Columnist
Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.