Transforming work Part 6: Transforming the Tyranny of ‘To Do’

By on November 20, 2015

indexEver had a day, a week, or even a year where you’re troubled by the nagging sense that you haven’t been truly productive, despite being incredibly busy? You are not alone. Whether you work for yourself or for someone else, it is easy to get caught up in getting things done and lose sight of why any of it matters to begin with. Transforming work from a source of overwhelm to a source of inspiration requires shifting your perspective on what genuine productivity looks like.

But here’s the catch. If your self-worth, feelings of productivity, and definition of success center on getting everything on your list done, you’re doomed. There will always be more on your to-do list than you can ever complete. To be truly successful – to make an impact as well as in income and stay out of overwhelm along the way – you need to understand the difference between efficiency and effectiveness.

Efficiency Defined
Efficiency is defined as “Maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense”.
If you love packing meetings together tightly and checking tasks off as quickly as possible and get annoyed or frustrated when you see colleagues or staff having down time, you are an efficiency addict. You believe that productivity involves being busy tangibly doing something all of the time and strive It to jump from one thing to the next with as little space in between as possible. Unfortunately, this is precisely what keeps you stuck in the loop of being busy without feeling productive. Tasks lists are constantly added to and there is a limit to how much faster you can get, so this approach eventually leads to stress and overwhelm.

Effectiveness Defined:
This is where effectiveness comes in. Defined as “Successful in producing a desired or intended result”, effectiveness requires high level clarity on the big picture, the long-term purpose and vision of a project, task, or business and the qualitative aspects of the desired result (such as values and principles), not just quantitative ones.
Consider this: Doubling the revenues of your business in six months instead of 12 is a major leap in efficiency, but if it was accomplished with 80-hour work weeks and threats of layoffs, the results are unsustainable because your team will be burnt out.
Building effectiveness requires building “efficient inefficiencies” such as the following into your work:
• Exercise: Most people sacrifice exercise when they get busy because they see it as unproductive, yet research shows that physical activity releases a host of happy chemicals in our bodies that reduce stress, boost focus and creativity, and make us able to work both faster and better.
• Socializing: A certain amount of time spent bonding with colleagues in a social manner builds trust and the sense of caring about one another beyond just the work that needs to get done. This social “lubricant” smooths conflict and increases people’s willingness to take risks and express the types of ideas and opinions that fuel innovation.
• Doing “Nothing”: On the outside planning, strategizing, evaluating, daydreaming and general contemplation look unproductive, but without time like this worked into your day, your priorities get dictated by externals and crises. You focus on chopping down trees as quickly as you can and forget that it is important to stop once in a while to make sure that you are still in the right forest.

The more time you set aside to plan, dream, strategize, collaborate, optimize and evaluate, the more time you will have to do the work that really matters. One of my mantras for shifting from striving for efficiency to being truly effective is “slow down to speed up”. This reminds me that taking time for the activities that don’t look as productive on the outside is critical for generating the clarity, confidence and focus that will allow me to increase both efficiency and effectiveness on the outside. At the end of the day, efficiency improves exponentially the more you prioritize time for re-focusing on the results that effectiveness requires.

Read also:

Slowing Down to Speed Up

About Andrea Jacques

Andrea Jacques is the founder of Kyosei Consulting and the author of Wabi-Sabi Wisdom: Inspiration for an Authentic Life (available on She has spent more than 20 years developing the potential of people and businesses worldwide, five of which were in Japan. A dynamic speaker, coach, and facilitator, her work integrates spiritual insight with top-tier leadership, wellness and sustainability consulting to help individuals and organizations build thriving, purpose-driven cultures where employees know their work truly matters. She can be contacted through her website at