With the pressure to perform, do more with less and get things done quickly, efficiency and productivity have become very much a goal for many people and organisations. Have you noticed, though, that in the pursuit of efficiency and productivity, we end up rushing everything and don’t do anything very well?

I felt this effect towards the end of last year, with so many things to get done ‘before Christmas’. Unfortunately, as much as I tried to be efficient and get through my tasks, I noticed that there were some things that simply could not be rushed in the pursuit of efficiency.

I see seven drawbacks to pursuing efficiency:

  1. We switch too often between complex and simple tasks, which takes time and effort for the brain to adjust. Deep work doesn’t get the deep attention it requires to make meaningful progress.
  2. We pack agendas and don’t have enough time to have meaningful conversations or be creative in our problem-solving, then we have to revisit the items again in another meeting.
  3. We don’t listen properly, or we assume we have listened when we haven’t, look at our watches/phones and are not really present. As a result, miscommunication becomes the norm and we have to repeat meetings, inform people over and over again, or re-work things frequently.
  4. We don’t think deeply enough about the complexities of issues, the root causes or the longer-term implications of the problems or solutions, such that unintended consequences arise. Then we fix symptoms rather than define what the real problem is and its drivers, often resulting in continuing symptoms.
  5. We don’t create the space for multiple perspectives and concerns to be included and listened to, often resulting in lower-quality solutions, poor buy-in and resistance to change.
  6. Creativity goes out the door – we don’t ponder, daydream or bounce ideas around with others to think of possible solutions that go beyond what’s been done before.
  7. We become too busy to address the issues that are causing the busy-ness in the first place.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not against being efficient. I wish I was more efficient sometimes.

Efficiency and productivity are good when we are dealing with issues that can be resolved with past experience or expertise. For example, completing your project update reports, fixing a problem in a spreadsheet, extracting data from a system, should work well with productivity tips such as time bounding.

However, when we are faced with unknown, complex, novel issues, or long-standing problems where past attempts with solutions have not worked, it’s time to slow down.

This is why at Leaders who Listen we believe in creating ‘space’, not just ‘safety’. In our work with executive teams, we are noticing that many more issues fall into the complex category. It takes a different mindset and a healthy dose of discipline, reminders, and skills to create space.

Do you sometimes find that your pursuit of efficiency makes you inefficient?