Guest Post: Being Drunk vs. Productivity

I like to get drunk every now and then. Well, sorry, I’m just a human being. Besides, I’m from Poland, and that’s kinda what we do here.

However, this post is not about how cool this drunk state of mind is… on the contrary, most of the time it isn’t.

For many people alcohol is a shortcut to having good fun in whatever situation. A small dosage of alcohol (like a shot or two) is proven to improve our eloquence and self-confidence. So long story short, most people drink at parties just to have batter fun. Only to find themselves tricked the next morning when they wake up with a giant headache.

That’s what alcohol does. It tricks you by promising quick benefits (instant fun), but you’ll have to pay the price next morning when you realize that you, my friend, feel like a wreck of a man.

What does this have to do with being productive at what you call work? – asks you.

Two things. First of all, hangover is not good for productivity, obviously. But the second point is much more interesting.

Being drunk is somewhat similar to being efficient at doing something. Because no matter how great you think you are, you are still going to have to pay the price very soon.

Being drunk is a short-term fun improvement. It will make you feel like having more fun this one night only (when you’re drinking). It’s not going to last long. It’s not a permanent improvement of your fun-abilities.

Being efficient is also just a temporary improvement of productivity. The thing is, whether you’re efficient or not is not something that matters. Yes, I mean it; it has absolutely nothing to do with how productive you are in the long run.

You can be very efficient at cold calling, or communicating via email, or writing blog comments, or whatever else, but it all doesn’t matter if you’re not effective. There’s a big difference between being efficient and being effective. Same as between being drunk and being a party animal.

Productivity is not about working just for the sake of it, and feeling that you’re getting a ton of stuff done in very little time. Productivity is about reaching your goals. It’s about accomplishing what’s important. It’s about planning and executing the highest leverage activities, the ones that can get you to your goals the fastest. It’s about being effective.

What’s the difference between being efficient and being effective

You are efficient when you find the best way of doing one specific kind of task.

For example, a waiter is efficient at serving tables once they learn how to carry 7 plates at the same time. A customer support employee is efficient once they find a way to diagnose customers’ problems in just 3 questions. A business owner is efficient once they find a way of handing out 100 business cards during a break between conference sessions. A website owner is efficient once they learn how to submit their website to 1000 directories in one day.

On the other hand…

You’re effective once you define what tasks are the most important for reaching your goals, and then focusing mainly on them.

For example, a waiter is effective once they learn how to talk to customers in a way that sells them on the dish of the day without being too pitchy. A customer support employee is effective once they focus on pleasing every customer who calls no matter how much time it takes. A business owner is effective once they define why handing out business cards is so important for their business, and what they intend to do as the next step. A website owner is effective once they find a way of attracting a significant number of visitors genuinely interested in the site’s topic.

Being efficient is a short-term improvement. Being effective is a long-term approach to success.

The trick of being efficient

We’re very prone to self-deception. The main problem is that we often find ourselves in situations when we’re working on improving an activity that has absolutely no significance to our goals. But we think it does just because we’re exceptionally good at doing this activity.

You can be extremely good at handing out business cards, but what’s the point if no one ever calls you back? You can be great at diagnosing customers’ problems in 3 questions, but what’s the point if every customer feels like they’re just a pain for you, so in the end they get mad and hang up?

The main lesson here is this: don’t try to be efficient at everything you do because most of those things don’t matter that much.

How to be effective

The basic steps of being effective are very simple.

Step #1: define your goals.

Look at your business or your responsibilities at work, and write down a list of goals that you want to achieve. It’s also good to make them measurable, not abstract.

For example, a well defined goal could sound something like this: improve the number of new customers by 5% each month.

Step #2: define the highest leverage activities.

The fact that some activities bring us much closer to our goals than others is obvious. Your task now is to define those activities. The ones that are most likely to bring you to your goals in the shortest amount of time.

For example, there are many ways of acquiring new customers. Among others, a business owner may decide to focus on things like: cold calling, business card spam, constructing a new advertising campaign, engaging with real people on social media, launching a blog and growing it, etc.

But this list is not the ultimate one, so for different businesses in different markets only a handful of activities will bring the best results. The task now is to name those activities.

Step #3: focus on doing mainly those highest leverage activities.

If you do that you will be getting closer towards your goals in the fastest way possible. You will be effective. You will be extremely productive.

That’s it. Just do the important stuff and forget about the rest. Don’t trick yourself into being efficient because it won’t help you in the long run. Just like being drunk one night won’t turn you into a party animal for life.

I’m curious. How often do you find yourself trapped in doing unimportant stuff efficiently, and thinking that you’re actually productive?

About the author: Karol K. (@carlosinho) is a 20-something year old web 2.0 entrepreneur from Poland, and a grad student at the Silesian University of Technology. He shares his thoughts at Tune in to get his advice on starting an online business and personal productivity.