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The Efficiency Trap

Ok, it’s confession time.  As a lot of preachers do with their sermons, this article rises of out some self-evaluation I’ve been engaging in since I picked up Timothy Ferriss’s book, The 4-Hour Workweek.  While my goals are certainly different from Tim’s (I’m not shooting for a 4-hour week…not yet anyway!), the theme running through his book really brought back into focus for me the battle of efficiency vs. effectiveness.  I could instantly see how so many small business owners and nonprofit leaders are daily losing this battle without even realizing they are engaged in it…including me!  Understanding the difference truly separates the winners from the losers.

To be fair, our culture pushes efficiency.  Whether it’s the latest smart-phone with instant email and text messaging, or the most recent time-management seminar you attended, it’s all about efficiency.  Do more, do more, do more.  Funny how technology has played a dirty trick on us, though.  Remember how high-tech gadgets were supposed to do all our work for us so that we had plenty of free time?  Instead, our gadgets have made it such that you cannot escape even if you wanted to…and everybody expects an instant answer to any question they have in real time.  You are working harder and longer than ever before.  But, to what end?

Consider your role as a nonprofit leader.  Have you gotten trapped in striving for efficiency at the expense of effectiveness?  Be honest…It’s OK.  We’re all guilty.  Consider these nuggets from the book:

“What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do.”

“Doing something unimportant well does not make it important.”

“Being busy is a form of laziness–lazy thinking and indiscriminate action.” OUCH!

Get the point?  Busy, busy, busy.  But is busyness effectively building your program?  You can be the most efficient manager ever, but accomplish absolutely nothing in the process.  Study up on Pareto’s Law (a.k.a, the 80/20 principle) for a better understanding of this.

Here is the bottom line.  You have decided to invest your time in a nonprofit endeavor.  Whether yours is a community arts program or a kids’ camp or a church, you are striving to make a difference with your organization.  Don’t shortchange yourself and your beneficiaries by getting snared in the efficiency trap.  Yes, you need to be efficient…but only when you are focusing first on being effective.

There is a lot more to this book than just this concept.  You may not even relate to much of the rest of what it contains.  But I highly recommend it if only for this concept alone.

You can get a copy of Tim Ferriss’s book, The 4-Hour Workweek, by clicking on the link.

Greg McRay, EA

Greg McRay, EA

Greg McRay is the founder and CEO of The Foundation Group. He is registered with the IRS as an Enrolled Agent and specializes in 501(c)(3) and other tax exemption issues.

This Post Has 6 Comments
  1. Love this post Greg – and the book! “Doing something unimportant well does not make it important” should always be our mantra.

    Every development position that I held before becoming a consultant was part-time (20 hours per week or less) and I was responsible for every aspect of fundraising, so I well understand the concept of efficiency vs effectiveness :). One area that small nonprofits tend to place an unwarranted amount of focus on is events. They tend to suck everyone in and, for the small npo, don’t tend to be big moneymakers.

    Where can you get the most *bang* for your buck? 30 minutes every day on the phone with donors. It’s inspiring and yields long-term results!

  2. Greg,
    I wholeheartedly agree that all of this “stuff” that was supposed to make our lives less complicated and efficient has just about accomplished the exact opposite. I’m all for investing in things that make sense for each individual but I have sometimes found myself in a tailspin trying to uncomplicate my life with the latest new thing. Great insight and I can’t wait to read the book.

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