Efficiency vs. Productivity – Spotting The Difference

by | July 21, 2014

Do more with less. Get lean. Optimize! We’ve taken the drive to become more efficient and productive as gospel, constantly making tweaks to our routines to do just that. But if someone asked to explain the difference between the two, could you? Here are some key differences showing that while the two are related, they should be treated .


When you need to push quantity over quality, odds are you want to increase efficiency. Efficiency is all about delivering the same result, without errors, over and over again – things like data entry, transcribing, manufacturing, and other repetitive tasks. When you have to manually move data from one location to another and do it 1000 times figuring out the quickest way to do this is most important. Quality shouldn’t change since nothing new is being produced.


Quality is the most important facet of productivity. You want to do something once, and you want to produce the best result possible that first time. Productivity is why we do face-to-face meetings over conference calls, it’s why we try the Pomodoro method of working, and it’s why we work our schedules around when we’re most naturally focused throughout the day. Do it once, do it right would be the motto of productivity.

If you want to easily remember the difference, this quickie on efficiency vs. productivity is helpful:

Efficiency – the amount of error-free work done over time
Productivity – the quality of work performed

How to be efficiently productive

These concepts aren’t mutually exclusive. Take dating for example. If finding the right significant other is your goal you may say it’s more efficient to go on every date that you can get. Repeat the dating process until you find the right one. That would be a nightmare.

You might also think it’s more productive to not go on any date until you find the match you believe is perfect. Odds are you wouldn’t land any dates at all. Where most people land is a hybrid of both – you try to cut down how many times it takes to accomplish a goal while also accounting for quality of the process and end result

In business, this balance is crucial when your job function requires you to switch between repetitive tasks and more forward-thinking projects. Test how well you do this by asking colleagues how they would tackle a task you’ve been working on for some time. Always good to get a fresh perspective!