Efficiency is Great. Except For When it Isn’t.

by | Jun 9, 2024 | 0 comments

A version of this article has also been published in my column at the Globe and Mail. See it here.

With today’s heavy workloads it is a good idea to find ways to be more efficient to stay on top of the escalating loads. For some people efficiency becomes their driving mantra — even a core value that is central to how they work, live, and communicate.

Get it done and get it done quick! Do it now, right now! No time like the present to get a task off the list! Fewer words the better, eh!

Efficiency is great. Until it isn’t.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

When a well-meaning efficiency seeker over-expresses this value, there can sometimes be unintended consequences: Misunderstandings, lack of clarity, minimal connection, relationship breakdowns, low morale, and more.

Here are just a few examples:

Getting down to business without taking time to connect: Meetings can be onerous and time consuming. Being more efficient can curtail wasted time. But people (especially leaders) who get down to business without taking any time to connect with their people miss the important opportunities to build relationships, foster connection, and create safety in the moment – all crucial for individual and team engagement.

Some leaders mistakenly think connection happens in separate, formalized initiatives for team building and connection (e.g. a lunch, pizza party, etc.). But the opportunities – and need – to connect are more fluid. They need to happen  in the micro-moments of daily work. Shave those down and work can become overly sterile and transactional, compromising potential for meaningful engagement.

Over-use of efficiency can also limit important discussion, group collaboration, and reflection.

Getting tasks off your plate while still in the meeting: Sometimes it makes sense to get something done right then and there. But not always. I recall a meeting I had with a client to address some important decisions about a project. We only had a short time to huddle because they had another meeting coming up. Right in the middle of our meeting, they started to craft an email so they could get it done and not have to deal with it later. It wasn’t urgent, but it felt urgent to them. But as I sat there watching them relieve themselves of their burden (of the task) I couldn’t help but feel a bit peeved because we still had important items to discuss; the clock was ticking before they had to go to their next meeting. They didn’t mean to be respectful, but it landed that way.

When one person focuses on turning their to-dos into immediate ‘ta das,’ it can ripple into more emails later, which is not efficient at all.

Using Efficiency to Tame the Email Dragon: No doubt many people feel  overloaded with emails (and Teams messaging, etc.). Back and forth emails, copying everyone, and long-winded narratives can often be a burden. In today’s hybrid cultures, there is less face time, so the barrage of electronic communications is further amplified. Indeed, learning to streamline this is important.

However, there are many who try to slay the email/text dragon by replying with as few words as possible. E.g. “Yes,” “No,” or a string of as few words as possible might make the cut.

Some people see writing the fewest words as possible as a positive challenge and if they are a leader they may encourage others to follow suit.

There’s some merit to this. But consequences too.

While short, tight emails can be utilitarian and serve a purpose, this efficiency doesn’t leave room for nuance, emotion, appreciation for another.

I’ve had many clients say to me they think their boss (or a peer) might not like them. Why I ask? They are so curt. They never express more than the bare minimum. They don’t try to relate. And since they hardly (if ever) see their leader in person, email (or online meetings) is their only means of connecting.

Overly efficient communications can sometimes result in a lack of clarity. More is sometimes needed. The courageous recipient may ask for more information, but depending on the trust levels built in, they may feel awkward to do so.

Fast Decisions; Quick Action – Too Little Reflection:

With the speed of work accelerating, people have little time to dilly dally. Quick decisions and acting are often crucial to keep things moving forward. But with all the ‘doing’ happening, time to reflect can be a casualty.

Reflection is important. All action and too little reflection can compromise critical thinking, creative solutioning, missed opportunities, and more. Some matters do need more percolating time.

The challenge in all of this is to find balance. Like goldilocks, people need to find the ‘just right’ mix of things.

AI is here but will never replace human leadership. Look for ways to trim the fat from meetings, emails, and communications. But don’t cut away so much that you lose the essence of what it means to be a human being at work.

This article was also published in the Globe and Mail. See it here.

Eileen Chadnick, PCC, of Big Cheese Coaching, is an ICF credentialed, two-time ICF (International Coaching Federation) Prism award winner, who works with leaders (emerging to experienced), and organizations, on navigating, leading and flourishing in times of flux, opportunity and challenge. She is the author of Ease: Manage Overwhelm in Times of Crazy Busy.



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