Efficiency: not to be viewed as an end in itself

With time-management books, courses, and seminars gushing onto the market, it appears efficiency is seen as a universal panacea for all office problems. Somehow, using our time more wisely will make us more productive, more marketable, more attractive, and more capable of handling the slings and arrows of office life, the writers of the $15 books say.

But doesn't the solution of efficiency beg the question of effectiveness? What's the point of doing something efficiently if it need not be done at all?

''Efficiency is the process, and effectiveness is the result,'' says Ann Anderson, a management consultant from Virginia who ran her own personnel firm in California. ''If you like cliches, remember that efficient people do things right, effective people do right things.''

Finding out what those right things are is the key to making more effective use of your time, she says - a discovery process that begins the day you start a job. ''If you're new to the force, go over your work every week with your supervisor and ask if this is really what he wants you to be doing,'' Miss Anderson suggests.

Find out the key responsibilities of your job and exactly what results they are supposed to produce. Then, she says, ''you can ask yourself every week at first - or every quarter, once you've settled in - whether you're achieving what you set out to accomplish.''

If you've been on the job awhile and feel you may be wasting time on unnecessary tasks, try keeping track of them for a week, suggests the American Society of Association Executives in a pamphlet on the subject. ''On a note pad or diary, jot down what you are doing every 15 to 30 minutes throughout the day. Note activities, interruptions, et cetera,'' they suggest.

Then make up a list of your key responsibilities (along with an explanation of what those responsibilities are supposed to accomplish) and ''compare the list with your diary to see how well your weekly activities further your accomplishments'' of those major responsibilities. ''To the extent they are at odds, change the activities,'' the society advises.

''Sometimes we're given things to do just to keep us busy, or given something to do without receiving all the resources we need to get it done,'' Miss Anderson says. She has a quick way to evaluate each activity you take on to see if it's really worth doing:

''Figure out, does this (activity) fit into the objectives of my job, or is it just somebody's off-the-wall idea? Of course, some off-the-wall ideas turn out to be wonderful - but make sure it's relevant to what you're trying to accomplish,'' she says.

She also suggests that workers cut activities (''Ask yourself, 'Does this have to be done at all? What would happen if it weren't done?' '') and delegate as much as possible (''Can someone else do it?'').

Dru Scott, writing in ''How to Put More Time in Your Life,'' says we lose much of our effectiveness by overdoing projects. She cites a committee that spent 90 minutes ''deciding whether to label the report's supplemental material 'Attachment' or 'Tab.' '' This sort of perfectionism can be avoided, she says, if you ''estimate how much time projects are really worth to you and stick to your estimate.''

Many experts also advise workers to keep their eyes on that real worth, citing the axiom that the urgent is seldom important and the important is seldom urgent. By planning out your method for achieving the results you want, Miss Anderson says, you can avoid the kind of reaction-to-crisis activities that distract you from doing what's important.

The kind of thorough planning she recommends includes asking yourself the following about each job:

* What is the situation?

* What are the contributing factors?

* Why does it exist?

* Who are the players?

* What do you hope to accomplish?

* What are some alternative solutions? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each?

* Do you have all the resources you need to get the job done?

* What commitment do you have from everyone involved - in both guidance and time?

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.