Efficiency is a concept that gets things done. Those people who chase many ideas all at once may find that they succeed or complete very rarely. Yet efficient people get dozens of ideas and plans underway and completed in the shortest time and with the smallest expenditure of energy and money necessary.
So how does that paradox become a successful strategy?
Focus on what you want
Everything in business begins with an idea, a replicable, repeatable, and usable idea. As ideas are generated, more may flow from the first, and getting them down on paper, or into a mobile device is a great way to record them without thinking too hard about them.
Once they’re lined up, it may be necessary to clarify them, or shape them to fit together better, like the hexagons of a honeycomb.
They probably need to be organised differently. Ideas rarely come out of the brain in a verifiable order. Once organised, they can and should be reviewed, looked at, cogitated upon, and new ideas grown from the seeds of old ones.
Like anything that grows from a tiny seed of human endeavour, it can be exciting and inspiring to share them with other members of the team, other people who love ideas. Engage those people, let the ideas charm and inspire them.
Those ideas that don’t work well will fall off at some point in this focusing period, leaving those that have real value to make the final list. That’s when focus takes place and ideas stop being ideas and become tangible.
It may sound time-consuming, but this is the basis of an efficient mindset. It is far more time-consuming to go with an idea that ultimately doesn’t work.
For example, when we launched EnCoCreative, we knew that we needed a large amount of content. A group of us generated a list of ideas that we thought people would be interested in, some of them based on ideas that are already out there on the web.
But we knew also that our content needed to have value; the kind of value not already available. By focusing on value, we realised that we could have a very organic blog, that generated its own articles. The way we now come up with original, value-driven content, is by looking at our own situation and our own experiences. From that, we take the lessons we learned, and we write around those. We spend less time brainstorming and more time writing now, because the ideas flow has become far more efficient.
Plan for every eventuality
It’s true that a person can plan something to death, where all freshness and versatility can be lost for the sake of control. It isn’t necessary to go that far, but planning is a necessary part of moving development towards fruition.
It’s an obvious point to make that time and money can easily be lost without careful and responsible planning. However, sometimes that loss happens around an idea that was essentially good; where the development was good, but the planning failed it.
For example, something can go wrong because there was an essential legal oversight. Or because no-one foresaw that there might be a moral opposition to an idea. An example of this is the recent SketchFactor app that was released in August 2014. It appeared to be fill a gap in the smartphone market, using crowd-sourced, subjective information to let other people know that certain areas in cities might not be safe. Just before it was released, there was uproar, because it was seen very quickly as being inherently racist, even though that was never its intention.
Effective planning means that every successive stage in the process will be easier, run more smoothly, and its needs be catered for. In other words, later stages will be more efficient if planning is full and inclusive.
Prioritise for best effectiveness
Prioritising could have come before planning in this process, but there’s a reason it’s placed here. If priorities are set before the planning stage, something pivotal could be missed. During the planning stage, the priority is to clarify and weed out ideas that won’t work long term, or that aren’t replicable.
Now prioritise. The order in which things should be done is important to maintaining efficiency.
Businesspeople the world over will be used to understanding the differences between activities that are urgent and those that are important. Dwight D. Eisenhower apparently once said:
Those things that are urgent are rarely important and those that are important are rarely urgent.
Although that doesn’t necessarily work in every context, the point is that activities should be prioritised to elicit effectiveness.
Urgent always tries to take priority. Urgent is not efficient; it is hurried, desperate, and right now. Sometimes it is important as well as urgent. If so, it should be acted upon immediately. If it isn’t, it should be delegated to someone else. If it’s neither urgent nor important, it can safely be relegated as a time-wasting exercise and ditched.
Act on what is known
Once priorities have been set, the most exciting time can begin. Action speaks louder than any verbalisation and productivity is the key to achievement.
Action and productivity can often be overwhelming, but if everything is set in place, there’s no need to let the pitfalls of productivity take over. For those who know that they procrastinate or become paralysed in their planning and unable to move on, there are plenty of techniques and ways in which these can be countered. The trick is to recognise them and to immediately prioritise the issues.
The Asian Efficiency blog talks a lot about using certain methodologies to ‘get things done’ – two in particular: GTD, and Agile Results. These systems help people to work all the stages of our efficiency process in an effective way, and the guys at Asian Efficiency point out the productivity pitfalls and some of the ways in which they can be countered.
Evaluate and learn
At some point, it’s necessary to stop, take a step back, and check the situation. Review, evaluate, learn lessons. This is a crucial stage in the process (clue: all the stages are crucial, in fact) because it’s important to ensure that the team and the work are all moving in the same and the correct direction according to the plans.
If there’s any disparity, or if things aren’t going as expected, it will be necessary to redraw some of the plans.
Lessons learned is a huge thing in business, because it’s the basis of why failure is a good thing.
Remember Henry Ford’s quote:
Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.
The point here is that failure is no more than a simple opportunity. It’s up to the person acting to decide whether to use it positively or not. Failure in itself has no value without the learning aspect.
Re-act based on the lessons
Anything that needed tweaking, reassembling, removing or altering can now be tweaked, reassembled, deleted and changed according to the values, needs, and requirements contained within the plan.
This isn’t a ‘reaction’; it’s a re-act. There’s no fire-fighting; just carefully measured cause-and-effect analysis followed by changes and amendments that are as radical or subtle as they need, in order to be the most effective they can be. There’s no need to do more than necessary to make the ideas work. The re-act stage is the final stage, because once the dust of doing work settles, it’s easier to see good choices, bad ones, and the whole overall process.
Efficiency isn’t based on faster, harder, or more. Its foundation is created in doing everything right and paring down the process until we have a minimum number of steps we need to take to get the results we want. It’s rare to do everything right first time, but in evaluating what wasn’t right, we learn faster (and more efficiently).
By becoming more efficient in thought-process, it’s possible to become more effective. Effectiveness is based on doing things in the right order. That’s why prioritisation is such a crucial element of the process.
Ultimately, following the re-act stage, the whole process can begin again with new goals and priorities. The beauty of it is that there’s no need to burn out, no need to fail. Focus, plan, prioritise, act, evaluate, ditch what doesn’t work, improve on what does work, re-act, and let it roll. Focus on new ideas. Get going again. Circular processes are the best because they become self-continuing.
EnCoCreative is creating within itself a force of efficiency, one that goes right to its core. While the rest of the internet is shouting from the rooftops about the greatness and efficiency of outsourcing, rocking the trend for the moment … EnCoCreative has based its entire business model around the outsource concept. We like to do what we preach, because then it’s already tested.
So, who out there has an alternative process that works for them? What are the keys to efficiency that you use. Do you only use them in work, or are they good tenets for play too?