Career Development

Effective vs. Efficient: What's the Difference?

July 26, 2021

When it comes to using the words effective and efficient, which word is the best choice for your content? When words have similar meanings, it is possible to use them out of context. While both words generally mean "having an intended or desired effect," there are distinctive differences between the use of effective and efficient. In this article, we explore those differences and offer tips on how to be more effective or efficient.

What does effective mean?

"Effective" is an adjective that means achieving a result or intended purpose in an adequate or satisfactory way.

What does efficient mean?

"Efficient" is an adjective that means accomplishing a result in the best possible way while saving time and effort.

Effective vs. efficient

When it comes to using the words effective and efficient, you want to ensure you're expressing yourself in the most accurate way. What is the biggest difference between the two? If you're stating that a goal was met in an adequate way, you'd use the word "effective."

But, if you want to convey an accomplishment that also saved time, money and effort, you'd use "efficient." See below for a list of instances in which you would use these particular adjectives:

When to use the word "effective"

  • When something produced a result
  • When an established goal was met
  • When something gets accomplished

Examples of using the word "effective"

  • Sally's method of mopping the kitchen floor proved to be effective.
  • Using a pen and paper is an effective way to journal about your personal experiences.
  • Because of his effective presentation, the stakeholders better understood how the process worked.

When to use the word "efficient"

  • When emphasizing how a result was met
  • When focusing on how something was done in an optimal way
  • When conveying that a task or goal exceeded expectations

Examples of using the word "efficient"

  • Because of his efficient manner, he completed more than a day's work in just four hours.
  • The waitress worked efficiently to ensure the diners received their food in a timely manner.
  • Jerry's efficient study habits helped him memorize the reading material and leave early for the holiday break.

As you can see, while something effective produces results, something efficient does that and more. It produces results while also emphasizing the lack of waste in regards to time, money and effort.

9 tips on how to be more effective

Now that you understand the differences between the two terms, you're ready to conquer your next feat—becoming more effective in your daily tasks. Whether you're at work or at home, you'll notice how well these tips apply:

1. Prioritize most important tasks first

When faced with too much to do and not knowing what to do first, it's helpful to write down at least three of the most time-consuming, important or challenging things on your to-do list. This is an effective way to accomplish goals as it prioritizes the ones that tend to cause the most stress. Knowing that the bulk of the work is completed helps motivate you and creates a positive mood while you work on accomplishing the rest of your workload.

2. Evaluate your results, not your time

Effective results happen when you focus on what needs to be accomplished, not how. If you just want to check something off your list, don't put too much time and energy into the process. Just pay attention to getting it done right.

3. Strive for a positive attitude

Trying to accomplish something when you're in a bad mood is not the best way to start a project. Set the scene for a positive attitude by thinking of things that make you happy. How will accomplishing this achievement better your life once the goal is met? Thinking about the outcome may prove beneficial in adjusting your mood.

4. Communicate effectively

If you're unsure of the best way to approach something, asking questions is a great first step. Getting more information helps you learn more about a topic or issue that may be bothering you. Solid communication plays a vital role in a successful interaction between two people, especially in a collaborative setting.

5. Form a consistent routine

Creating a routine you can depend upon creates inner peace and clarity. Routines are an effective way to accomplish things that you know you need to do but are often forgotten in the daily mix.

6. Take advantage of automation

If you've missed your due dates more than once and paid hefty late fees as a result, automation is an appealing way to simplify your to-do list. It's easier now more than ever to pay bills, set reminders, and schedule appointments. Take full advantage of the technology that's available to you, especially because it's usually free.

7. Focus on one task at a time

If you're feeling distracted, the best way to focus is to prioritize one task at a time. Don't try to multitask as it can compromise your efficiency. When the brain jumps from task to task, it takes longer to accomplish several things collectively than if you were to do those several things individually.

8. Put things on hold to work quickly later

Sometimes procrastination is not a bad thing. It can motivate people to accomplish a goal when they have less time to do it. Deadline-driven people know how to utilize procrastination to their advantage. Not everyone loves waiting until the last minute to complete a task, but it can often be a great way to become effective in the final hours before an event.

9. Look for ways to decrease stress

If the stress is interfering with achieving a goal, take a step back and think about how you can alleviate that pressure. Relieving stress is different for everyone. What do you enjoy doing that reduces your stress levels? Whether it's exercising, sleeping, meditating, fishing, walking or playing video games, strive to lessen your stress so you can work more efficiently later.

10 tips on how to be more efficient

When you want to go the extra mile, perhaps set a new personal record, efficiency an important part of the process. Want to do more in the same amount of time? Being effective in life is a great start, but to be truly efficient you must excel in how you complete the intended task or goal. Here are some ways you can become more efficient in your daily life:

1. Create a "distraction list" during deep work

Keep a notebook and pen handy to jot down those distracting ideas that come to mind when you're in the middle of completing a complicated task or "deep" project that requires intense focus. You can pay that bill or call your friend back when you're taking a break later.

2. Use the 80/20 rule

Also called the Pareto Principle as this rule was discovered by economist Vilfredo Pareto, adhering to the 80/20 rule means you should spend the bulk of your time focusing on the most important 20 percent of the work, and look for ways to cut back on the remaining 80 percent of your schedule to maximize the results of your initial efforts.

3. Break tasks into smaller pieces

You wouldn't eat an entire sandwich with one bite. It takes many bites, chews and swallows to complete the task of eating a sandwich. The same goes for taking on any project that can instantly overwhelm you. Breaking a large job into smaller pieces helps ensure you complete the job efficiently.

4. Take breaks

It may sound counterintuitive because you are stopping everything you're doing, but taking breaks allows your mind and body to regain the energy it once had when you first started. Recharging is not slacking. You are paying attention to your needs so you can do a better job in the end.

5. Communicate well to eliminate ambiguity

When it comes to relaying information to another person or group, include key details of the event or topic to ensure efficient communication. Doing so will save time and prevent confusion later on. Being clear about your needs eliminates additional questions later.

6. Learn from your successes and mistakes

When you succeed at something, take time to analyze the reasons why it went so well. This goes for your mistakes as well. There is always a lesson to be learned in both positive and negative experiences, and it's always worth noting what worked and what didn't so you can either repeat or revise your approach the next time.

7. Have a plan B

Do the mental work ahead of time and prepare for a back-up plan. This will help you jump into the next phase of completing your goal because you'll know exactly what to do next if your plan goes awry.

8. Continue your education

During your downtime, welcome the opportunity to learn something new. Reading books and taking online courses are a great way to expand your general knowledge and solidify the skills you already have.

9. Become an expert at saying "no"

There's nothing wrong with setting boundaries so you can keep your energy focused on accomplishing a goal. When you have less to do, you have more time to put into an important goal. You'll find that you are more productive when you say "yes" less.

10. Time activities

Just like it sounds, to become efficient at something you may want to try setting a timer to keep yourself focused on time. When you're unaware of the minutes that have passed by since you started a project, you may start to work on other things absentmindedly and forget that you have important work to do.


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