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  • Effective Vs. Efficient: Do You Know The Difference?

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Effective and efficient are very common business/marketing terms. However, most of us tend to mix their meanings and usage occasionally (including myself), and that is why I decided to write on the topic.

First of all if you look for both terms in most dictionaries you’ll find very similar definitions (which makes the matter even more confusing). Some dictionaries get it right, however. Here is the definition from Dictionary.com, which I like:

Effective (adj.): Adequate to accomplish a purpose; producing the intended or expected result.

Efficient (adj.) Performing or functioning in the best possible manner with the least waste of time and effort.

If you want an easier way to memorize the difference, remember this sentence: “Being effective is about doing the right things, while being efficient is about doing the things in the right manner.

Let’s use a practical example to illustrate the concepts. Suppose that two guys, Mark and John, are trying to change a flat tire on their cars (each one has his own car).

Mark starts by taking out the jack and placing it under the car. He quite doesn’t know where to position it, so he goes by trial and error and wastes a lot of time doing it. After 20 minutes he finally manages to fix it, so he proceeds to lift the car and change the tire.

As you can see Mark was doing the right thing, but he was doing it poorly. We can say that he was being effective, but not efficient.

John, on the other hand, starts by grabbing a towel and cleaning the tire. He wants to make the thing shiny before he changes it. And mind you he is very good and fast at cleaning every little detail of the tire.

We can say that John is being efficient, because he is cleaning the tire fast and throughly, but he is not being effective, because cleaning is a step that is not required at all when changing a flat tire.

Now if we had a third person, Peter, who could change the flat tire using the right steps and doing it quickly, we could say that he was both effective and efficient.


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About the author 


Daniel Scocco is a programmer and entrepreneur located in São Paulo, Brazil. His first company, Online Profits, builds and manages websites in different niches. His second company, Kubic, specializes in developing mobile apps for the iOS and Android platforms.

  1. Interesting that everyone is raving about this post. Wake up folks — this is not news! There are over 72 million websites that discuss this topic and it’s been around for 30 years.

    There is nothing original in this post. It basic and only scratches the surface between effective and efficient. The author has not cited the originator of the idea: Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, published 30 years ago. He has not identified Peter Drucker as the source of the quote that begins “Being effective is about doing the right things ..l”

    I get so tired of people taking classic ideas and pretending they are their own. And of people who repeat what is out there already. Let’s have a little originality and some new ideas!!!

  2. A small point. One way of defining effeciency is output to input. As the input decreases per unit of output or as ouput increases per unit of input effeciency increases. If time is an input in the tire changing process then spending unneccessary time on an unnecessary step may also increase ineffeciency.

    Let’s say that there are 5 steps that must be done in the tire changing process. If each of these steps is done in order and no additional steps that destroy previous steps or impair the ability of future steps are added the tire change will be perfect 100% effective (to simplfy assume that each step is either done perfectly or not at all). Needed inputs: human labor, jack, and tire. Maximum effeciency: 3 minutes per step.

    Person A: Does each step but takes 10 minutes per step. Effective but not ineffecient.

    Person B: Does 4 of 5 steps in the minimum time per step. Ineffective but effecient.

    Person C: Does all 5 steps in 15 minutes but adds an additional step which neither destroys previous steps not imapcts ability of future steps. Effective but ineffecient.

    Person D: Takes 20 minutes in the first 4 steps then adds an additional step (like puncturing the spare tire) that makes completing the process impossible. Ineffective and ineffecient.

  3. Good topic. I feel Efficiency is useless without Effectiveness in other word doing something unimportant well does not make it important.

  4. There is very thin line between both the words effective Vs Efficient but generally people use them either (Meaning the same), but it is important to know this thinner line specially when you are a professional and needs to communicate with people at work.

    Interesting Daniel denial. I was known the difference before but not in this much detail.

    Thank You for this valuable post. In future, I will try to use both the words properly because I know difference between them.

  5. Great post Daniel! Too often we focus on one or the other, but certainly keeping these definitions in the back of your mind when taking action will certainly make a difference in the long run.
    Move over dictionary dot com, here comes daily blog tips!

  6. really Very thought provoking post! Thanks for clarifying this. I’ve never had anyone break down the difference like that. Kuddos to you!! very helpful indeed!. thankx

  7. I know that I need to work on some efficiencies for sure, such as creating guest posts. Sure, commenting and developing the conversation is a great way to gain new customers, but if you want to be efficient about it, you need to go BIG all at once.

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire

  8. Hmm, sometimes those two words are very confusing for some people.
    But for me it’s simple to understand.
    The point is: “Effective is the Result and Efficient is the process”.
    Correct me if I’m wrong.

  9. Hi,
    Yeah, these are very confusing! And it becomes even more confusing when we think more about it. Anyway, it becomes much easier to understand when it is illustrated with examples

    – Roshan Ahmed 🙂

  10. hmmmm, i am not good at teaching philosophy. 😉
    But you wrote “John is being efficient, because he is cleaning the tire fast and throughly, but he is not being effective”

    I do not understand how John is efficient, because he is doing an un-needed job.

    1. That is exactly the difference between effective and efficient. Effective is about doing the “right” or “needed” job.

      Efficient, on the other hand, is about doing the job “quickly” or “in the right manner”, regardless if the job is the right one to be done or not.

      John is not doing the “needed” job, so he is not being effective. However, he is doing the cleaning job (even if this job is not needed) very quickly, so he is being efficient at doing such a job.

  11. hi, I really liked your idea of the post it is very interesting indeed, but I do not agree with your idea/explanation of “efficiency”. Because, adding unnecessary steps to a process does not mean efficiency!
    I think efficiency means that you are good at doing something but it is not necessary that the out come is 100% perfect. It can be slightly less effective.
    To conclude I will say that “An efficient person/process need not to be effective every time, but to be effective you should be efficient in execution of process”! 🙂
    What do you think?

    1. I am having trouble following your logic.

      You said: “Because, adding unnecessary steps to a process does not mean efficiency!”

      I would say that adding unnecessary steps to a process will make it inefficient (and it has nothing to do with effectiveness).

      You also said: “An efficient person/process need not to be effective every time, but to be effective you should be efficient in execution of process.”

      I don’t agree with this. To be effective you don’t necessarily need to be efficient in the execution of the process, as my example above illustrated.

  12. Hey Daniel,

    This is cool that you are sharing this. Sometimes you hear people use the words in wrong context. I have to point them to this post. I have a question.

    How about if you pay someone to change the tire? Are you being efficient and effective?

    Chat with you later…

    1. I would say that if you pay and the person changes it correctly and quickly, you are being effective (regardless of how much you paid).

      If you pay a low price for the service, on the other hand, you are being efficient (regardless of how well the service will be done).

      If you pay a low price and the service gets done correctly and quickly, you are being both effective and efficient.

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