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Talk to me about being effective, not being efficient

In the course of finishing up the dissertation, I’ve been reminded about that old argument between being effective vs. being efficient. Like just about every graduate student, I was getting the “work harder, work faster” speech from my committee chair. A large part of those diatribes involved discussions about being more efficient in my work and dealing with adjusting the focus knob.

Here’s how the words are defined by

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.

Getting my head clear about the difference between these two things has been one of major roadblocks towards finishing my dissertation. I’ve become quite efficient about doing the things I’ve needed to do to get through the last semester but most of what I’ve been doing hasn’t been very effective  in moving me towards finishing.

So, how to break the pattern? It varies from person to person but I started with a  two step plan. First, keep track of what you do during the day. This is something some people do without thinking… I’m not one of those people and a I think I’m a member of the majority in that regard. The result is that I find myself becoming very interrupt-driven. I quickly noticed just how scatter-shot my time had become.

Second, do some “post-mortem” (and “after-death” is the right term here given how my advisor wants to shoot me) and look at how you spend your time after a few days of tracking your work. Then, prune and watch what you do.


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