Productivity vs. Efficiency: 3 Ways They Differ & How to Improve Both at Work

Many companies and teams have continuous improvement goals for employee productivity and efficiency. However, these goals are often vague and overlapping, using the terms interchangeably rather than highlighting the differences.
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Employees can improve upon both by looking at productivity and efficiency as two elements that drive progress. Here are three ways productivity and efficiency differ and how to improve both at work.

Output vs Process

One of the overarching differences between productivity and efficiency is the focus. Productivity focuses more on output, while efficiency focuses on the process leading to output.

Suppose your job is to develop and schedule daily marketing emails for your company. Your productivity relates to how many emails you create (the output). Your efficiency relates to how streamlined the creation process is.

While these concepts differ, they're closely related. You may discover that writing individual emails, opening your email marketing software, copying the information, and then starting the next email only allows you to complete 3-4 emails daily.

When you change the process to focus on writing a batch of emails, then opening the software and putting them all in simultaneously, you can write 5-10 per day.

Take a look at your current output and process and track your time. Explore options to streamline your process and measure the effects of this change. This process will benefit you when including tangible accomplishments for future jobs on a resume optimized for the ATS.

Time vs Resources

Another key difference in productivity vs. efficiency is measurement. Productivity is often measured by time spent working or focusing, while efficiency is measured by resource use. Another way to look at this is task completion vs. waste reduction.

Suppose you're in charge of hiring a contractor to redo your brand's website. While you're the touchpoint for the site changes, everything goes to the CEO for approval. Toward the end of the project, the contractor identifies that you and the CEO have made conflicting changes back and forth. The deadline is still met, but you've ultimately spent $1,000 more in contracting fees due to the continuous changes.

In this scenario, the work was productive but not efficient. If you had put a better approval process in place, the contractor wouldn't have had to bill more hours for changes, creating a waste of resources.

Challenge the status quo and take a closer look at task completion in your work. You may meet deadlines, but improving efficiency could create an opportunity to exceed them and grow.

Autonomy vs Team Efforts

Productivity often refers to autonomous work, while efficiency takes a high-level overview of the team's work. This isn't always the case; productive teamwork sessions are still a priority. However, staying focused and improving output tends to happen at an individual level, while systemic changes and processes engage the whole team.

Consider auditing your distraction points that limit your autonomous productivity. These distractions could include checking emails or people stopping by your desk during coffee breaks. Strategize ways to correct these issues, like politely telling people you're working on something and can't chat or scheduling email checks at certain times of the day.

Then look at issues that affect the team's overall efficiency and address them with your manager or subordinates. When approaching this issue, be proactive in providing solutions or improvement suggestions; don't just complain about a problem without taking the initiative to fix it.

Final Thoughts

Productivity and efficiency are two different factors that impact the output and quality of work. However, they have significant overlaps and a reciprocal relationship.

The best way to improve your productivity and efficiency is to assess your current workflows and style, measure your time and output, experiment with improvements, and track the results.
  • Miley Dowing
    Miley is the IT consultant with Daily Cup of Tech who helps digital businesses reach their full online potential. Miley is passionate about programming and IT consulting. Her current focus is helping SaaS businesses create a better world for our kids. He frequently writes about the latest advancements in the digital and tech industry.
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