Efficiency vs. efficacy: what is the difference? When to choose which?

efficiency vs eccicacy

Efficiency and efficacy are intertwined when talking about productivity. But do we know the differences? 

Today, we will find out the main difference between those two aspects of productivity. At the end of your read, you’ll be able to choose why and when preferring efficiency over efficacy and how to work accordingly. Stay until the end, where we also provide answers most common FAQs.

When faced with a long to-do list, do you work quickly to get through more? Or do you work slowly but surely to ensure everything’s done correctly?

A common mistake is to confuse being efficient with being productive.

According to this article from HBR, “Superefficient businesses create the potential for social disorder.” In other words, striving for efficiency in the name of productivity can make a business less performing.

So, what does this mean for those who want to be more productive? How can we be mindfully productive? Should we abandon our quest for efficiency and instead focus on being highly effective? 

Choosing to be efficient or effective all depends on the desired result.

What Is Efficiency?

In the business world, there is a near-constant quest for greater productivity. 

Efficiency is defined as: “The ratio of the useful work performed to the total energy expended.”

Or, in simpler terms: “The ratio of work completed to time, effort, or resources spent to complete it.”

In the context of productivity, being efficient means getting a large volume of work done with as little effort, time, or resources as possible. Efficiency is a matter of resources implied in a particular task.

What Is Efficacy?

Efficacy is also known as effectiveness. If efficiency is about doing things right and fast, then efficacy must be the opposite, right? Well, not quite. 

The most widely used definition of efficacy is: “The ability to produce a desired or intended result.”

Regarding productivity, efficacy is about getting the results you want. So, being effective is your ability to complete work to a high standard. Efficacy is focused on the value of the result.

Read also: Why is it so important to set realistic goals? 6 essential reasons!

Person distracted by her smartphone during work time

Efficiency vs. Efficacy: Highlighting The Differences

  • Efficiency is about completing work with as few resources as possible.
  • Efficacy is about achieving desired results.

Efficiency is a process-oriented goal, while efficacy is a result-oriented goal. To better grasp the difference, let’s take a look at an example:

Effectiveness: reaching your goal 

You’re given the task of writing a report. You sit down at your desk and start typing away. You may also ask your colleagues to double-check it and incorporate their feedback into the report. Within an hour, you’ve completed the work and sent it off.

Efficiency: get things done with limited resources

Let’s pick the task of writing a report again. But this time, you’ll have to do it with limited resources. In 30 minutes, without asking anyone to proof read-it, you’ve sent the report.

In this scenario, you were efficient and effective. You got the job done quickly and with minimal usage of resources like yours and your colleagues’ time.

Read also: The best tips to save time and get things done

Being efficient without being effective

Being efficient doesn’t imply being effective all the time. We could work efficiently on a set of completely useless tasks. 

Let’s make an example of two developers. Developer A fixed 30 bugs in 45 minutes on an old and misused piece of code. At the same time, developer B fixed ten bugs in 2 hours on a crucial part of the code used by the company. Developer A was more efficient but was not effective because the result of the work was useless.

Is It Better To Be Efficient Or Effective?

Efficiency and efficacy are both important when it comes to productivity. But which one should you focus on? The answer, of course, depends on the situation.

There are times when efficiency is more important. There are other times when efficacy is more important. In this section, we’ll be offering some guidance about how you can decide which approach is best suited to your situation.

time management - hour glass


When the project you’re working on has constraints, whether it be a time, effort, or resource constraint, efficiency becomes increasingly important. You’re working under pressure.

In this situation, quality might sometimes need to take a hit to finish a task on time and under budget. Of course, the more experience you have, the more effective you can get at finishing the project effectively. 

Type of Work

Some types of work are more conducive to being done quickly. For example, suppose you’re a web developer tasked with fixing a few bugs on a website. In that case, you can probably do so relatively quickly and efficiently, especially if you’ve done the same tasks a fair number of times. 

Suppose you’re a graphic designer, and you’re working on a complex design project. In that case, you’ll likely need to take your time to produce high-quality work, especially when it requires a specific skill and precision to be done effectively.

Pipeline Tasks

Tasks that are part of a pipeline (i.e., they need to be completed for other tasks to be completed) are usually better suited to efficiency.

This is because the sooner these tasks are completed, the sooner the project can move on to the next stage. Bottlenecks can be fatal for many early-stage ventures.

One-Off Tasks

Tasks that are one-off or don’t have any dependencies can often be approached with a focus on efficacy.

This is especially important if you haven’t done those tasks previously and require a fair amount of time to do them effectively.

Quality Requirements

Finally, different kinds of work have other baseline requirements for attention to detail and quality. If you’re a data entry clerk inputting thousands of survey responses into a spreadsheet, a single mistake (probably) won’t have dire consequences. If you’re a surgeon, the implications of a single mistake are far more significant.

As you can see, several factors will affect the balance between efficiency and efficacy. In the next section, we’ll offer some advice about how you can decide which approach is best for your situation.

technology improving productivity


How To Be More Effective?

Focus on the outcome. What are you trying to achieve? How can you best achieve it? By keeping the result in mind, you can ensure that your efforts are focused and effective.

  • Measure your progress;
  • Have a checklist for quality control;
  • Communicate with your team;
  • Get feedback and implement it.

How To Be More Efficient?

  • We’ve created an awesome guide about how to be more efficient.
  • Do your research upfront;
  • Prioritize tasks;
  • Create a documented system;
  • Learn to systemize your processes;
  • Break tasks into smaller, well-defined steps;
  • Eliminate distractions;
  • Track your time.

Is efficacy the same as efficiency?

As we saw today, efficacy and efficiency are two very different terms. Efficacy generally means reaching the desired goal, and efficiency means accomplishing something with minimum resources. 

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