Effective vs. Efficient: Definitions, Differences and Tips

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 22 August 2022 | Published 30 August 2021

Updated 22 August 2022

Published 30 August 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

The words effective and efficient are often used interchangeably, but they have some key differences worth noting. When words have a similar meaning, it's easy to use them out of context. Although both words generally mean 'capable of producing a result', it's important to understand their differences so that you can use the correct one for your content. In this article, we explore what it means to be efficient vs. effective and offer some tips on how you can become more effective and efficient.

What does effective mean?

The word 'effective' is an adjective used to describe when some type of action is completed in an adequate or satisfactory way. When you complete a task effectively, you have produced the intended result. Here are some examples of when it's appropriate to use the word 'effective':

  • when a goal or objective is met

  • when certain actions have produced the desired result

  • when something gets accomplished

Related: How to stay focused: comprehensive strategies and tips

Examples of using the word 'effective'

Here are some examples of how to use the word 'effective' in a sentence:

  • 'Jason's method for completing this month's financial statements proved to be effective.'

  • 'Using a mop and a bucket of water is an effective way to clean the kitchen floor.'

  • 'Thanks to Mary's effective training manual, the new employees could competently carry out their work.'

What does the word efficient mean?

The word 'efficient' is an adjective used to describe producing a result in the best possible way. When you are working efficiently, you are achieving the maximum levels of productivity for the time and resources contributed:

  • when demonstrating how a task or objective exceeded expectations

  • when emphasising how a goal was accomplished

  • when explaining how a result was achieved in the most optimal way

Related: What is time management? (Importance and how to improve it)

Examples of using the word 'efficient'

Here are some examples of how to use the word 'efficient' in a sentence:

  • 'The farmers' new technique was so efficient he ploughed all of his fields twice as fast as last year.'

  • 'Amanda's efficient revision method helped her reach the top of her class.'

  • 'The cashier worked efficiently to ensure all of the customers were served in a timely fashion.'

Related: How to calculate work efficiency and why it matters

Effective vs. efficient

If you're using the words effective and efficient in your CV, cover letter or job interview, you want to ensure you're correctly expressing yourself. If you wish to convey to potential employers that you completed a task adequately, you could use the word 'effective'. However, if you wish to demonstrate to recruiters that you accomplished a goal in a way that saved time, money and effort, you could use the word 'efficient'.

Here are some examples of sentences that use both the words 'effective' and 'efficient' that highlight their respective meanings:

  • 'Jenny effectively learnt to crochet using her mother's 100-page instruction manual. However, it would have been for more efficient for her mother to teach her.'

  • 'Taking the bus is an effective way to get to work, but driving your car is more efficient, saving you time and energy.'

  • 'The method for filing reports in my office was effective, but the process became much more efficient with the improvements I introduced.'

Related: How to write about yourself confidently and effectively

5 tips to become more effective

Here are some tips that you can implement to be more effective at work:

1. Maintain a positive attitude

A positive attitude can help you get better results from your work and there are various techniques that can promote a positive attitude. Try thinking about things that make you happy about the task. For example, if accomplishing a task can benefit your life, then thinking about the outcome may adjust your mood and help you achieve your goal.

2. Prioritise important tasks

If you have a lot that you need to get done, it can often be difficult to know where to start. You may find it helpful to write a to-do list, prioritising the most important, time-consuming and challenging tasks first. This simple method is an effective way to accomplish your goals, as you can complete the most time-consuming or least appealing tasks at the beginning of your day. By dealing with the tasks you least want to carry out first, you can alleviate some of that stress and feel more motivated and positive while accomplishing the rest of your workload.

Related: Interview question: 'how do you prioritise your work?'

3. Create a routine

Forming a routine to complete your daily tasks can make the process of accomplishing them much more peaceful. If you often become overwhelmed by the day ahead of you or forget things when you have a lot to manage, then a routine can make your day more manageable. Once you establish your routine, you may find you start completing your tasks effectively.

Related: How to create an effective work routine (with tips)

4. Complete one task at a time

If you get distracted easily, you may find you become more effective by prioritising one task at a time. Multitasking can split your focus and impact your ability to achieve your desired results as your brain jumps from one task to another. A much better approach is to focus on a single task until it's fully completed or to work on it for a period during your day and then set it aside for another time.

5. Evaluate your results

If you're looking for effective results, you need to focus on what needs to be accomplished rather than how you get it done. Take note of how many tasks you are accomplishing each day and week and evaluate the progress you are making. The method you choose to complete tasks may not be the most efficient, but as long as you do it right, you can move on to your next task.

Related: 13 task management apps and tools for organising your life

5 tips to become more efficient

If you strive to be more than just adequate or satisfactory, learning how to become more efficient in your day-to-day life is an important part of that process. While completing tasks effectively is valuable to an employer, finding ways to become more efficient can help you excel in the workplace. Here are some tips you can use to become more efficient in your daily life:

1. Set S.M.A.R.T goals

Taking on a large project or setting a new long-term goal can be overwhelming if you have no idea where to start. Become more efficient at accomplishing your goals by implementing the S.M.A.R.T framework to make your goals more actionable and achievable. Ensure your goals are well planned, easy to track and clear by following the acronym to make your goals Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Based.

Related: How To Develop SMART Goals

2. Take breaks

While it may sound counterintuitive to stop everything you are doing, taking breaks gives both your mind and body a chance to recharge. People typically work most efficiently when they are rested and stress-free. This means that it's important to allow yourself the opportunity to regain the energy you had when you first started your task. Paying attention to your needs can help you do a better job overall.

3. Learn from your successes and failures

It's important to step back and analyse why a project went so well. You can apply this approach to any failures since understanding what didn't work so well allows you to revise your approach in the future. There are lessons to learn from both positive and negative experiences. Take the time to note what did or didn't work so you can become more efficient as a result.

Related: How to learn from mistakes: 9 steps to help you grow

4. Create a backup plan

Take the time to do some preparation before tackling a new goal or objective. Having a backup plan ready to go in case things go wrong can save you unnecessary time and stress later on in the process. Instead, you can get back into your work with the confidence to know exactly what to do next.

5. Continue your personal development

Using your downtime to continue your personal development is a great way to improve your efficiency. Continuing your education, reading a book or taking online courses are great ways to learn something new. Expanding your knowledge can help you improve upon the skills you already have or allow you to adopt new skills that make you more efficient at completing your day-to-day tasks.

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