Why Being an Efficient Leader Is Simply Not Enough

So, it’s the start of a new week, I look at my task manager, and WHAM! I am barraged with a wave of both past and current tasks and projects.


And there are two ways this can go for me, and perhaps you can relate to one or both.

The first is a day with many things to get done, I get in my groove and I begin to check off items like nobody’s business. Don’t you love those kinds of days? I feel satisfied that I was able to knock so many to-do’s off “the list.” It is like a productivity euphoria.

The second type of day…well…the second type of day is similar to having bins, and each day has its own bin of stuff that has to get done. And at the end of the day, a heavy sigh follows, and I wonder what exactly I accomplished. And so I take my big bin of to-do’s and basically empty it into the next day’s bin. 

Great. Now I have two bins worth of activity that I have to process.

Definitely not a productivity euphoria. More like productivity depression.

If I were to ask you which type of day you would prefer, my guess is that I would have a 100% vote for “Sign me up for the first!”

More than being efficient?

Oft times we can get the notion that perhaps all this stuff is not getting done because we are not efficient in how we go about our to-do’s. And so we search for and try that latest app or system that is going to bring harmony to our task universe. 

And there is nothing wrong with improving our efficiency. Because efficiency offers me margin. And I desire more margin in my life in order to be able to do more of those things that really matter and have value.

But in a day where our technology has seemingly only dropped more goods at our doorstep, “doing things efficiently” can feel like the endgame that we should be pursuing. 

I have things to do, I add them to my list, and then I get them done. Sounds pretty easy.

But is there more to be considered?

Efficiency with an essentialist mindset

I came across a book a couple of years back titled Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg Keown. And just this past week I listened to a podcast where he was being interviewed and I was reminded of some principles that I thought would be worth passing on to my tribe.

Here is a quote from his interview that was very profound to me. Read this over a couple of times and let its worth sink in. He says that we need…

…to create the space, to figure out, to explore, what is essential. If you don’t do that, then really no other productivity techniques will matter because you can easily start to efficiently do things that are not actually essential at all or that even shouldn’t be done in the first place.

There is a weight to that statement. And as a leader, there is a gravity about this that I must consider.

There are weeks where I have a full weekend and barely take time to properly think about the upcoming week. I have just enough margin to look at the first day of the week and its activities and get rolling. But I am seeing that mindset is actually undoing my week.

A few weeks back I wrote about a process that I was excited to go through: a Life Plan process from a book called Living Forward. And one of the areas that I really pondered for improvement was how I should view everything that had to be done that held value or importance to me.

I have put a lot of time and energy into growing my own efficiency. Part of that overflow was moving my task management to Todoist. I have systems that help me know what is going on at any given time and what needs to happen.

But the question that I am now trying to answer is, “Are the things I am efficient at actually essential? Should they even be done by me or be done at all?”

For example, our church has a vision statement. As an executive pastor, part of my role is to help carry out and protect the vision of our church. Those things are essential. And what I choose to focus on each week either helps to accomplish that vision or it doesn’t. It is possible that I could have a very full week and yet never really move the vision forward.

Being in a framework of busyness without a vision of what is essential is a dangerous place to be. All of us are busy. All of us have more than enough to keep our plates full. But if I am not careful, I can be led to believe that it was a good day just because “I got a lot done.”

But those things I worked on…where they the right things? 

This is one reason that I would encourage you to craft a Life Plan for yourself. I have nine areas of my life and in each area I have listed my end game, where I want to end up. I am slowing moving away from the mindset that I can do it all if I just have the time. I do not need to feel as if I have to do it all, but I must make the time to do that which is right and best. 

The problem is that if I never consider, among all of my action items, which are the essential to-do’s, I may simply just get a lot done efficiently and feel good about that, never contemplating if what I am doing is accomplishing what is both needed and necessary.

I admit, sadly, that busyness can be a drug of sorts and that doing more seemingly brings both worth and value. But isn’t it more important that what I am busy about is helping to accomplish the key goals of my life, those I love, or my vocation?

That, I have found, is one of the “dark sides” of productivity: It is too easy to feel a sense of accomplishment with getting things done and yet never consider if I am getting the right things, the essential things, done. Without that question, productivity may not hold as much value as we think it does.

So…maybe it is time to change some of your thought processes about what it means to really get things done. And as Greg McKeown says, by being more selective,

…we can channel our time, energy and effort into making the highest possible contribution toward the goals and activities that matter.

The right thing, the right way, the right time.

Being productive, and getting done what is essential as well? Now that is something to check off your list.



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