The Danger in Being Efficient With People

If your life is anything like mine, if feels C-R-A-Z-Y at times. And on any given day, there are multiple tugs from both people and processes, all vying for my attention.


I want to give the time that is needed to each so that I am effective in what I do. And to carry those things out, I have researched ways that I can be more efficient in how I accomplish what I am working on. Everything from how I plan my day and week to apps I utilize to make it happen.

Efficiency: maximizing results while at the same time minimizing wasted effort. I admit – I like when that happens for me, but to be honest, it does not happen enough.

Part of the problem is that efficiency is not a mindset that works in all areas of life. Such as with people.

Like a set of train tracks, I think the quickest way to help someone is just to set them on this “straight path,” give them a friendly push, and get them to resolution. “Look! I have laid it out! Just do what I am telling you! See those mountains in the distance? The tracks will take you there!”

And then I get frustrated when it is not working.

I am in process of reading Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I have had this book since the 90’s and have never finished it.

This year is the year!

And though the book first went to press over 25 years ago, there are some principles within it that are causing me to pause and rethink how I am accomplishing some aspects of my life.

For example, I came across this quote:

…you simply can’t think efficiency with people. You think effectiveness with people and efficiency with things.

We often experience frustrations in our life because of expectations we set. I expect that my wireless is going to work at home all the time, so when it is slow or not working at all, I get irritated. Often, my issue is more the expectation that I had rather than the circumstance that happened.

If I adjusted my expectation, I might be able to avoid my frustration.

So Covey’s statement is really quite practical. If I try to be efficient with people, I am most likely going to end up frustrated or have “inner noise” because dealing with people is often not efficient.

For example, I was at the end of a week recently and felt the tension of what was left to be done before the weekend hit. I was trying to be efficient in what had to be done.

And in the midst of that, I was supposed to meet with a good friend to connect as he was going through some difficult times in his life. In my mind, I had things all mapped out for an efficient meeting. And during my meeting, I could feel the tension of things not yet done.

The time together ended up taking longer than I had planned, and the Holy Spirit rebuked me.

“Antone, the reason you are feeling tension in this is because you are trying to be efficient with this person. They do not need you to be efficient; they need you to be effective.”

Hmmm…well said, Holy Spirit.

And in the midst of the conversation, I changed my expectation. I realized I was creating my own tension because I had the wrong expectation going into my time with this person.

Why can we not have an efficiency mindset with people? There are three dangers that I see:

People’s problems are not simple

People’s lives are complex, messy, and many times cannot be solved in a “I have 20 minutes for you” mentality.

People whom God brings across our path often need to unpack their life. And to understand a person, to truly understand them, means to understand their story. And many times stories must be drawn out. Resolution to a problem is only seen within the context of a specific life.

Proverbs 20:5 wisely advises…

The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.

Efficiency does not work here.

People’s problems are not a straight line

Efficiency speaks of getting from A to B in the shortest path, the most direct path. It is always true. But to have that mindset with people will only create new problems. Have you gone to a person with a problem and felt as if they were trying to fit you into their solution box? How did you come away feeling? Would you go back to them?

For me sometimes, getting from A to B means leaving A, going through G-H-R-M first, then being able to arrive at B.

Efficiency does not work here either.

People’s problems are not a project to check off

And finally, having an efficiency mindset with another will sooner or later make that person feel like they are your project. What does a project look like? Steps to resolution, the goal is to get “fixed,” and the timeframe is now.

There is a verse in I Thessalonians that provides some timely advice on this. It says,

And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.

Admonish…encourage…help. And notice the next command.

Be patient with them all.

Why is this added? Because admonishing, encouraging, and helping often take an inordinate about of time just to understand the difficulty, let alone resolve it. And in the temptation to push these people through to better living, we often become impatient because they are “not getting it” more quickly.

And, you guessed it, efficiency does not work well here.

Do you sometimes find yourself frustrated and irritated with those whom God directs across your path? Perhaps your expectation needs to change. And then with that watch the person change.

Remember…think effectiveness with people and efficiency with things. The order makes all the difference in the world.

Especially to the one you are helping.


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