We often end up with more tasks on our to-do list than we could possibly complete in the time available. This causes anxiety (when we are still hopeful of the possibility), and depression (when we are despairing that we will ever succeed).
Efficient living is the art of managing our to-do list in a way that maximises activity in relation to resource used. The standard mathematical formula for efficiency is to divide activity by resource. Miles per gallon, for example, is a measure of fuel efficiency for a vehicle.
To live efficiently, we have to define both activity and resource. If I am a factory worker, my efficiency might be measured as number of items processed per hour. My activity is of interest to my employer because it contributes to money coming in, and the time I use up is of interest because of the salary cost.
However, in our personal lives, we are not just profit-making entities. Our values extend beyond wealth creation. Efficiency therefore becomes a more complex thing to weigh up. We need to define where we are going, before we can measure how efficiently we are getting there.
In counselling, I sometimes find myself thinking about efficient client development. Imagine my client is a sports person who needs to be mentally prepared for Olympic competition in two months’ time. It would be grossly inefficient to spend three years examining childhood issues – we would miss the objective.
In contrast, if a client wants to make a three-year transition with me, from early adulthood to greater maturity, then it may well be efficient to spend time reflecting on family dynamics, if the reflections help to release blocks along the way.
What has my client work taught me about efficient self-development? Here are two main tips.
#1 – CHOOSE ONE OBJECTIVE AT A TIME
It is efficient to focus our energy. We humans are not really built to multi-task. Shifting our attention between tasks takes time and energy, and can exhaust us emotionally. Personal development is more effective if it is done with focus. If we want to focus on anger management, then we can do it. If we want to focus on better communication, we can do that. But we should try not to get lost in a great forest of personal development areas, without making good progress in at least one.
#2 – CHOOSE ONE RESOURCE AT A TIME
To use our resources efficiently, we need to understand what those limited resources are. If we decide it is time, then we need to get intimately familiar with exactly how we use our time. If it is money, then we need to understand the detail of why we spend what we spend.
As an example, let’s imagine a client who comes to me wanting to clear up their house, which is a mess. They have paperwork everywhere, and it bogs them down. They have lots of time available, but keep getting tired.
Here, the objective is to clear the space, and the limited resource is energy.
Given the objective, our work together would be focused on the clearance task. This is not always easy, as the client may be an expert procrastinator and avoider, very able to deflect and distract themselves and others from the main task at hand. We need to be firmly focused on the goal, even if it means pulling attention back to it frequently.
Given the resource, we would also focus on the nature of the client’s tiredness. If we discover morning is an optimal time of day for energy, then we might try developing a routine that does the activity first thing.
At first, progress might be slow, partly due to all the mental blocks the client has been putting in their own way. We humans are very clever at justifying our existing ways of life and thinking, even if they are not helping us.
There are several things we want to improve in our lives.
To be efficient, we can start with one area of self-development, and focus on that as an objective.
In relation to that area, we can also notice what our limiting resource is, and focus on that. If it is time, we can study how we use time. If it is personal energy, we can study our own energy patterns. If it is motivation, then we can learn how to motivate ourselves appropriately.
If we can undergo a successful self-development journey in one area, then we can move on to other areas, encouraged at our progress.