If you are a reader of business literature, especially profiles of people making a good go at a business career, then you’ve also read that these same people likely commit efficiency sins. They don’t see it that way, however, often talking about their ruthless commitment to efficiency as a virtue. Efficiency sinsCompromising one's current quality of life through time/process management, intending to obtain a future and higher quality of life.

An efficiency sin looks like this:

  • Scheduling too tightly. Doing this prevents the business leader from being present in the meeting they are already in. Whatever they are doing, they are already distracted by the next meeting or something that comes even later, or the next e-mail, phone call or task awaiting them, instead of bringing their best attention and mental resources to the moment they are in.
  • Wolfing food. Some have even wondered out loud whether a nutritional infusion or diet of nutritionally perfect bars might work better than taking times for meals, let alone a meal they prepare for themselves or their families. Stopping to enjoy food is seen as harmful to the work output to which they aspire.
  • Pride in a lack of adequate rest. It is no secret that while it might seem a show of ambition and drive, there are long-term consequences that come from sleep deprivation. Those long-term consequences impede enjoyment and the quality of life being pursued for some years hence by foregoing nourishing and healing rest all along.
  • Work first. While doing hard tasks first before easy tasks or pursuing leisure is a good personal discipline, forsaking time with one’s key relationships in order to do the work that keeps multiplying in the wake of success is not. Successful work multiplies opportunity beyond the capacity of any one person to cover it all. In the end, a work first priority that sacrifices participation in family and community ruins one's quality of life and leaves people alone and lonely.

Most people pursuing efficiency sins as if they were virtues have a declared purpose: to gather enough money so they can do what they want…later. And yet, quality of life items are abundant already and all along, surrounding us whether we are efficient or not. In fact, they beg us to stop and enjoy.

  • One can enjoy an abundance of inexpensive picnics with their loved ones, rather than working extra hours in order to cover the cost of exclusive dining at a future time.
  • Frisbee golf at any number of free or low-cost courses, with family and friends, adds to the quality of life way more than yet one more corporate golf outing. Other outdoor games like croquet can be just as fun.
  • Reading a book or journal article on one’s own porch can trigger deeper learning and more personal growth than traveling to yet one more seminar with day long supplemental workshops, or worse, working so hard and furiously that no learning takes place at all. And naps come with them!

As a former Chief Efficiency Sinner myself, deep insight for this came to me when my son and I were kayaking on a public waterway, through a championship golf course. Our kayaks, combined, cost less than one set of green fees. We would enjoy for years what the golfers were spending in hours. I was with my son, they were with business contacts. Insight dawned in that moment.

The point here has nothing to do with expensive green fees or to denigrate the importance of networking. The point is life priorities and whether they are being lived, or are sacrificed in a joy-sucking commitment to efficiency, something I’ve transgressed repeatedly over the course of my own life.

Passion, commitment and drive are needed to succeed in business. And, they need to be pointed to the right ends.

  • Understanding success as something other than an amount of money. The quality of one’s relationships, for instance.
  • Sleeping well rather than sleeping less.
  • Serving customers/clients as human beings—as neighbors we love better than ourselves—more than just landing the next deal.
  • Enjoyment of the abundance of all things rather than measuring all things against personal financial success.
  • Contributing to others and their flourishing rather than consuming others for our own selfish ends. Measuring our journey by our traveling companions rather than the accumulation of frequent flier miles.

Bigger is not necessarily better. Growth built on the sins of efficiency is like gaining muscle through steroid use. You might be bigger, but also grouchy, aggressive, and sliding toward impotence. It isn’t natural. It certainly isn’t healthy. Even if it brings a win for now, devastating loss will follow eventually.