moving the needle

Moving the needle [PMP #139]

A few months ago I listened to this great episode of the Focussed podcast where hosts Mike and David discuss “moving the needle”. In summary, they highlight the importance of “effectiveness” and why we shouldn’t obsess over “efficiency”.

In this post, I’m going to add my own thoughts on this topic.

Don’t want to read this post, listen to the podcast instead:

This episode is sponsored by Front.

Now you’ve probably heard before that productivity is a combination of effectiveness and efficiency.

  • Effectiveness is working on the right tasks and making progress towards your goals. It’s WHAT you do.
  • Efficiency is about optimising your time to do these things quickly (without compromising on quality). It’s HOW you do these things.

Most of us obsess over efficiency. Efficiency is the sexy part of productivity. It’s the shiny object syndrome I talked about with Matt and Joe a few weeks ago. It’s deciding what calendar and task management tools to use. Most of my consulting is with clients who need help using their tools better, automating their processes and being more efficient.

Stop obsessing over 'efficiency' if you're not being 'effective' in the first place.Click To Tweet

The thing is, being efficient is pointless if you're not applying your effort to the correct tasks or projects to begin with. That’s where effectiveness comes in. Otherwise, you’re only making more efficient a task that shouldn’t be done in the first place.

So, how do you improve your effectiveness?

The phrase “moving the needle” refers to making a difference to a goal or metric that’s important.

A lot of people think effectiveness is all about goals. While goals are important and being effective is about making progress towards a goal, it’s not a requirement. In my view, “moving the needle” also refers to your underlying values about what you consider to be important.

For example, I don’t actually have a goal right now. I’m pretty happy with the level my business is at and I’m not that interested in hiring staff to grow revenue. Really I just want to maintain my business at its current level.

Now just because I don't have a goal to grow or change my business doesn’t mean I have no “needle” to move. For me, I have a few needles (or core values) that I like to move.

  1. Getting the best outcome for my customers and audience. I highly value the people that subscribe to my email list and follow this blog. I also want to make sure that if a client pays to work with me that they have a great experience.
  2. Improving my “effective hourly rate”. This is the hourly rate that I’m “effectively” earning taking into account my monthly revenue and hours worked. This is in line with my values around work-life balance.

So when I’m faced with a decision about what to work on or where my time is best spent, I can evaluate my options through these lenses. i.e. What’s going to be best for my customers? Or what’s going to net me the highest income for the least amount of work? For me, that’s moving the needle.

Moving the needle will mean different things for everyone depending on your job, responsibilities and how your performance is measured.

For example:

  • A student reading this cares about learning, growing and getting good grades. That’s moving the needle.
  • A lawyer cares about getting the best result for the client. That’s moving the needle.
  • A wedding photographer cares about capturing the best photos possible so that newlyweds can remember their special day. That’s moving the needle.

So if you’re ever feeling overwhelmed, frustrated or unhappy with your productivity. Instead of switching to a new todo list tool or working 80 hours a week to catch up, step back and ask yourself, “what do I need to move the needle on”. If you can’t get everything done right now, what is the most important thing that you try to do?

Like most people, my workload ebbs and flows. A few weeks ago I was enjoying a pretty quiet and enjoying some downtime. Then last week, a few new projects landed in my lap and I now find myself trying to accomplish a few things at once.

So I asked myself, “what do I need to move the needle on?”. I looked at the various client projects that I need to work on and determine which ones were more urgent and which ones could wait a bit longer. I also reviewed a few personal projects and decided to postpone one that I’d already started because it wasn’t as time-sensitive and doesn’t move either of the needles I described above.

Fundamentally, “moving the needle” is about learning to prioritise. That feeling of overwhelm often comes from not knowing what to move the needle on. It means you have no way to evaluate your options and so you try and do everything at once, leaving you feeling busy and stressed out. When you stop and ask yourself some tough questions about what’s important and what “moving the needle” means to you, you’ll be better equipped to prioritise tasks and allocate your time effectively. Once you’ve done this, then you can start to look at ways to be more efficient.