How to become a more effective person

Whenever I think of the differences between efficiency and effectiveness, I tend to think about a coworker of mine. This person is the epitome of what one would describe as efficient. Whenever there is a problem to be solved, this person steps right up to take care of it. He exerts all of his physical and mental faculties to take care of the situation. Most observers would even go so far as to say that he is going above and beyond to do what is needed to be done at the moment.

He doesn't hesitate to take every step necessary to take care of whatever situation that arises. His supervisors, however, feel that he is not performing his job to expectation. Why? Because they feel that though he is efficient, his actions are not effective. How could someone like that be ineffective? All of his hard work and good intentions can't possibly be working against him could they?

When I hear the word effective, I tend to think of the word "affect." I found several definitions for the word affect. Some of them include to stir, influence, change, and to upset. These words are powerful descriptors of someone who causes change to occur. My coworker, on the other hand, is a master at responding to various types of crisis situations. He relishes when a situation arises. It is then that he exerts his energies to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.

There are various problems that can occur when someone chooses to shine in strictly reactive situations. Operating in a purely reactive state causes you to completely lose sight of your other responsibilities while placing all of your focus on the burning fire. As a consequence, your basic duties are put on the back burner and you are, in essence, creating an environment for another fire to ignite.

Someone who finds comfort in only solving immediate problems does not create the opportunity to analyze and forecast. It is in the analyzing and forecasting that we begin to move forward. Firefighting is like wading in the water, while analyzing and forecasting is like swimming as fast as you can to the finish. Those are the actions that move you forward. Its the difference between being a person who is efficient and one who is effective.

So how do you shift your awareness and become an effective person?

Get to the Root Cause
When my co-worker solves yet another critical issue. I am almost certain that he does not take the time to ask himself about the cause of the situation. Its easier to solve the problems as they arise than to set time aside to get to the heart of the matter and avoid the issue altogether. A root cause analysis is the easiest way to get the main cause of any problem you and I are faced with. We only need to ask ourselves "why" four or five times until we get to the final answer.

For example, let's say that before every paycheck, you seem to find yourself running out of money and using your credit card to help make ends meet. The root cause analysis can go something like this:

Q: "Why do I keep using my credit card for basic living expenses?"
A: "Because I run out of money before my next paycheck is deposited."

Q: "Why do I consistently run out of money before my next check arrives?"
A: "Because my normal expenses are more than my paycheck amount."

Q: "Why are my expenses higher than my paycheck amount?"
A: "Because I don't plan out my spending on a budget before I get my paycheck."

Q: "Why don't I create a budget for my spending?"
A: "Because I am not sure how to create a good budget and how to stick to one."

This is a simple example of asking "why" several times to find the answer that solves the problem. Solving the problem is not the same as addressing the problem. Using a credit card addresses the problem(the problem will continue to arise), creating and sticking to a budget solves it.

Not only does the root cause analysis solve the problem, it also creates an environment where growth can occur. Now that the individual knows that a budget is one solution to her concern, she can create a budget, adhere to it, and use her new found spending habits to build wealth for her. If she had continued to address the problem with her credit card, she would eventually find herself deeply in debt and in financial ruin.

Once you find yourself in a situation where you are no longer addressing the same issues over and over again, you can quickly move on to phase two-next level thinking. With the problem solved, your mental capacities are no longer allocated to firefighting and can now be used to create a completely different reality for yourself. In our example above, once our big spender put a budget in place, she could now see opportunities to set aside money for bigger and better. You too can move on to bigger and better only after you have analyzed your problems, identified the root cause, and implemented a solution. This is when you graduate from being an efficient problem solver to becoming effective in how you manage your life.

Remember, in order to become effective, you must no longer get excited about being a good problem solver, you have to find a greater value in becoming a person who can identify why a problem exists in the first place and eliminating it.