Convenience vs. Efficiency

By Gillian Callison

Published July 16th, 2016

What do they mean?

Convenience is a term that means to me anything that can be accomplished the easy way. From microwaves making food preparation quick and simple to cars which help us cover distances in short order. Even grocery stores that sell more than just food or pharmacies that sell more than just medicines - all in the name of convenience for the customer. Ok, and maybe more sales for the business!

Per, convenience is defined as anything that saves or simplifies work, adds to one's ease or comfort. It's origin stemming from Middle English meaning harmony or agreement.

Efficiency is defined as performing or functioning in the best possible manner with the least waste of time and effort. With an origin of "accomplishing" and later, "making" or "causing".

So what, would one imagine, is the relationship between these two concepts? They can occur together or separately

On closer inspection. . .

Let's examine this a little bit closer. It would appear that anything that is efficient must also be convenient. An example might be running errands. Let's say you have to go to three different places at varying distances from your home and one of them is a scheduled appointment. The efficient way would be to arrange to make all the trips at once, timing them so that you arrive at your appointment at the right moment. Efficient because you would not be making multiple trips and also convenient in that it would add to ease or comfort by making one trip instead of many.

So, can something be efficient but NOT convenient? Generally no. If an action is efficient in its execution, it will also be convenient in terms of actions. However, there is a different side to convenience that is not necessarily applicable to efficiency, and that’s the emotional component. Sometimes, something may be very inefficient, but convenient because we may be choosing our timing for an event, confrontation, meeting or other activity. When engaging with others, sometimes choosing convenience will trump efficiency. If you need to talk to a friend about a delicate matter and you are visiting with them, the efficient thing to do would be to bring up the topic and discuss it. However, the timing may be off. It might not be the right time to have that particular conversation for a variety of reasons. So, you put off the conversation to a more convenient time, but the extra visit may then be considered inefficient.

Now, if you are an efficiency aficionado, then you may may spend a large amount of time being inefficient in an attempt to figure out an efficient way to accomplish something. The ultimate goal is to create a system or process that will be efficient for all the future times a particular task must be done. But one must consider if the time spent attempting to create an efficient process is worth the outcome. Because if you are spinning your wheels, achieving neither efficiency nor convenience, it may be more convenient to do things in an inefficient manner, rather than to spend a large amount of time creating a new, slightly more efficient method.

Which are you?

The next question that might logically be posed is which is more important to achieve - efficiency or convenience? I would suggest that it will depend largely upon the circumstances surrounding the choices presented. There will be times when choosing efficiency will be the best choice and others when convenience should rule the day. I would also suggest that each individual will have their own tendencies toward one or the other.

Are you more efficient-minded or convenience-minded? To answer that question, you must do some deep self-examination in how you accomplish basic tasks in your daily life. Let’s take household cleaning chores as an easy example. Do you structure these chores in an order or manner that allows you to work through them quickly? Do you plan them out so that you can work on one while another is “sitting” (while laundry is in the washer, you’re doing a different chore)? Or do you have no plan, jumping from one chore to the next without completing the first. For example, you are sweeping the floor, but instead of first picking up everything off the floor, you pick up as you sweep. Then as you pick up an item, you are then redirected to put that item in its proper place, and when you do that, you notice that you need to dust the shelves in that room and then have to go get the duster. On the way to get the duster, you see the broom leaning against the wall and then pick it up and resume sweeping the floor. This is a very inefficient method, and perhaps, just perhaps, you may actually accomplish all the chores you intended doing that day. This chaotic method would be more convenience-driven as you are working through the chores in a manner that is comfortable and convenient for you.

You can easily see that there are nuances to this construed debate that will really be determined by the individual. Our choices are influenced by a myriad of factors, many of which are unique to our own experiences and preferences and, as such, cannot be generalized into a one-size-fits-all conclusion.

Which person are you?