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slaying the efficiency demon

Growing up, I thought raw intelligence led to success. It’s helpful, but it’s not the sole trait nor even the most important. You can be competent, disciplined, and even prioritize correctly, but if you’re inefficient, it doesn’t matter. I see it all the time at all levels. Efficiency is core to how much we can accomplish.


It takes me a few hours to write a well-thought-out essay. I know others who can do the same in an hour and others who spend weeks iterating over a dozen drafts for a basic essay. I know CEOs who get an immeasurable amount of work done. I know other CEOs who when they’re concentrated on one task, ignore all others to the chagrin of their team.

There are those who play games to win and others who play games as completionists. Completionists do every side quest and unlock every secret. There are massive opportunity costs to being a completionist. To accomplish the best imaginable efficiency comes at the cost of not up-leveling efficiency in other aspects of life. But that’s a prioritization problem. The more common issue is lacking efficiency.

There are levels of efficiency and levels of understanding. Similarly, we classify parts of our product as:

  1. Functional,
  2. Efficient,
  3. Best in class, or
  4. Best imaginable

Life still functions if you take three right turns instead of a left turn. It gets you there, it’s just not the fastest way to do it. In design, there’s a concept of being good enough. Oftentimes, one needs to only be good enough, and then, there are diminishing returns. Learning to drift would be the best imaginable left turn, but taking a left turn is good enough.


Understand the basics of productivity– make lists, batch tasks, practice good procrastination, time box. Use whatever hacks work for you, but at the end of the day, just get stuff done. There are power laws in efficiency. If you want something done, give it to the busiest person in the room.

I was in a meeting with an important client along with members of our team. It was a multi-hour product walkthrough. Only one person needed to present part of the product at a time. While one of the product managers was presenting, my team members and I would listen and hear the client’s feedback. We slacked each other to make sure we gave accurate responses. But there are parts of the presentation that just need to be shown and are self-explanatory. 

During those times, the product managers and I did other work. We sent emails, responded to slacks, and edited documents. This allowed us to stay caught up on work and make sure the rest of the team stayed unblocked even though we were in a meeting.


A lot of business and managerial tasks are like playing hot potato. If someone needs your feedback, prioritize it as it’s blocking. Everyone should have at least a secondary task to work on while waiting for feedback, but the primary task is primary because it’s the most important. It’s contingent upon you to unblock others. Don’t let the potato burn you.

On the spectrum of efficiency, we can always be more optimal. Replace yourself. Keep optimizing. How can some people accomplish orders of magnitude more than others? Dragon energy helps, but it comes down to competence, discipline, prioritization, and efficiency.

The more we accomplish, the more we can impact the world. Efficiency leads to freedom.