It is not easy to give a simple, one line definition of productivity, simply because it means different things in different circumstances. The definition of productivity that you might find in a dictionary is: “the state or quality of producing something.” This is not very helpful, as it reuses the word ‘produce.’ A more interesting definition is “the effectiveness of an effort – related to the rate of output per unit input.”
Of course, this definition is quite abstract, as it can be applied profitably to many different parts of the world. For instance, if you are talking about a factory (industry is often where this word is used), you may talk about the number of units produced per hour by the factory. Or you may talk about how many units each worker puts out. Or you may talk about how many dollars each worker ‘earns’ through his or her labor for the company. As you can see, the measures of productivity can vary widely – and this is just for the example of factory productivity! You can see that this discussion is very complex, as we need to figure out our context, what we’re inputting into the system, and what we’re producing (i.e the output of the system).
Let’s take personal productivity as our next question. Let’s say you want to discuss your own productivity. You may take the input in question as time, energy (calories), units of ‘work,’ dollars, or whatever else you might use as a measure of the amount of effort or work you put into whatever it is you are trying to accomplish. Your output can similarly be described in many different ways. Perhaps it’s in the amount of sales you make, or in the amount of words you write, or in the amount of dollars you earn per day, week, or year. The output you produce depends on the activity you’re doing and your goals for that activity.
As you can see, getting a definition of productivity down on paper that everyone would agree with is next to impossible. The fact of the matter is that we will all have our own definitions of productivity. And it gets even more complicated…
What About the Meaning of Productivity?
Another aspect to this story is the realization that productivity, like procrastination, time management, and laziness, has a definition and a ‘meaning.’ We could give you a dictionary definition, which we did above, but that’s not enough to settle this story. We also need to figure out what productivity means – it’s significance and meaning in our individual lives and in the lives of our communities, countries, and the world.
For instance, we can ask questions like: is productivity good in itself? Is being more productive always a good goal? Or is there a point where one can become ‘too’ productive, in the sense that this productiveness will harm other aspects of our lives and communities?
As we’ve discussed above, attempting to define productivity is hard enough. Add in the fact that it’s often very difficult to even measure productivity in the first place, and you may be ready to get rid of the concept altogether.
Still, there seems to be some value in the concept, because if we don’t have some measure of the ratio between our effort and our production, we will have no way to know if we are becoming more efficient, if we are using our energies optimally, and how we can possibly improve on whatever it is that we’re trying to do. Businesses could never grow in an orderly fashion, countries could never flourish, and people like you and me would never be able to meet their maximum potential.
For the purposes of this webbook, we will simply be discussing productivity in terms of your productivity in life. I know productivity could represent something you’re doing at work, at home, or at play, or somewhere in between, but let’s just agree on this temporary definition: productivity is the ratio between the beneficial outcomes of some activity and the amount of energy, physical, mental, or emotional, that you invest to earn that outcome. You may also want to use time as the input here, but time can be somewhat deceiving, as just because something takes a long time doesn’t mean that you put in a lot of effort, and vice versa. In addition, our reactions to the work we will have to do are based both on how long we perceive the task to be, as well as how much effort we believe we will expend in completing that task.
Thus, we will want that ratio to be as high as possible. This means we want to put in as little effort as possible per unit output. This doesn’t mean we want to slack; on the contrary, we still want to work very hard. But the idea, as we’ll discuss in another chapter of this book, is finding ways to work smarter, not just harder. Ultimately, we’ll get a morale boost and a productivity boost just by knowing that we are doing our work at the peak of our efficiency and optimal performance.
To Conclude This Section…
Thus, before we go into discussing ways to improve your productivity, you need to figure out how you will measure your own levels of productivity. You may have a relatively ‘objective’ measure of productivity like ‘widgets per hour,’ or you may have something else a bit more fluffy, like ‘ideas per week’ or some such productivity measurement. All that matters is this: first, that the measurement actually corresponds to something meaningful to you; and second, that you can measure it accurately enough that you will be able to tell when you productivity has increased and when it has decreased. Once you can do that, you can venture to the next section of this book on how to increase your personal productivity with just a few simple tips and tricks!