Productivity: Everything You Could Want to Know About Mastering It
Most people assign a simple definition to the word, “productivity.” It’s the amount of work they’re capable of completing within a set amount of time. But productivity is a complex concept, and reducing it to a single sentence doesn’t fully capture its meaning and significance.
In this post, I’ll share with you everything I know and have learned about what it means to live a productive life.
Want to read this post more productively? Jump to a specific section:
- What Is Productivity and Why Is It Important?
- What Does It Really Mean to Be Productive?
- How Do We Measure Productivity?
- How Do You Improve Productivity?
- What Are the Benefits of Increased Productivity?
- What Is an Example of Productivity?
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What Is Productivity and Why Is It Important?
To understand the subject, you have to approach it holistically. It has many different angles, and we’ll touch on three. Through detailing the influence of planning, sustained focus and resource availability, we’ll provide a nuanced perspective on productivity while offering helpful management strategies.
1. Foresight and Planning
You can sit down in front of your desktop at work and have a vague idea of the day’s responsibilities, but without structure, your progress will suffer. Some people turn to post-it notes to remind them of their projects, while others write out short to-do lists, depending on numbered items to guide them toward their goals. While either method is somewhat helpful, neither is very effective.
To ensure your productivity throughout the workday — and in your personal life — you’ll likely find that a detailed schedule works best. You probably have access to programs that can assist you in organizing your week, and you should use them to manage your appointments, meetings and events. These online calendars will help you group your commitments together to maximize your efficiency.
As you create blocks in your schedule, allocate a reasonable amount of time to finish each task. Give yourself enough flexibility that you can pause every now and again, but try to adhere to the limits you’ve set for yourself. After all, almost every organization, regardless of industry, requires a high level of productivity from its employees to sustain operations and make a profit.
2. Sustained Focus
Distractions are inevitable. You’ll be fully immersed in a project, eyes glued to the screen, compiling sources or editing for typos when suddenly a ding from your phone shatters your concentration. Just like that, you’re no longer engaged in your work, wondering who messaged you and why — whether it was a friend hoping to meet for lunch or a family member with an emergency.
Sustaining your focus is essential to your productivity, and it isn’t exactly easy. You can put your phone on silent and place it in your desk, but the temptation to check for missed calls or texts is still there. To alleviate this constant itch, tell your friends and family to only contact you after work hours unless absolutely necessary, allowing you to give your full attention to the day’s tasks.
Your phone is just one example of a distraction, and employees jeopardize their productivity in other ways as well. They’ll drink several cups of coffee to keep them energized and alert, when in fact, too much caffeine has the opposite effect, harming their ability to focus. Making changes to your behavior can take care of these issues, and they’re often small adjustments that you may not have considered.
3. Resource Availability
Technology plays an integral role in productivity. Most employees in an office setting depend on modern equipment to perform their tasks, using desktops, printers, fax machines and other devices to produce and share their work. They need access to specific tools and programs in order to function, and without these resources, they can’t fulfill their responsibilities.
To understand the full impact of resource availability on productivity, look at the history of American agriculture. In 1790, almost 90 percent of the working population contributed to the country’s agriculture. In 2000, less than 1.5 percent of the working population sustained the industry, illustrating the enormous difference technology can make in production.
On a micro-level, resource availability can manifest as a reliable Wi-Fi connection. Make sure your router is operational, your station is orderly and stocked with supplies and all of your software is up-to-date. As long as you have the means to complete your work, you’ll find that moving from task to task is easier.
It’s the amount of work you’re capable of completing within a set amount of time, of course, but it’s more than that. It’s a reflection of your foresight and planning, the result of your sustained focus and your access to resources. Take care of all three, and watch yourself soar through any tasks that come your way.
What Does It Really Mean to Be Productive?
Productivity is a popular buzzword that’s used way too much. You always hear people talking about how productive they are. You’ll even see companies track employee productivity.
But what does being productive really mean?
The most common productivity definition is the rate at which a person does useful work. Simple enough, right? The faster you produce something, the more productive you are.
But maybe it’s not that simple.
What Does “Productive” Mean?
You see, productivity can mean something different for many people. It can be how fast you get something done, how much you get done or how capable you are at getting something done. It all depends on your situation and how you work.
But let’s look into what productivity might really mean.
Productivity isn’t just about sitting at your desk for hours at a time. If you aren’t working, then what’s the point? It’s about efficiently getting work done.
When it comes to productivity, quality is much more important than quantity. Most people believe you’re productive when you spend the most amount of time on a project. However, you aren’t really being productive if the quality of the finished product is sub-par. Don’t just work long hours. Work efficiently.
Make sure you’re actually working when you sit down in front of your computer. There are a few ways to do this. You can work at an office, coffee shop or library. These places create a positive work environment and make you more productive. No matter what your personal productivity definition is, you should try to submerge yourself in this environment. These environments will help you get to work and be efficient.
You might know some people who think they’re productive because they can multitask. Maybe you’re this person. I’m here to tell you that multitasking only creates distractions, and ultimately makes you less productive.
You might think you’re getting more work done, but you aren’t. You should only be focused on the task at hand. Anything other than the primary task is a distraction and is only slowing down your productivity. Distractions will make you work longer and less efficiently on your task.
Most distractions come in the form of text messages, emails or notifications. This might be painful to read, but you should turn off your phone. The least you can do is put it on airplane mode. Yes, you’ll be less connected, but this will make you much better off when it comes to productivity.
Distractions could also be other tasks that aren’t as important as your main task. Learning to say “no” to certain projects will make you more productive because you’ve prioritized the one or two that are more meaningful. Having less on your plate limits distractions and boosts productivity.
For most people, being productive is about how much work they get done in the current moment. However, it’s also about planning for the future and making sure you meet deadlines.
If you get everything done on time, you’re being productive. Procrastination begins when you miss a deadline and then everything else snowballs into a giant avalanche of not getting work done. Make a schedule so you get all your work done on time. You can schedule certain tasks on each day so you move forward towards your goal.
You can also make a to-do list for each day. Take your tasks for the day and break those into smaller, more achievable tasks. Each main task should be broken down into a step-by-step process. Now you have a clear outline for every step that needs to be taken throughout the day. Sometimes, a plan is all that’s needed to spawn productivity.
How Do We Measure Productivity?
Managers and supervisors want a staff that is productive and whose actions garner results. Part of the reason there is an emphasis on productivity in the workplace is that the opposite of maximized work is wasted time and a lack of effort.
You, as an employee, also want to give your best to improve yourself in your personal life and at work. So how do you know you’re being productive? How do we measure productivity, anyway?
The workforce has many time-tracking methods and personal management aids, but productivity-measuring software and observation strategies can only go so far. Once you’ve got the data, you need to use it to set new goals and achieve them.
Let’s look at how to measure personal productivity with a few effective methods.
Account for Reality
The first consideration in personal productivity is evaluating what you can realistically accomplish. Companies that do not account for the real challenges and abilities of their staff can’t find practical ways to improve efficiency.
The same goes for personal progress. Understand that your to-do list or goals are not cut and dry and that improvement can come in different forms.
Qualitative measurements for personal productivity examines quality rather than quantity.
If you can track your accomplishments through how precise or satisfactory the results are, then this might be the right tactic for you. You can check your quality by others’ feedback, the nature of your behavior and reflection.
1. Feedback From Others
If you work closely with a group of people, they’ve come to know your strengths and weaknesses. Their perspective and feedback can help you grow in your work. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management reports that specific feedback is crucial for improving performance.
For personal improvement, you can ask your family and close friends to deliver constructive comments on your behavior.
2. On-Task Behavior
You know what habits you fall into when you’re not being diligent. Whether that means you’re spending too much time on social media or talking too much to co-workers, it’s not difficult to tell when you’re wasting time.
Jot down a list of the things you do that get in the way of your goals and be proactive through self-monitoring. How frequently do your pitfalls trip you up throughout the day?
3. Reflection-Based Evaluation
To analyze your day and prepare for future success, reflective questions can help you weigh your actions and reactions. The following questions can be a starting point for correcting inefficiency and identifying achievements:
- How did you move closer to accomplishing short-term goals today?
- Were you more proactive or reactive this week?
- If someone followed you around, what would they think your main goals were?
Subjective measurements, like feedback and reflection, are important, but quantitative data can be useful in personal and work goals. Quantitative measurements come from the quantity or amount of work you achieve.
Tracking tasks, time and profits can help you move toward productivity with the numbers to reflect your improvements.
1. Task-Based Data
One way the Burea of Labor Statistics measures productivity is by the output per hour of work, which is a straightforward understanding of getting work done.
What constitutes the output or results of work? With complex work, this is hard to do, but you can keep a record of the tasks you complete in a certain period of time. In this system, compare different segments of time and the tasks you finished to check your productivity.
2. Time-Tracking and Project-Management Software
Time-tracking software like Toggl, Everhour, Tick and Hubstaff use screen captures, charts, calendars and more to give you a way to visualize your productivity.
Many of these allow you to start and stop the clock while you’re working so you can manage your time. These useful tools can show you how much time you actually spend on email — the average worker spends 30 hours a week — or which projects you give the most priority.
If your workplace already uses one of these, you can check in on how long it took for you to complete projects or when you took the most breaks. Set a new time goal for yourself and log in to measure your efficiency.
Evaluate Yourself and Set Realistic Goals
It’s valuable to challenge yourself in the workplace and in your personal life.
Even if you don’t achieve your New Year’s resolution — only about 8 percent of people do — you can take practical steps to become more productive.
Measuring quality or quantity of work while keeping a realistic mindset can push you forward toward a more efficient life.
How Do You Improve Productivity?
You’ve no doubt heard the old advice that you should work smarter, not harder. But how, exactly, do you accomplish this? You need to boost your productivity!
How do you improve your productivity? Increasing productivity all boils down to creating better habits. Here are five tips to help you get started.
1. Stick to Your Schedule
How many times have you lain awake in bed fretting over all you have to do? Just about everyone has done it. But wasting rest time in a mental vortex of unfinished business crushes your productivity. Instead, make yourself a to-do list, and stick to it!
If your goal involves improving work performance, draft a work schedule at the beginning of every week. At the end of each day, review your calendar for the next day. Then, quit worrying about these tasks and relax — you have a plan to tackle them.
When it comes to household chores, everyone has experienced the dubious joy of starting one task, only to notice another one you need to do.
If you want to do a thorough house cleaning, write up a schedule of what things you’ll clean each day that week, and ignore any messes not on the list for that day.
2. Never Give Up
Productive people know failure creates an opportunity for growth and improvement. Lazy people get discouraged by failure and quit.
To make yourself more productive, take time to reflect when you fail. What could you have done differently or better? What have you learned from this experience?
As Thomas Edison famously said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” Embrace this attitude and watch your productivity soar.
3. Focus, Daniel-San
Distractions make excellent productivity vampires. Strive to eliminate them as much as possible.
When you sit down at your desk, silence your cell phone. If you’re like me and find notifications impossible to ignore, lock your phone in a drawer.
Have a chatty co-worker who always has to swing by your desk to gossip? Close your office door or wear headphones, so they seek out someone else to exchange water cooler pleasantries with.
Speaking of headphones, some people do work more productively with music.
But listening to podcasts, audiobooks and other mentally stimulating content can distract you from the task at hand. Opt instead for easy, meditative music that is preferably free from distracting lyrics.
Emergencies arise for everyone. Deal with the problem at hand, then take a few moments to collect yourself and get back to the grind.
4. Learn to Say No
Everyone gets the same number of seconds, minutes and hours each day, so why do some accomplish so much more?
Productive people know how to prioritize tasks. They also know when to turn down activities with little long-term benefit.
At the end of each day, reflect on which activities brought you the most significant returns. Focus on these tasks moving forward, and eliminate the rest.
Everyone wants to please others, but boosting your productivity means declining work that reaps few rewards. Avoid wasting time making excuses for why you’re turning down a task. A simple “no” suffices.
If you find it too hard to say no, change how you think! Mentally remind yourself that you’re really saying yes to prioritizing the tasks that offer the greatest payoffs.
5. Give Yourself a Break
Productivity studies show that working more than 40 hours per week for extended periods actually decreases the amount of work you get done.
Taking adequate time to relax, exercise and reconnect with friends and family boosts your productivity big time. Expecting to increase your productivity by putting in more hours inevitably backfires.
At the end of each day, think of shutting down your mind the same way you think of shutting down a computer. Reflect on what you’ve accomplished, review your to-do list for the next day, and then leave work behind for some R&R.
Remember, too, to celebrate each accomplishment by rewarding yourself by taking a nice long bath, relaxing in a hammock with a good book or taking your family out for a special dinner.
Stay Consistent, and You Will Be Successful
Above all, remember that productivity involves building good habits. Making a schedule, sticking to it, avoiding distractions and taking breaks when necessary allows you to develop a sense of balance in life.
Everyone has days when they’re less motivated than others, but you don’t need motivation to keep crossing items off your to-do list — just smart productivity skills.
What Are the Benefits of Increased Productivity?
What’s the product of productivity?
It’s a simple question with multiple answers. In truth, it’s contextual, shifting from situation to situation, person to person, and depending on how they view the concept their response is liable to change. To rephrase that initial question into one a little more accessible — what are the benefits of increased productivity?
We’ll touch on three advantages relevant to your professional life, personal life and health.
1. Potential for Promotion
Productivity in the workplace allows you to move from project to project within a shorter period, compiling research for a report or creating content faster than your colleagues.
Your supervisor will see your pace and make a note of your potential, and eventually, if you stay with the company long enough, they’ll consider you for a promotion. In many cases, “long enough” isn’t long at all.
Management looks for workers they can entrust with more responsibility, and if you meet and exceed their expectations, you’ll differentiate yourself.
As long as you prove you’re a competent, capable employee and excel in your current position, you’re well on your way toward climbing the corporate ladder.
2. More Free Time to Enjoy
Outside of the workplace, productivity in your personal life will free up more time for your hobbies and passions.
A streamlined schedule is the best place to start, and if you approach your calendar with efficiency in mind — grouping appointments and managing meetings — you’ll enjoy opportunities you would’ve otherwise missed. It’ll feel like you’ve suddenly discovered new hours in the day.
You’ll finally have a chance to tend to your garden, meet friends for lunch in the afternoon, take classes at the local community college or volunteer at a food shelter. However you spend your extra time, you’ll find there’s no shortage of it the more productive you are in your daily life.
3. Decreased Stress and Anxiety
If you’ve held a position where you’re expected to produce high-quality work under strict deadlines, you’re aware of how stressful it can feel.
As you’re starting a project, you’re already thinking of the date and time it’s due, and this anxiety is like a weight, dragging you down. Productive people have learned to work past their initial discomfort, reaching a state of flow where they can sustain their focus.
While this state isn’t always so easy to achieve, productivity has an impact on your health. Or rather, a lack of productivity affects your health.
Stress can cause a range of symptoms, such as insomnia, muscle spasms, neck and back aches, heartburn, stomach pain and social withdrawal.
A More Productive Person
The question, “What are the benefits of increased productivity?” doesn’t have a single answer. It’ll provide opportunities for career advancement, more free time to pursue your interests and decreased stress and anxiety.
That said, it takes some effort to reach the “state of flow” we mentioned earlier.
To grow into a more productive person, you have to make a concerted effort to improve yourself. But when you’re CEO, out to lunch with a friend without a worry in the world, you’ll realize your work was well worth it.
What Is an Example of Productivity?
Although part of this post discusses broad scenarios that explain what it means to be productive and gives pointers for achieving productivity, you might still find yourself asking “But, what is an example of productivity that relates to me?”
Although productivity means different things to different people and varies depending on the kind of work you do, these productivity possibilities below should help you get a stronger grasp on the concept.
Dealing With Large Workloads by Prioritizing Projects
Being a productive person means not getting intimidated by heavy workloads. Instead of throwing up your hands in dismay when you’re faced with them, you prioritize projects to get them done by the end of the day.
Start by focusing on the tasks that offer the highest value to your organization and excite you. Some work won’t fall into that category, and you may need to tolerate it regardless.
In other cases, elevate lower-value tasks so that they have more significant payoffs, or delegate work to others.
Getting Things Done When Bored
Boredom happens to the best of us, but being bored at work can cause minds to wander, and you can probably relate.
Another example of productivity is being able to keep using your time wisely when boredom strikes. You could take care of quick duties to help yourself feel accomplished, or perform research on a topic that relates to your career.
Demonstrating High Performance When Unsupervised
Perhaps the desire to please keeps you productive, such as if you’re afraid your boss might burst in the door and want an explanation for your lack of accomplishment.
But what is an example of productivity for people who work without frequent oversight?
Getting as much or more done when you’re alone as when you’re supervised is one clear indicator of productivity.
According to a Jabra survey that revealed the workplace opinions and preferences of people from several countries, four times as many individuals in 2018 perceived a work-from-home setup as the most productive one for them compared to three years ago.
However, some respondents admitted that despite that ideal, their workplaces did not permit working from home. If yours does, make the most of the opportunity by proving that you’re a high performer while working alone.
You can demonstrate your readiness for remote work by being reliable and responding promptly to requests. Moreover, resist the urge to give constant updates, and trust that your boss knows you can manage your time.
Looking for Ways to Continually Improve Productivity
As you learn about these examples of productivity, you’ll realize that productive people always strive for improvement.
You can do the same by applying simple but effective tips for enhanced productivity, such as starting your commute earlier to beat the traffic or keeping your goals in sight and trying to become better than the person you were the day before.
Taking the Most Effective Kinds of Breaks
A common myth says only unproductive people take breaks. In reality, taking breaks can boost productivity — our brains aren’t wired to perform at their best for eight hours straight. You can showcase productiveness by spending your breaks wisely.
For example, use a short — 5-15 minute — break to move and get your blood flowing, and dedicate an hour-long break to getting out of the office and refreshing your perspective.
More Than One Kind of Productivity
When you ask “What is an example of productivity?” remember that there are numerous expressions of it.
Hopefully, these situations clarify some of the definitions and help you become a more productive person in everything you do.
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- 15 Things You Can Buy That Increase Productivity
- You Become What You Focus On: Fact or Fiction?
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Also published on Medium.