Hold up, what exactly is productivity?

What is productivity to you?
What is productivity to you?

Okay, stupid question time: What exactly is productivity? I’m looking up the definition in my dictionary (or protip: just triple-tap on the word in Mac OS X Mountain Lion), and it comes up as the following: the state or quality of producing something. Well thanks, captain obvious. Even if you dig a little deeper and look up the word “produce”, it would simply say: make or manufacture from components or raw materials. So if you put the two definitions together, you may think that productivity is “the effectiveness of making something”, right?

Now, another stupid question: What is creativity? This question seems a lot easier even though “create” also means “to make something,” because most people can identify the difference between “create” and “creativity.” The general consensus is that everyone can create, but not everyone has creativity. “Yeah, I can draw a picture, but it may not be very good. I’m just not very creative.”

Can you imagine if someone at work try to use the same logic and say something like “Yeah, I can do my job, but it may take a while. I’m just not very productive.” That person would get fired pretty much instantly! So when we say we want to improve or boost our productivity, we first have to figure out what that even means. Does it just mean working faster? Doing better work?

To me, productivity is more than just doing faster and better work. Blech… where’s the fun in that? Why would I want to learn how to do work, something that is of no interest to me, either faster or better? There needs to be meaning for that.

What productivity isn’t:
Productivity is not about doing something you don’t want to do faster or better. It’s not about forcing yourself in your seat to do something you dread to do. You’re not a machine, so naturally you’re not wired to do something you have absolutely no interest in doing. Productivity shouldn’t be based purely on the amount and speed since you will only want to work harder and faster on things you find interest in.

People sometimes say “fear is a great motivator”, but I disagree. Productivity isn’t about meeting deadlines so you don’t get in trouble (from your teacher, your parents, or even your boss), because you will only do the bare minimum in order to stay afloat. How good will your work be if your mind is already bogged down with stress and fear?

What productivity is (at least to me):
Productivity to me, is about taking a holistic approach to doing your best work. It’s not just about the quality of the work itself, but also about your mental (emotional, spiritual, and intellectual), physical, and yes, even your financial health. The reason for that is you can’t do the things you want if you’re pre-occupied with other things. You can’t do your best work if you’re sick or if you’re constantly worried about paying the rent. You can’t focus if your mind is elsewhere – it’s as simple as that.

Then there’s the actual work itself. You can’t do the things you want if you’re lost and don’t know where to begin. You need the education to know if your work is any good and how to make it better. Productivity is about the lifelong journey to constantly improving yourself so you can take your work to the next level. Noticed how I said journey, because it’s an ongoing process. It’s not a certification, it’s not a college degree, and most of all – it’s not a destination. Those are benchmarks and progress markers, but the actual productivity is what you can take away from these experiences and apply to your work.

Productivity ties in with my philosophy of “work smarter, not harder”
Most of my friends and those who work with me have heard me say this all the time: work smarter, not harder. This saying stemmed from this conversation with my brother one summer during my college years. I was telling him how much work I have to do in school on top to the three part-time jobs I have to make ends meet. “You don’t understand, I’m really hardworking” I vented. And then he just looked at me and said something I’ll never forget, “An ox is really hardworking too.”

I remember being slightly offended, but more so I was enlightened. That sentence hit me like a brick wall and changed my attitude forever. At the end of the day, the farmer is the one who will get paid and the ox, despite all its hard work, will only be returned to the cold, dark manger.

Find ways to work smarter (but don’t read this as taking a shortcut) and make your work matter, because acknowledgement and success is addictive, and only that will make you want to actually work harder. Above all, be the farmer, not the ox.

A final word for productivity:
A thousand words later, here’s what productivity is to me at the end of the day: it means learning not to waste the limited good things we do have – like money, time, or even your relationships with your colleagues, friends, and family. These are things we worked so hard for, and wasting them means we’ll have to work double-time just to get it back. Worst still, time is something we can’t get back.

Instead, productivity means learning to make these things work for us and not the other way around. It means we need to find a holistic balance to our lives so we can actually focus on our work. It means we should search for better ways to work smarter (and not necessarily just quicker) to make our work matter, because that is ultimately how productivity will help move us forward.

So that’s what productivity means to me, and in a way, my blueprint to this very blog. But how do you see productivity? What do you think, and what does productivity mean to you? Like I said, acknowledgement and success is addictive, so leave me a comment below or hit me up on Twitter @vdot90!

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