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What is productivity, really?
How to improve productivity – and why you should
What is productivity? Some productivity definitions
At its core, productivity is a way to measure efficiency. In an economic context, productivity is how to measure the output that comes from units of input. Farming makes for a good example: One acre of land that produces 10 pumpkins? That’s not very productive. But one acre of land that produces 2,000 pumpkins? That’s a much better return on your pumpkin planting.
How to calculate productivity becomes a bit murkier, though, when thinking about our daily lives. So how do we pin down a productivity meaning that’s not based on abstract units of work or numbers of plants? Your life isn’t a managed supply chain.
Writer Charles Duhigg defines productivity as “making certain choices in certain ways” that moves us from being “merely busy” to “genuinely productive” in his book Smarter Faster Better. Tony Robbins’ approach to productivity focuses on ways people can systematize and better manage their lives so they have more time to do what they want.
What does productivity mean to you?
So what is productivity? It’s getting the results you want with less time and effort. When you’re trying to understand how to be productive, what you’re really seeking is a way to achieve your goals while having time to spend on what matters. “We’re living through an economic revolution,” Duhigg said in an interview on The Tony Robbins Podcast.
Just look at this chart of productivity’s use in print over the past 220 years:
As our economic drivers have shifted, productivity has become an increasingly important concern. The bottom line? We all have 24 hours in a day; productivity is being able to make the most of them. In other words, work smarter, not harder.
Should you worry about how to increase productivity?
No matter the meaning of productivity that resonates with you, we’d all like to succeed with less effort. But how can you calculate productivity, let alone increase it? Your first step is to find some models of what productivity means and what it doesn’t mean to you personally. As Tony says, success leaves clues. Failure does, too.
What sounds better: modeling your success after your colleague who’s always drowning in to-do lists, constantly pushing back deadlines and seems on the point of breakdown? Or looking to your colleague who’s got a clear vision for their day, sets limits on their time and even gets projects done early for advice? By finding people that embody the type of meaningful productivity that resonates with you, you can start to visualize what increasing your productivity will mean for your life, both at work and at home.
How can you be more productive?
Listen, all the productivity advice in the world won’t actually change what you do in your daily life unless you’re committed to your cause. The same goes for “productivity tools” like apps, to-do lists and planners that have you just repeating over and over again what you want to do, not what you’re actually doing.
Instead, what’s the most effective productivity tool? As Tony says, turn your “shoulds” into “musts.” There’s a big difference between movement and achievement; while to-do lists guarantee that you feel accomplished in completing tasks, they don’t ensure that you move closer to your ultimate goals. Instead, consider these productivity tools:
- Be systematic: Have a designated time to go over what needs doing each day. A clearer plan means increased likelihood of achieving your goals. Create a schedule for your day and stick to it!
- Chunking: Task-switching is one of the biggest time sucks in our day. Instead, group like tasks together into blocks of time, then focus on those specifics. The power of chunking is one of the easiest ways to increase productivity. Not only does chunking decrease time wasted by task-switching, but it also makes your priorities clearer in both the short- and long-term.
- RPM: Short for Results-oriented/Purpose-driven/Massive Action Plan. What do you need to create a fulfilling life, one where you can grow and contribute? RPM is a system of thinking that allows you to uncover what you want and then reap the rewards. By figuring out your motivations, you’ll be in a better position to find the time you need to dedicate time to working for you, not you just working for time.
- Make the habits you want: Harness the power of habit and productivity will become second nature. Many times we think that productivity requires a complete overhaul of how we already live. It’s more likely that some small changes will greatly improve productivity, whether it’s not answering emails except at designated times or going to the gym everyday.
- Outside help: The best athletes have coaches, the best investors have advisors. The same goes for productivity. Getting a coach can be a great way to start thinking through how to be more productive and why you even want to. Sometimes that outside perspective can give you insights it would otherwise take weeks or months to gain on your own.
Move beyond productivity quotes and productivity tools
Again, we can’t tell you what productivity will look like in your life. But creating lasting habits of achievement and fulfillment instead of chasing endless lists of tasks? That sounds like a productivity definition we can live with. As you work toward becoming more productive, think about what’s driving you to do so. Sure, you probably want to make more money at your job or be able to go on more vacations, but why? What’s the hunger that’s driving your actions? Are you wanting to be the best version of yourself possible? Do you want to take better care of your family, your community or the environment? Keeping your ultimate purpose in mind will help motivate you, even when you hit a bump in the road.
Being more productive helps you cut down on wasted time, and lets you get back to focusing on what it is you really care about.
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