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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 simply 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: 1 acre of land that produces 10 pumpkins? That’s not very productive. But 1 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 definition 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 focuses on ways people can systematize and better manage their work lives so they have more time to do what they want.

What’s the meaning of productivity to you?

So what is productivity? It’s getting the results you want with less time and effort. Achieving 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? First off is to find some models of what productivity means and what it doesn’t mean. As Tony says, success leaves clues. Failure does, too. What sounds better: your colleague who’s always drowning in to-do lists, constantly pushing back deadlines, and seems on the point of breakdown? Or your colleague who’s got a clear vision for their day, sets limits on their time, and even gets projects done early? By finding people that embody the way of being you think of as a definition of productivity, 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 quotes in the world won’t actually change what you do in your daily life. 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:

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.

Header image © mrmohock/shutterstock

Team Tony

Team Tony cultivates, curates and shares Tony Robbins’ stories and core principles, to help others achieve an extraordinary life.

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