A New Definition of Productivity
Let's dive right into what productivity means, right? I think what comes to mind in a lot of people is a really macho idea. You know, people hear the word productivity and they think of, you know, something that's so cold and corporate. And I want to share with you now my favorite meme of all time, and it's the, I call it the business douchebag meme, and it's this guy. Look at this guy. "Ha ha! Business!" You know, I think this is what comes to mind of a lot of people when they hear the word productivity, is something that feels like whatever it is that his guy does, I don't even know. But it's worth defining what productivity means if we're gonna be exploring how to become more productive, right? It's worth getting to the bottom of what that means. And a good place to start is the foundation for what it means to be productive today. Because if you look at the basis of the work that we do, 50, 60, 70 years ago, a fundamental shift took place, and that was we went from doing assembly li...
ne-type work where it was simple, it was repetitive, it required physical heavy lifting, to doing work with our minds for a living, right? And that changed the basis of what it meant to be productive. So a lot of these definitions that come to mind when we hear the word productivity don't really fit with the work that we do anymore. Like, efficiency is a good example of it. If you were more efficient on the assembly line, you cranked out more widgets every single hour and you were more productive. You produced more, right? That's the root of the word productivity. But when we do knowledge work for a living, we can be efficient about the wrong things. Like email is a great example of that. We can have an inbox zero 100% of the time. Let's stand by our inbox, wait for new clients to come to us, wait for new emails, wait for to-dos to come in instead of setting our own direction. We could become busier in that way but not accomplish a single thing. Definition doesn't really work anymore, does it? Efficiency. What about fitting more into our day? Well, it's easier to become busier in that way, too. What if your day look something like this. You answer 150 emails, you catch up with four pointless, unavoidable meetings that day, you have two calls about your quarterly budget that are kinda maintenance things that you do, and you catch up with every new news story that's been going on, as well. And so instead of progressing your work forward, you essentially play the role of the traffic cop, moving people and information and bits around, perhaps in front of a computer, without moving your work forward. I've already touched on what I think, you know, the way we should define productivity is, and I would define it as accomplishing what we intend to do. If our intention is to have a maintenance day and catch up with all the news that's been going on at our company, have some maintenance meetings about our budget, if our intention is to, you know, answer all the emails that have built up, and then we do, I would argue that we're perfectly productive. If our intention is to recharge because it's a Saturday and we've worked every Saturday for the last month and we rejuvenate how much energy we have by laying back on the beach and sipping on a Corona or flying somewhere on a whim, you know, whatever it might be, and we accomplish what we intend to do, I would argue were perfectly productive, right? These two words are worth highlighting. Productivity is not about how much we produce. It's about how much we accomplish. And what do we accomplish? We accomplish our intentions. And we'll talk about where intentions come from in a little bit. And one of the curious things that I've found in this productivity project was at the end, every single valuable thing, or once I separated out the stuff that actually worked from the BS out there, which there's probably more of than what didn't work, I found that all the useful things fell into one of three different categories. Either better managing my time. Of course, right? Time management. There's an aisle for that at the bookstore, too. You know, you have to go to a big enough bookstore, but it's there. But I would argue that when we do work with our minds rather than with our hands for a living that two other ingredients are just as essential as how we manage our time. The second is how we manage our attention, right? It doesn't matter how well we're able to schedule things if we can't then focus on what we've scheduled. The third is how much energy we have. If we burn out at two or three in the afternoon, our productivity's gonna be toast no matter how well we're able to focus and manage our time. And I would argue that when we do knowledge work for a living that our productivity is the confluence of these three ingredients.