October 19th, 2005 by Steve Pavlina Email this article to a friend In this post we’re going to take a deep look into the concept of productivity.
Here’s my personal definition of productivity:
Productivity = Value / Time
(productivity equals value divided by time)
By this definition there are two primary ways of increasing productivity: 1) Increase the value created
2) Decrease the time required to create that value
You can complicate this definition by including other factors like energy and resources, but I prefer the simplicity of time because in most cases factors like energy and resources are reducible to time anyway. Time also makes it very easy to compare different levels of productivity, such as output per hour or per day.
Apparently you can make some significant gains on the time side. There are many personal productivity optimizations which, especially if you introduce them in your youth, will produce a massive net savings of time over the course of your life. Consider your typing speed, for instance. If you invest the time to get your speed up to 90 words per minute or faster, it will be well worth the initial time investment if you happen to do a lot of typing over your lifetime, compared to allowing your speed to linger at 50 wpm or slower year after year. The extra hours of practice will be nothing compared to the time you save typing emails, letters, or blog entries over the next few decades. Other time-based optimizations include improving your sleeping habits, minimizing commute time, or dropping time-wasting habits like smoking.
The main limit of time-based optimizations is that the optimization process requires an input of time itself. It takes time to save time. So the more time you invest in optimizing time usage, the greater your initial time investment, and the greater your need for a long-term payoff to justify that investment. This limit creates an upper bound for any time-based optimizations you attempt, in accordance with the law of diminishing returns. The more time you invest in any optimization attempt, the lower your net return, all else being equal.
This law of diminishing returns points us back to the value side. While we might be stuck with diminshing returns by trying to optimize the time side alone, we may notice that working to optimize the value side is less limiting and more open-ended.
What is the “value” in our productivity equation?
Value is a quality you must define for yourself. Hence, any definition of productity is relative to the definition of value. In circles where people can agree on a common definition of value, they can also agree on a common definition of productivity. However, in terms of your own personal productivity, you aren’t obligated to define value the same way anyone else would. You are free to adopt your own definition, such that your pursuit of greater productivity becomes a personal quest that produces the value that matters most to you.
Too often we adopt a socially conditioned definition of value, which tends to be very limiting. Perhaps we define value in terms of work output within our career, number of tasks completed, number and quality of important projects finished, etc. You may not be able to verbalize it clearly, but perhaps you have a working definition of value that feels comfortable to you. You can tell when you’ve had a productive day and when you haven’t based on how much value you created, in accordance with your own sense of what value means.
But how much conscious thought did you put into your personal definition of value? I’m going to challenge you to put a bit more thought into your definition, which will consequently redefine your sense of productivity.
First, according to your definition of value, to what extent is the value provided? Who receives the value? Yourself, your boss, your coworkers, your friends, your family, your company, your customers, your...