What is true productivity?

timeAs some of you know, I am a bit of an organised aficionado*.  OK, so a bit more than a bit; organising is my ‘thing’ and gets me into my element – I am even studying it!  Josh says it’s a scary thing when he comes home from work and I’ve been home alone for the afternoon organising.  In his eyes, I meet him with this wicked gleam in my eye, an overwhelming grin on my face, my fingers wrapped around the broom, as I croon out a maniacal, “hellooo”.  To me, I am so utterly content and happy I can’t wipe the grin off my face as I zoom around the house!

Lists and the concept of managing time have captured my fascination since I was about seven.  I want to get this and that done and ready to go by this set time, and when I’m especially organised, I make sure such-and-such is happening first so that it can be doing its own thing while I take the next step.  When I choose to, I run a tight ship and am deemed very productive and efficient.  That’s the thing, though: when I choose to.  And this isn’t really a post about how we could and should be getting more done in less time, because I’m not quite sure that running a tight ship automatically makes us productive.

What does productive mean, anyway?  Does it mean we get more done in less time?  That’s how I often think of it.  But then you have the problem of thoroughness – when doing our jobs quickly, are we also doing them well?   Oxford Dictionary defines productive as ‘producing, especially abundantly’.  The Online Dictionary calls it,

  1. having the power of producing, generative; creative

  2. producing readily or abundantly; fertile

  3. causing; bringing about

I think that these definitions can make us think of getting more done in less time.  I tried to strictly focus on running a tight ship for a while; I was studying time management for that module, and was getting lots of ideas about getting things done quicker.  However, it wasn’t making me happy.  In fact, it was making me stressed!  I started focusing on all the things I have to do, and was focused on just getting them off my to-do list.  After a little while, I decided I needed to back off my intensity to be so ‘effective’, ‘efficient’, and ‘productive’.  I then realised that we get our words a little muddled.  Effective and efficient are easily interchangeable, but really, they aren’t.

Effectiveness is getting the job done (adequate to accomplish a purpose; producing the intended or expected result; actually in operation or force; functioning, as dictionary.com puts it).  Efficiency is getting it done with the least amount of expense (that expense being energy, emotion, time, money, etc.)  If you look at productivity one way, it sounds like efficiency – more done, less time spent.  Yet have another read of the definition of productivity.  Imagine the concept of producing; yes, abundantly, but just focus on the producing for a moment.  It’s where something is created and where something comes to fruition. That is really the point here, and it broadens the spectrum of ‘doing things’ to all of life.  Not just my to-do list, but my creativity, my community involvement, and my reading habits.  Doing those things is being productive. Effectiveness fits into productivity because effectiveness is adequately accomplishing what you set out to do.

I know this can sound obvious, and that you might have already come to this realisation, and want some good, honest tips on managing time.  But personally, this has been freeing for me – when I remember this, I’m not as stressed as I look at my to-do list.  Why?  Because I realise that doing the job is half the fun, rather than filling the little tick box next to it.  It’s living life.  When I remember that efficiency isn’t the entire point of my life, it helps me to enjoy the task at hand, and to do a good job while doing it.

It also helps me to remember that the to-do list is not all of my life. I have books to devour, biscuits to bake, blog posts to write, board games to play, projects to sew, cards to make, scripture to read, household responsibilities to finish, music to practice, letters to write, a course to study, the outdoors to tramp through, little kids to teach, and people to laugh and love and live with.  And so I try to get off the computer, off my to-do list, and go do something else for a while.  I set up times for certain jobs, or To-Do List Catch-Up Times, and I don’t turn on my computer in the mornings until I’ve had my devotions, am dressed for the day, and have exercised for the morning.  In essence, I don’t want my to-do list to own me.

Ultimately, productivity isn’t about chopping the time in half and doubling the finished product.  If you do, great!  But my point is that we need to know what productivity actually looks like for us, with a whole-of-life perspective, and aim for effectiveness in that, where we actually do those things.  It’s not about being efficient, where we zoom through life and in the end, miss the point of really being productive.

*Aficionado – means ‘fan’ or ‘enthusiast’.  So I am an aficionado of this Spanish word aficionado.

photo credit 123rf.com


4 thoughts on “What is true productivity?

  1. I always find it fascinating how one character trait interacts with another – never over-riding, but working alongside.

  2. love this post – thanks for the link Belinda 🙂 I have been struggling with and pondering these very issues. Thanks for unravelling some thoughts for me to mull over Jessica! Great writing.

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