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On being productive

We often confound busyness with being productive. Being busy and being productive often feel similar. However, if we achieve a meaningful result with little or almost no effort, it can feel like cheating. Being productive without much effort, without the busyness, can leave us suspicious.


What's the definition of being productive? The Oxford Dictionary defines productivity as "doing or achieving a lot". The Britannica Dictionary offers "working hard and getting good results". The result matters. Being busy for the sake of it isn't considered productive. But then again, there is the aspect of doing a lot and working hard. Interestingly, the Oxford Dictionary puts an or between the doing and the achieving. Does that mean the doing or the achieving, each on their own, can already be considered being productive?


Let's focus on the outcome for a moment. When we're productive, we're producing something. In manufacturing, that something tends to be clearly defined and can usually be quantified. For instance, a factory worker assembles five microwave ovens in an hour (I haven't got the faintest idea if this example makes sense, and I apologise for my blatant lack of engineering know-how).


It gets trickier when we move into the realm of so-called knowledge work (which, I think, is a weird distinction because there's knowledge required to assemble and produce physical things). We come out of a three-hour workshop with five ideas to improve existing processes, patting ourselves on the back for a "productive session". If you go by the number of ideas, maybe it was. Or maybe three hours should have delivered ten ideas or twenty? Or we could have found just two ideas, but really, really good ones that will have a huge impact. Would that be considered equally or even more productive? What if none of the five ideas will have any impact?


Once we add our personal perspective to the equation, the spectrum of what productive can mean opens up even more. When I spend an afternoon with my sons instead of working on my business, have I been productive? Somehow, it doesn't feel that way. But what if I "produced" a sense of contentment that contributes to my personal wellbeing? That doesn't sound like nothing to me. I also produced memories shared between my kids and me. And maybe I produced the right balance between work and the rest of my life, allowing me to continue building up my business with enthusiasm and energy. Suddenly, it feels as if I have produced quite a lot of things that are very meaningful to me, personally.


When we think of it this way, we're always producing something. We can't be unproductive. Maybe we just need to become more aware of what we're actually producing and be more deliberate about it. And ask us more frequently if what we're producing has value to us, and whom it serves. When I have two more hours in the day, do I spend them producing a client proposal, a new business idea, a stronger relationship with a friend, a happy marriage, a healthy body, or something else? Even if I choose not to do anything and go to bed early, I produce more sleep and better rest. What will you be producing today?


What are you producing right now reading these lines? And what will you be producing next?


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