We Don’t Know What Productivity Really Is

Most of us want to be productive but do not completely understand what we do, why we do it, and who judges it as productive or non-productive.

Productivity can be defined as the effectiveness of an effort, measured in terms of input and output. This definition is limited, as modern knowledge work does not fall in the category of industries (like a sugar factory) or agriculture, where productivity can be measured tangibly, and the output is already defined in a linear way.

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Knowledge work in the modern age involves thinking, analysis, theories, trial and error, problem solving, brainstorming and other stuff which is done in a variety of counter-intuitive ways. It is defined by a diverse range of iterative exploration of yet-to-discover possibilities.

Comparing the earlier (linear) definition of productivity to modern knowledge work is like comparing a bicycle to a computer.

  1. The linear definition of productivity assumes that if we complete our to-do list, we are productive for the day, not taking into account the time required for creative insights that come from serendipity and lateral thinking.
  2. It falsely ties us to a quantitative output, which involves pseudo-work based on input and output of an age gone by. Example: Making and emailing a daily report that no one reads.
  3. As we answer emails and put out the fires, we miss opportunities for creativity and deep thinking, and even getting bored, which makes the brain work better.

Focus is a state of attention which puts us in an intentional flow mode, making us live the knowledge we have inside, and create connections using deep thinking in a space and time devoid of distractions.

When one does not burn ‘cognitive calories’ and waste precious attention on tasks that have little or no value, and is not subscribing to an obsolete productivity model, then one can be ‘productive’ in the modern sense.

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