WHAT IS PRODUCTIVITY?
Welcome to Productivity Week Part Two.
In Part One I shared my frustration with the silver bullet approach to productivity that is so pervasive these days.
Now I want to talk about what productivity means and why we should care about it.
I think there is some confusion about what productivity is and what it is not.
For example - getting to inbox zero is not productive.
More on that in a moment, but first, a few general definitions of productivity from around the internets:
"the quality, state, or fact of being able to generate, create, enhance,or bring forth goods and services"
"the state or quality of producing something"
"The ratio of output to inputs used in the production process"
"the fertility or capacity of a given habitat or area."
For me, the definition that is missing from the dictionary is what I call Holistic Productivity.
Holistic Productivity is integrated and comprehensive, a combination and summation of all the other definitions.
The capacity of an individual, organization, or system to efficiently create or enhance goods or services that effectively add value to the world.
Let's break down that definition:
"The capacity of an individual, organization, or system..."
Here's a simple formula: CAPACITY = ABILITY x FOCUS
You can be great at something, but if you never truly focus on applying your greatness, you have a low capacity.
On the flipside, you can be fairly bad at something, but if you can focus like a maniac and pursue your goals, you will surprise everyone with your capacity.
Both ability and focus are multipliers, so it's worth investing in both.
"...to efficiently create or enhance goods or services..."
To be productive is to produce. To produce is to create. To create is to bring forth newness into the world, to shine your light, and to share your expression.
To quote Martha Graham:
There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.
She is talking about creation. About producing. About productivity.
Unfortunately, most of the time we practice reactivity, which is the opposite of productivity.
For example, when we tackle 100 emails and get to inbox zero, we get a sense of short term satisfaction, because we're accomplishing a clearly quantifiable task. Our dopamine centers light up in our brain.
But when we spend a whole day in our inbox, we often feel empty at the end of the day. We get a feeling in our gut that cries "I was busy all day, but what did I actually do?"
This is the feeling that occurs when we do not produce anything, but simply react.
This is the feeling that occurs when we do not share our unique expression through action.
Therefore, clearing your inbox is not a productive activity. It is a reactive activity.
As we go through our days, we must constantly stop and ask ourselves: Am I being productive today, or merely reactive?
"...that effectively add value to the world."
Not all production is positive. People or companies can use their capacity to produce nuclear bombs or mean-spirited blog posts or exploitative employment contracts.
While these things may meet the economic definition of productive, they aren't productive in any holistic sense.
Just as with ecological productivity, no entity can be considered productive if what they produce is a net destroyer of adjacent capacity.
So now that we've broken down the definition of Holistic Productivity, let's read it again in full:
Holistic Productivity: The capacity of an individual, organization, or system to efficiently create or enhance goods or services that effectively add value to the world.
For the purpose of this post and all of my posts during Productivity week, when I say "Productivity" I will be referring to Holistic Productivity.
Why is it worth your time to become more productive?
- Productivity makes us happy and increases our life satisfaction.
- Productivity frees up space for other important things.
- Productivity as a practice trains our minds in beneficial ways.
Productivity makes us happy and increases our life satisfaction.
Where does productivity fall on the hierarchy of things we should strive for?
Maria Popova of Brain Pickings writes:
Presence is far more intricate and rewarding an art than productivity. Ours is a culture that measures our worth as human beings by our efficiency, our earnings, our ability to perform this or that. The cult of productivity has its place, but worshipping at its altar daily robs us of the very capacity for joy and wonder that makes life worth living — for, as Annie Dillard memorably put it, 'how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.'
While I hear what she is saying, I must disagree with her portrayal that presence and productivity are at odds.
In my experience, the art of producing and creating is one of the finest places to discover and practice true presence.
When we are being our most productive, we experience flow, which has been shown to be one of the secrets to happiness.
Productivity frees up space for other important things.
Being productive means cutting out the fat.
Remember, CAPACITY = ABILITY x FOCUS.
High capacity people get more done in less time by prioritizing and understanding the Pareto Principle (20% of activities add 80% of the value).
When you are productive at work you make more space (time, attention, energy, presence) for all the other important stuff in your life, be it family, exercise, hobbies, etc.
Productivity as a practice trains our minds in beneficial ways.
As I mentioned in Part One, productivity is a practice. And like any practice it takes a long time to become consistent and proficient.
But if you show up everyday and A) focus on being productive rather than reactive, B) increasing your skill level at your key activities, and C) strengthening your power of focus, then over time you will see massive results.
Some of the mind-benefits of a holistic productivity practice:
1. You will develop a relaxed focus and a relaxed control over your time and your tasks. Focus and control will go from feeling strenuous to feeling like second nature.
2. You will experience a paradigm shift around how you think about your work and your life. It will no longer be about separating the two, but about adding holistic value to the world in everything you do, and being in service to the world.
3. On the flip side, many modern jobs have no edges, and the more productive we are, the better we can be about creating and enforcing the edges that are important to us.
4. You will become more present in all that you do.
5. You will discover yourself through creation.
6. You will become less reactive in all parts of your life.
I don't actually know if YOU will experience all of those things. You might. You might not. And you might experience other things.
This isn't meant to be prescriptive, but rather to zoom out and look at all of the reasons why we should embrace holistic productivity in our daily lives.
In Part Three, we will look at our most limited and precious resource: time.
How busy are you?
Do you really know how you spend your time?
What don't you have time for that you wish you did?
Those questions and more coming tomorrow in Part 3.
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