What Does Productivity Mean?

February 21, 2021

It’s easy to talk about “being productive” without defining what productivity is. When you do that, you often end up implicitly defining productivity as completing more tasks faster.

Lately, I’ve been encouraging folks to define for themselves what “being productive” means. This was a recurring discussion topic in my Big-Picture Productivity live course and I’ve also been asking my podcast guests what productivity means to them.

What does it mean to you?

I’ve been using the term “big-picture productivity” because it reminds me to measure my productivity by whether I’m spending time and energy pursuing my goals and not by the number of tasks or projects I complete. Striving to achieve my goals—not even necessarily achieving those goals—is a key source of happiness for me.

I consider myself productive when I’m spending as much time and energy on pursuing my goals as I want to—and not productive when I’m not.

Think about what you’re optimizing for. Are you optimizing for happiness (which comes from pursuing your goals) or for some intermediate step like how many tasks you can complete in any given day?

The latter only helps in some circumstances. If you hate your job and you don’t feel challenged or fulfilled, cranking more widgets per hour is pointless. But if you want to get your day job’s work done in two hours rather than six so you’re left with more time to work on your art, that makes sense!

Start with what makes you happy and reason backwards from there. Use productivity techniques as a tool to spend more time doing what you love and less time on everything else.

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