The Economy of Productivity

If you Google “productivity” there are 236,000,000 results. There’s a glut of formulas, tips, tools, and systems to help you organize and maximize your work.

When you start to wade through these 236,000,000 Google results, what surfaces is that the popular topics are formulaic and tactical. We want quick answers for how to be more productive.

In chasing the how, we often lose sight that productivity– the manner and means of how we complete our work efficiently–is rooted in our values and goals, not formulas. Like a nutritionist evaluating the latest fad diet, we have to peel ourselves away from the cult of productivity to examine its purpose.

Productivity as Currency

Behavioral economics has shown us the bizarre ways we perceive financial costs and rewards. It’s no surprise then that we struggle to manage and measure our productivity.

The object of productivity is “same (or less) input, more outcomes”. You optimize and accelerate to get to your destination more quickly. You spend productivity to save time, effort, and resources. These savings are your productivity earnings. What do you do with those earnings?

Spending Patterns

Herein lies the dark side of the cult of productivity: Unless you thoughtfully define your values, you become trapped in the productivity loop. Without values, you can't clearly define your goals or measure success. The sprint never ends. This is why we often spend our productivity earnings on doing more work; getting more done; hustle. We’re anxious we’re not doing enough and we're rewarded for this behavior.

Have a Budget

Public Enemy No 1 to productivity is perfectionism. Laziness means you never get going, perfectionism means you spend an inordinate amount of resources to never get there. A perfectionists only goal is perfection and it's unattainable.

Clearly defined goals replace perfection with attainable objectives. Goals serve as concrete benchmarks to measure your productivity by; they should be fair and tangible unlike how you feel about your work in the moment. Achieving clearly defined goals gives you the permission to say “I’m done” and mean it.

At a tactical level, reasonable goals are defined by actual constraints (timeline, budget, knowledge, feasibility, etc). But, values–not goals– are the bedrock of meaningful productivity.

Define Your Values, Shape Your Productivity

We spend our lives pursuing growth, in positive and negative ways, motivated by our values. Your core values are your judgment of what's important in life. These values determine where your immediate resources are directed and more broadly, how you spend your life. You can grow relationships, wealth, knowledge, and reputation. But you cannot grow time– it's a finite resource.

That's why productivity is so idolized: you employ it to earn back time, amongst other things. The more productive you become the more you win back.

So again, what do you do with those earnings? The answer: you do what you value most.

The saying “If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.” is bitterly poignant in the economy of productivity. Consumer-driven economics grows consumer-driven humans and society is quite pleased with humans that spend their earnings on more work. Although there is nothing inherently wrong with working more, what you do with your productivity earnings points back squarely at your values.

Before tactics, you must define your driving values and purpose for yourself. These directly impact and shape your personal approach to productivity. Do it for yourself, or someone else will do it for you.

Oh, and drink more water (or something like that).


Originally published on SuperYesMore.