What is productivity, really?

By FocusMe Team on 16 November 2018

We’ve often talked about it. But what is it really?

Productivity is the “amount of work produced either per worker or per hour worked.” [1]

So if a writer finishes 10 pages an hour, then 10 would be their personal productivity per hour.

And if you complete an update meeting with the team in an hour, then you may – or may not – have been productive at all. (More on this later.)

In macroeconomics, economic productivity is the Gross Domestic Product, or GDP. It’s the value of all goods and services in a certain period divided by the total number of hours produced by all workers within that period.


Why is productivity important?

The world’s strongest economies, especially the G7 countries, have been going through a decline in productivity.

Declining productivity among G7 countries

Source: Office of National Statistics

According to We Forum, labor productivity has fallen at 0.6% annual rate in the US in 2016. And UK’s productivity has seen its worst decline since records started, with 18% below the average of other Western countries. [2]

It’s high time to take productivity more seriously. It’s not just impacting our economies as a whole, it’s also affecting our day-to-day lives.

What does productivity look like (and what it doesn’t)?

Knowing whether you’re being productive or not could sometimes be tricky.

Many people confuse productivity with “being busy.” It’s the thought that as long as they’re doing something and going hard at it, then they’re using their time wisely.


But there’s also a statement that rings true and speaks volumes about productivity –

“Work smarter, not harder.”

Knowing the difference between productivity vs “being busy” could spell difference between revenue and loss.

Here are 5 ways you can tell productivity from merely “being busy.”


Multitasking vs focus

Productive people know that they can only do one thing at a time well.

“Well” is the operative word here. You may be able to do multiple things at a time, but whether you’re still keeping a good eye on detail or not remains a question.


Remember feeling like you’ve done a lot but never really accomplished anything? Yep – you can blame it all on multi-tasking.

Productivity and quality work are results of laser focus. By giving your full attention on a task at a time, you’re able to be on top of your game and produce the best outcome possible.

So get rid of distractions and stop the habit of multi-tasking.


Few vs too many priorities

Productive people have a few but very important priorities. Busy people have too many of them.

You know what they say – if you have 5 key priorities, you have priorities. If you have 50, then welcome to chaos.

Life’s too short to be too busy. Learn to prioritize.

You can start by breaking down the massive tasks into little ones. Use the Pomodoro technique, where you focus on a certain task for 25 minutes, then take a break for 5 minutes. Rinse and repeat.

By breaking down your tasks into little pomodoros, you’re able to zero in on the most important ones and make them easier to tackle. And the 5-minute breaks allow you to refresh your mind and transition from one task to another.


Having time vs no time

“I have barely enough time for that.”

This statement is a tell-tale sign that a person is being busy, but barely being productive.

Busy people like telling everyone that they’re always doing something.

It’s a manifestation of a rampant way of thinking, a culture of busyness.

In the US, busy has become a status symbol. And spending time for things outside of work is usually frowned upon.

But this culture can be killing your organization’s productivity. It cultivates a mindset that’s driven towards tasks, not outcomes.

It’s time to increase productivity in the workplace. Have time for tasks that really matter. Strive for outcomes and results, not a longer to-do list. Take regular breaks so you can enrich your mind space and encourage more strategic thinking and creativity.


Tasks vs results

Productive people focus on the results. They get right on the task, take clear steps, and put their mind on the outcome. On the contrary, busy people love talking about how much work they have in such little time.

For instance, some entrepreneurs love talking about an idea and how it can help change the world. But “having too much on the plate” usually hinders them from pursuing it. On the flip side, successful ones jump right into making things happen.

Successful entrepreneurs go for action. Busy people would’ve stopped with a business idea only because they’re “too busy.”


Saying yes quickly vs slowly

The reason why some people are so busy they don’t have enough time for the more important things is this:

they say yes too quickly.

By doing so, they spread themselves thinly. They run the risk of burning themselves out.

As a result, outcomes suffer. Productivity? Down the drain.

Productive people think twice before saying yes. They gauge the things on their plate first. They evaluate their priorities.

There’s no better way to explain this than from Warren Buffet himself, and we’ll let him have the last word here:

“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”



There’s a thin line between being productive and “being busy.”

Sometimes, being busy is like running on a treadmill – you keep working hard but don’t really get anywhere.

Start increasing your productivity today by getting rid of distractions, being conscious of how you manage your time, and taking steps to ensure laser focus on your work.

Learn more about how you can boost productivity here.