As we start a productivity or self-improvement blog, an obvious place to start seems to me to ask: what is productivity? Why does it matter?
As an economist by training, one definition is the economic one: productivity determines how much output will be created for a given amount of inputs, whether that is labour, resources, or other things. If a farm is productive, the same number of fields produce more wheat.
Productivity as output
The more productive an economy is, the higher GDP will be, even if the number of workers or the amount of resources doesn’t change. As a result, it’s often a fundamental goal of modern economies: getting more productive, whether through using technology or other means, makes a country richer without it having to discover new natural resources or other inputs. Higher productivity means a country is richer, or a business more profitable.
As individuals, we may have goals beyond just getting richer, but we can use the economic definition to draw some parallels for ourselves. Productivity can be about how well we use our inputs to create the outputs we want and achieve our goals. The purpose of life is a big question, but productivity can be about more efficiently achieving any goal we may have. From that definition, productivity is clearly great: it is a sort of generic modifier that takes whatever we want to spend our time on, and makes it more effective. Tools to make us more productive in that sense will definitely be something we talk about on this blog.
Productivity as time management
There are other ways to think about it, though. When we talk about productivity, the conversation often turns to how we spend our time: are we spending it on the right things? This is less a question of efficiency, and more a question of goals: it starts to relate to concepts around enlightenment and wisdom. We’ve all met people who are frantically busy, but don’t seem to get much done. If the first definition is doing things right, the second is about doing the right things.
The second definition is perhaps closer to traditional ideals, while the first probably wouldn’t have been considered until after the industrial revolution (the whole concept of productivity is a modern one, and wouldn’t have resonated with most ancient cultures). Still, both definitions have value.
At heart, for me the point is this: as humans, time is our most scarce resource. It is the coin by which we buy everything else in our lives. We can exchange it for money, for impact on things we care about, for shared experiences with loved ones. Productivity is about using our time well.
Productivity as meaning
Why should we be productive? Well, if we are using our time well, it may free up time for other things we want to do. It may give us more meaning in our lives, if it helps us feel we are achieving our goals. Perhaps it will allow us to help others we care about. The answer is probably unique to each individual, but if you have goals, productivity can help you achieve them.
From that, much can flow. We can be more efficient in doing tasks. We can prioritize better, doing some things and not others. We can introduce new habits, such as meditation or journaling. We can try to drop old habits that we feel are not a good use of our time, such as watching too much TV. There is no one silver bullet for productivity, but there are steps we can take and practices we can introduce that will help us improve.
More to come in future posts! To start, we’re aiming for about weekly posts, so you can look forward to more next week.