The Myth of Productivity

What is productivity?
The dictionary defines it as : the effectiveness of productive effort, especially in industry, as measured in terms of the rate of output per unit of input. In other words productivity measures a team or person based the result of the work put in. Usually input is measured in hours so then the measurement would be the amount of work done in any given number of hours to make up a work day or shift.
The problem with this definition is that it is subjective and ignores factors such as appropriate woking hours, the need for nutrition and self care and the need for sleep. When this definition is applied to the individual person the expectation it allows us to place on our selves and others is based on our own ideal and can often be unrealistic. This definition leave a blank slate for agencies and companies to determine what they believe a productive employee should look like, more and more expectations are being made on the individual workers often resulting in overworked and burnt out staff. Outside of work parents are feeling the pressure to involve themselves more and more in extra curricular activities for their kids and kids are coming home with more homework than ever. The myth that it is possible for the individual to constantly improve their productivity if they only tweak a practice or cut out a time waister leads to stress and over work which then leads to the need to evaluate work habits to become more productive. It’s a vicious circle.
As productivity expectations have changed so has our thought patterns around what it means to be productive. We’ve made productivity synonymous with competition, trying to keep up with our co-workers, neighbours, friends and family. It’s over whelming and exhausting. So we look for solutions. We work longer hours and sleep less to make up for our “lack of focus” or the hours in the day we just don’t have. Sometime we turn to unhealthy patterns and habits to decompress after a stressful workday. We’re trying to get more and more done resulting in spinning our wheels. Our brains are so full of what needs to get done and how to schedule our day to accomplish everything on our lists, it’s no wonder we are exhausted all the time.
Here are some truths I’ve compiled about productivity, google them, this is real;
  • More hours worked does not mean more work completed; People become less productive the more hours they work. This is slightly different for everyone but I know that I can be productive and focused for a total of six hours provided I have breaks in between, the remainder of my hours worked consists of attempts to get stuff done but being too distracted to really focus. If I’m writing it becomes illegible, if I’m planning the work will have huge gaping holes, If I need to think or math…. well, forget it! In an ideal scenario if I could live off of 30 hours a week I would be at my most productive as an employee.
  • Burnout decreases overall productivity; Have you ever felt like you are spinning and jumping from one task to another, never really getting anything done, all the while your mind begging you for some “me time” or Netflix binging? This happens to everyone on a bad day but when those bad days become weeks or months, you my friend are in burn out, adrenal fatigue, emotional collapse…, etc. When you are in this state it is impossible to be productive. In fact you would probably get more accomplished if you slept for a week straight, because at least you are recovering your mental faculties. Don’t let yourself get to this point, if you already have take time to rest, give some of your responsibilities to someone else and unplug for a few days if you can. Even just giving yourself the time to take a full 8 hours of sleep every night will work wonders. It doesn’t matter if you can’t actually sleep at first, just relax and focus on clearing your mind and resting your body. The sleep will come when your body figures out that you are giving it permission to rest.
  • People think they need to work harder when what they really need is to work smarter. Planning, prioritization and delegation can help you to lighten your load yet get more accomplished.
I want to redefine the word productivity, and here is what I would like it to mean. The amount of quality work you can get out of a person without overworking, burning out or competition. I would love for us to look at our own personal work load, know where our breaking point is and start saying no well before we reach that point. I’d love to see more people doing the things they love with the people they love knowing that they are doing their absolute best in life. Finally I’d like it to become acceptable for the individual to work at their own personal productivity level without judgement. The value that a person has in any given situation goes far beyond their output. A person can have great ideas, rally a team or diffuse difficult situation and yet still be seen to be unproductive. Those skills are so very important and yet are often over looked.
So here are some ideas for how to break through the myth and redefine what productivity means for you so that you can work smarter, not harder.
  • Block out work and break cycles; Schedule work and rest cycles in rotations of time blocks that work best for you. If I need to be really and truly focused I will work in intervals of 40 minutes of mental work (writing, number work, creative work) with 20 minutes of physical work or activity (Stretch, move, clean, go for a walk, cook something healthy) alternatively I’ll meditate, give the brain a bit of a rest. I set a timer for each block and stick to it. If writing I will finish my though or sentence before taking my break.
  • Say no to overtime; I’m not talking about the occasional hour to fill a very specific need, I’m talking about the weekly overtime totalling a full shift or more. I know the money is good, I completely get that, but you are burning yourself out in the process and that will only result in you becoming resentful of your work or complacent. Same thing goes with your home life, though this is very tricky to regulate. You need to block out time to recharge your batteries. Protect that time and just say no. I’m not a parent and I am not raising a family but I have experienced first hand what it is like to need recharging without getting it. I’ve also seen amazing moms and dads experience burn out, and it is a very scary thing people.
  • Practice the Pareto’s Principle also known as the 80-20 rule; What this means, with regard to productivity, is that 20% of your input or work will yield 80% of your result. What does this mean for you? If you look at every thing you need to do, list it all out and scrutinize it, 20% of your best effort will manage and deal with 80% of your work load if you prioritize and pinpoint the key tasks. Plan mindless, tedious work for your least productive times and keep that crucial 20% for your most energetic, creative and focused times. It’s about planning and managing your todo to ensure you are getting the most out of your work. here is an article that explains this beautifully for you;
  • Have a system. There are many ways you your work, but what I like to do is a combination of the Get Things Done system and something I picked up from a fellow blogger. I keep a master list of things to do, I like to separate this list according to the hats I’m wearing (i.e., blogger, support worker, home life). Every day I review the list and instinctually choose the three tasks that will yield the biggest response at that time. That becomes my task list for the day.
  • Turn off the time wasters or fake work. This includes endlessly checking e-mail, Facebook, Pintrest, etc. While planning is the first step, you need to do the work once you have a plan. Planning, then replanning, and planning again is fake work. One you have something workable, stop planning and get working. My full time career is supporting adults with Developmental Disabilities, however I’m also a blogger part time. Social media is so very important as a blogger and it is also the biggest time waster. All of my fake work comes from checking my social media feeds. I find that in order to be productive I need to block out my “social” time, writing time and the actual business part of the work. As important as social media is to a blogger, writing is crucial. It is the single mot important task that I have. If I don’t have good quality content, social media will do nothing or me.
By placing your focus on high priority tasks and accomplishing a higher quality of work as opposed to quantity of work you will find your productivity definition has shifted and you will actually get more accomplished in fewer hours. What a gift to give yourself, more hours in the day to focus on you and your family!

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