Hustle culture and peer pressure has started this question for me — what really is productivity. In what terms do we base productivity off of.
I think a good place to start is looking at how others define productivity. I want to make one thing clear, personal productivity refers to you—what your productivity is.
The OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) defines productivity as “a ratio between the output volume and the volume of inputs”. In economic terms, in the eyes of the OECD, it basically means how efficient things like labor and capital are used in the economy in order for it to produce a certain output. In personal productivity terms, the word expresses the balance between how much work you are putting in versus how much you are getting out of it. For instance, if you work for 8 hours, are you really gaining everything you want in those 8 hours. Is that ratio efficient or is it starting to create a negative space for you.
Taking productivity as a ratio can help understand the longevity of productivity. In many contexts, like in an economic perspective, longevity of productivity can make or break something. The longer the productivity goes on, the more productive an economy is, thus, the more successful it can be. But how much productivity can humans take? Does longevity matter?
Taking the economic definition is very similar to hustle culture—work, work, work. Always maximizing production and efforts, always going up the ladder and hustling to find a way to be ‘perfectly efficient’ in order to produce maximum output. But what is misunderstood here is that hustling and only focusing on maximizing productivity can lead to burnouts. The focus on taking breaks and the quality of work are oftentimes diminished, not included in the narrative. You are a person, not an economy. Here, longevity does not matter as much because if you focus on only how long you can do something, eventually you will grow exhausted from it.
It is not inherently bad to be proactive in becoming more ‘productive’—but getting this ratio balanced in the way that is perfect, i.e. hard work and hustle, you would need to work like a machine to be successful at that task. Then, are you truly living your life, or are you just about the work, work, work. This infographic below emphasizes this aspect.
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Productivity is more than just hustling to achieve, it’s about enhancing your life and your workflow.
Dictionary.com defines the word as “the quality, state, or fact of being able to generate, create, enhance, or bring forth goods and services”. One term missing from the previous definition that is present here is enhance. Enhance, or in another word, quality is something that should be the determinator of how you work. The quality will help you with the outcome of your work. The better the outcome, the better your work is. This takes time, patience, planning, consistency and rationality. BetterUp offers an interesting Venn diagram that includes these important aspects:
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That blue spot in the middle is where all these aspects connect. The question you need to solve is to look at your responsibilities, prioritize and plan out your productivity in order to healthily balance it. All the components in your life matter, and work should not be the reason why you let go of the other parts of your life. Productivity, I think, is something you get to define. How you control the speed of your life and how you balance the multidimensional being in you.
All in all, productivity is a term that has brought many conversations to the forefront. I’ve seen productivity spoken about in subjects of economics all the way to psychology. It’s a term rooted in many toxic lifestyles, such as hustle culture or peer pressure, where people feel the need to be driven by productivity. Why does productivity need to be something toxic and negative, where if you aren’t productive enough then you cannot be successful. This is pressure, and sure a little pressure might not be bad, but having influential narratives that talk about productivity in a negative way can only reinforce barriers toward healthier methods of better productivity.
DEFINE IT! is a series by Selena Fonseka where she digs deep into the context, connotation and conversations around certain terms. Follow to keep up with her other two series: QUESTION IT! and SOLVE IT!, where she dives deeper into topics thick with content!
A little bit about me as a writer: Being a Creative Strategist at LockandStock, a mobile app that promotes digital wellness, really inspires many of the things I write about. I am passionate about many subjects and Medium has become my main outlet to express my words. In my spare time, you’ll find me buried in either fantasy novels or books like Atomic Habits or Sapiens, where I gain a lot of the knowledge I share. I hope you enjoy my content! Follow and Subscribe for more!