Approaching personal productivity
The term productivity is vague. It can mean different things. Does one want to have more working time per day, or rather do the same work in less amount of time? Personal productivity is about having balanced workflows, reducing stress, and enhancing the quality of work.
How does one measure the rate of output and is it worth measuring? Is it mentally advisable to cramp as much working hours as possible into each working week?
In this article, we discuss at the goals of personal productivity, how to approach it, and a healthy way of thinking about personal workflows and such.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines productivity as follows:
The effectiveness of productive effort, especially in industry, as measured in terms of the rate of output per unit of input.
This is still kinda vague, as it does not say, in which way change in rate of output would be achieved.
Many people associate the term productivity with long work days, trying to cramp more work into the same 24 hours everyone has. While it is true, that the goal would be more work, it does not mean more working hours.
We believe, that a healthy work life should be made up of efficient work, not a lot of work. The ultimate goal would be work efficiency: Trying to do better work in the same amount of hours.
On this website, we will not recommend energy drinks or the best way to stay up all night to finish that one report overdue. In contrast, we want to inspire to streamline processes and optimize workflows.
We go a step further and do not measure the absolute rate of output at all. For the purpose of most productivity workflows, it should not matter if it is about a full time job, a part time job, or a side project or hobby which is only relevant twice a year.
We want to look into how to make the work more pleasant. By having less anxiety about forgetting things. By having more structure in how to tackle the work and what the next steps are. If the projects are well structured, efficiency almost comes by itself.
The previous paragraph said pleasant work. What does that mean? For many people, work causes stress. Deadlines, pressure from colleagues, things which need to be done. Maybe there is a quality standard which needs to be met, or results accepted by a supervisor.
All these things cause anxiety. But deadlines and work piling up are often a result of bad management. Work is not approached efficiently. Daily tasks are postponed until they are almost overdue, or when everything comes at once.
If often being chased by deadlines, the quality of work will also suffer. Less concentrated workers will be prone to error and bad results. It is a cascade of issues that all come with badly organized self-management.
One part of productivity is off-time. It is crucial to let the body, and the mind, rest.
In our article on health and productivity, we already hinted at how bad too many working hours actually are: A reduced concentration, prone to error, lost productive hours due to fatigue. The list goes on.
If the mind is rested, it can have better ideas. Especially when doing creative work, overdoing is essentially just reducing all possibility of having new creative thoughts.
Having regular rest also avoids getting burned out of work. Occupational burnouts are fairly regular in modern society and having a healthy approach to productivity will decrease its risk factors.
Working is an individual process. For a thousand people, there are at least a thousand and ten completely distinct workflows. Thus, there cannot be an ultimate solution, a guide to productivity. But ideas and advice helps. To find individual workflows, it is necessary to know the options. What are successful people doing to be successful?
Look at how other people approach productivity: Learning from colleagues, learning from supervisors, seeing how unproductive situations are dealt with. The internet can also help.
We aim to give an overview of numerous workflows and setups. What approaches are used by other people, how do they work, what issues do they solve for them?
Few things can be copied one-to-one, but everything is meant to be modeled after. By picking ideas and setups which feel natural or intriguing, having an own set of efficient workflows will come in no time.
The definition of productivity is vague. It refers to the rate of output of work, but does not specify how to archive it.
Rather than going overboard with daily plans, the goal of personal productivity should be to establish a healthy and effective approach to work.
By streamlining workflows and finding ones own ways to tackle work, the same amount of work can often be finished in much less time. It is not about more work, but better work.
If approached correctly, work gets more pleasant, causes less anxiety, despite of deadlines, pressures and all the other things in daily life.
It is important to give the body rest. Try to find the right balance of on-time and off-time, as it will ensure a high productivity in the long run.
There are unfortunately no ultimate solutions to productivity. Everybody works and thinks differently. Thus, workflows can, and need to be individually adjusted. But without knowing all ones options, it is very hard to grasp, what approaches even exist.
By trying out different apps, services, copying workflows from colleagues or the internet; you can find your own solutions to productivity.
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. This means I may make a small commission if you make a purchase.
Dr. Marc A. Kastner
I am an assistant professor working on computer vision and multimodal understanding. I am interested in task- and knowledge management. In my free time, I blog on productivity workflows and apps.
For my professional portfolio, please visit: marc-kastner.com
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