Monday, September 15, 2008

How to Measure Productivity?

A comment by reader 'rbis' on my previous article about the definition of productivity refers to the website and blog of productivity guru Matthew Cornell. The reference reminded me of an article by Matt in which he asks the question: How do you measure personal productivity?.

The 3 Layers Again

In my previous article, I discussed the existence of 3 layers in what people consider (personal) productivity: Layer 1 (L1) deals with so-called life hacks, tricks on how to deal with tasks and things in a smarter way. Layer 2 (L2) is about the approach to these tasks and the organization of them, or in other words the process. In Layer 3 (L3), we look at the purpose behind everything, the driving force behind the whole thing.

When thinking about these layers and the measurement of productivity, two conclusions pop up

Measurement Depends on the Layer

It is easier to measure in L1 than it is in L3. To give an example: testing ones speed of typing, or the number of blogs topics read is just a matter of counting. The fact that ones purpose is not clear or not lived out, is a much harder nut to crack.

This may sound obvious, but in practice, productivity is often seen as one big beast which has to be tackled with one method.

To come back to the article by Matt, careful reading reveals that if the layered approach had been used, things would have turned out even more transparent. Where he discusses that measures are required, he mostly deals with layer 1 and 2 activities (email processed, poor planning, inneficient meetings), whereas when talking about why measurements are hard, layer 3 comes into play (personal goals, quality instead of quantity).

Layer 2 and Layer 3 are not about Counting

It will be clear by now that L3 can not be measured by numbers, but qualitative aspects are important. And qualitative by definition means subjective. This is a good thing, but it also makes it hard and confusing.

Stephen Covey may try hard to make sure we get our personal mission statement clear, but how many of us really have one? Or how many times a year is this mission statement revised and if needed adapted? Ok, I blame guilty myself.

I think we feel it when our mission or life's purpose is clear and our activities support it. I have noticed lately that two famous bloggers, in two different areas come to a similar conclusion: They were no longer certain that what they were blogging about really made sense to them, that it is what they wanted to do. An insightful article by Robert Scoble in this sense can be found here, whereas Merlin Mann discusses some of the thought process in this article.

Enough about layers, let's get productive!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Definition of Productivity

I've always liked looking for structure and relations between things that surround me. I guess I'm not the only one? One of the things I would like to find structure in today is the term 'productivity' and what is usually associated with it. This includes so-called productivity systems, lifehacks, workflow tools, etc. In this article, I want to argument that 3 levels can be distinguished.

Efficiency is a term that is often used together with productivity. The Wikipedia page tells us:

... While productivity is the amount of output produced relative to the amount of resources (time and money) that go into the production, efficiency is the value of output relative to the cost of inputs used. ...

Most definitions of productivity are based on the production or manufacturing of (physical) goods. In sharp contrast with this, our Western civilization has evolved into a service-oriented society. Most of us no-longer produce anything physical (except for documents perhaps). This is often referred to as knowledge-work. By definition, knowledge work productivity is much harder to measure, as it involves creativity, thinking, finding solutions to problems, etc.

In my opinion, productivity-related information can be divided in 3 groups, I call them levels:

Level 1: Tips and Tricks

This level deals with the question: How can I optimally perform the task at hand. This task could be: process email, have a meeting, brainstorm, etc. Note that this level does not deal with the which task is done first or why this task is important.

The various popular life hack blogs and sites are usually concerned with this level of productivity and give plenty of tips on how to collaborate online, clean your house, etc. in a productive way.

Level 2: The Process

At this level, we ask ourselves: 'What', 'When' and 'in which order'? In other words: how do we approach things?

This level is about the tools and techniques that let you plan your life and work: todo lists, Getting Things Done, Do It Tommorrow, etc.

Level 3: Purpose

In this level, we ask ourselves 'Why'. In other words: what drives us, what is our vision and mission, what is our purpose?

In many cases, this level is forgotten about. Think about the successful manager who at the age of 60 regrets not having spent more time with his kids. Or think about people trying to do 1001 things on a day without standing still to see whether these things are really valuable.

Each of these levels can be further split in parts and obviously some things will be on the boundary or cross these levels. Generally speaking, though, every level influences the level below: Understanding your purpose (level 3) tells you which activities are valuable (level 2) and enables you to find tricks (level 1) to do them more quickly and productively.

The question remains which questions should be asked first. This is for later.

This article is the first in a series of almost literal translations from dutch blog posts by myself on

Monday, September 08, 2008

Free review copy of "Personal Development for Smart People"

Seeing this post on Steve Pavlina's blog, I couldn't resist and sent in my request for a review copy of his upcomming book "Personal Development for Smart People".

Guess what?! I was accepted. The book has to be shipped from the States and I will have to pay 10 Euro taxes because Belgian customs wants to take a look, but that still saves me some money compared to buying the book myself.

If you don't know Steve Pavlina, I suggest you check out some of his most popular blog posts to get an idea of the kind of person he is:

New (temporary) blog name

Application Availability isn't the topic of this blog anymore, so it was time to change it's name. The current name is temporary, until creativity hits me with a better one...

Any suggestions?

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