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!


Matthew Cornell said...

I like your insight, Toni. Thinking about productivity at the tactical, systemic, and strategic levels makes sense, and is a nice way to frame measurement.

Toni Verbeiren said...

Thanks for your comment, Matthew.

I was really surprised last week, coming back from my newborn son and wife at the hospital, putting our daughter to bed and opening my email to find out that somebody commented on my latest post. I was even more surprised when I found out it was you.

I like the 3 terms (tactical, systemic and strategic) more than my own layer terminology. Do you mind if I use these in further writings?

On a side note, I still need to fix a moment in my calendar to follow up on the whole Eli vs. Matt discussion. I'm really glad he started writing.

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