Activity vs. Productivity

“Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort.”
–Paul J. Meyer, entrepreneur and philanthropist

One of the things that took me a while to understand is that activity is not the same as productivity. I would often confuse the two like the difference between a male and female cow. Bet you don’t know either. Google it. I used to believe that the more I did, the more productive I was even if it was checking my email for the hundredth time that day (which is a ridiculously common occurrence in the working world). You can do a whole bunch of things while remaining quite unproductive (like organizing your office desk for the nth time, anyone?). In contrast, you can do just a handful of things and be very productive. The number of activities you engage in doesn’t necessarily equate to increased productivity.

So what’s the difference? Activity is the art of doing many things. On the other hand, productivity is the art of doing the right things. Productivity is about doing the right things that move a particular goal forward.

I used to count the number of hours I spent in a day doing what I considered “work-related” activities. I would aim to reach 8 hours each day because all my friends were doing it and I didn’t want to appear like I was slacking off with my life. And so even if I completed a day’s worth of work quickly and efficiently, I’d still attempt to fill in the rest of the hours with things like checking my email or scanning Facebook for “relevant” articles. How unproductive. Or I would resort to doing some tasks really slowly just to say I accomplished 8 hours of work. What nonsense. Not only was I inefficient with my time but I was wasting a lot of energy doing things that weren’t life-giving. I’ve since decided to do things differently. Each day now, I decide what major tasks (usually 2 or 3 items) I’m going to do that will move my work goals forward. Then I focus my time and energy accomplishing them with as little distractions as possible. If I get it done early, I use the rest of the day engaging in things that bring fulfillment in my life like meeting people for coffee to talk about Jesus and life or picking up a hobby like distance running (both of which I find are productive/fruitful things in life and in God’s kingdom).

Of course, not everybody is in the same boat as I am where they have control over their time. I’m sure there are some restrictions at your workplace. One of the funny things that occurs in the working world is being required to stay at the workplace for all 8 hours (and perhaps even more) even if you complete all your tasks ahead of time. Two things often happen. You do your work really slowly (making you quite inefficient) so that you complete it just in time for you to leave. Bravo, bravo. Or you get all your work done efficiently but waste a couple of hours just sitting around doing nothing or making yourself look busy (like walking around with a stack of papers, checking email, or updating your Facebook profile). And that can be hours upon hours of wasted time and energy-draining activities.

So what can you do about it? Later in this blog, I’m going to give some suggestions that may or may not work for you, your spouse, and your pet dog. If you happen to have some suggestions already, feel free to comment below. Also, feel free to disagree with some of my assumptions. We’ll agree to disagree and disagree to agree (say, what?).

P.S. This post may not apply to you if you’re using every single hour productively. Well, hooray for you.