Take a moment and think about your definition of “productivity.” What does the word bring to mind? How does the idea of being “productive” make you feel? Chances are you have a love/hate relationship with it. Yes, we all want to be more productive because we’re taught that it’s the secret to success and, even more importantly, it’s how our value is determined in society. But we also get caught up “in the grind” chasing productivity, using lists, numbers, charts, and apps to track tasks and to-dos.
Productivity has become synonymous with making money and being busy, albeit an effective kind of busy.
A quick Google of the word and you’ll see how it has evolved over time. Today, the definition, which aligns with how most of us perceive the word, is roughly, “the effectiveness of productive effort as measured in terms of the rate of output per unit of input.” But, when you dig a little bit deeper into the word’s past, you find this definition too, “the state or quality of producing something.”
Suddenly, the word, having lost terms like “effort” and “measured” and “input/output” seems much less intimidating. In fact, this definition makes you want to be productive, rather than feeling obligated to do so. Being productive really has nothing to do with making money, although sometimes that is the byproduct. Being productive really is all about creation and creativity.
And, gosh, couldn’t the world use a lot more people who have time to do just that?
I was listening to a Madame Gandhi song yesterday in which she says something along the lines of “being productive like ovaries.” I found this analogy so soothing that I actually wrote it down on a page of my open journal on my desk and thus began my contemplation of the word “productive.”
What if we considered it “being productive” every time we created something that made us joyful? What if productivity wasn’t measured by money earned or “input or output” at work, but instead was measured by overall happiness and satisfaction in life? What if as a society we valued being productive as a parent, a family, a friend, a spouse, a neighbor more than we did an employee or a peg for a hole? Imagine how your day would change if you gave equal weight to creativity, inspiration, and exploration rather than just focusing on what you’re taught to believe needs to get done – and urgently at that.
The other evening my husband asked me a simple question: “How many people do you know personally that are truly happy?” I couldn’t even fill one hand.
It’s clear that things have gotten out of balance and so much so that it’s not just destroying our lives, but our society as a whole. From depression and drug abuse to stress and a whole gamut of self-destruction, we’re falling apart. And while it at times seems like it will take something radical to start mending, I think many of the remedies are actually quite simple – and right in front of us.
Words are powerful. They have energy. They have the ability to create and destroy. I truly believe that by redefining and reclaiming the way we define productivity, we can begin to free ourselves from the belief that our value comes only from the work we put in behind a desk (whether standing, sitting or on a beach). And, from the moment we make this shift, we allow ourselves to become human beings again, not just drones programmed to work and die.
So, the next time you think about how you can increase your productivity, remind yourself of what the real definition of productivity is: What can you do that creates value for the world? What can you do that makes you feel happy? And then, rather than measuring with spreadsheets and time cards, just start doing it!
Yes, let’s all be more productive – just like our ovaries…