How would you respond if someone asked you, “Are you productive?”
As knowledge workers who value our work and strive for continuous improvement, we might be quick to answer “yes” or “of course.”
But how well do we really know our level of productivity?
Measuring productivity is essential for anyone who wants to be more efficient and effective in their workflow. Yet, it can feel daunting to do so accurately.
There are several ways to measure productivity. Choosing one will depend on your goals and how you want to improve. In this article, you’ll discover how to measure productivity, why it matters, and how you can use it to get more done.
What Is Productivity?
Before we can learn how to measure productivity, we need to understand what productivity means. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines productivity as “the quality or state of being productive,” i.e., yielding results, benefits, or profits. But overall productivity and how to measure it can be tricky to understand because it can mean different things depending on the context.
For many businesses, productivity measurements are calculated using a simple formula. The productivity formula — total output / total input = productivity — calculates the total output (goods or services) produced using a given input (e.g., period of time, hours of work, etc.).
A kazoo factory, for example, might measure productivity based on the value of how many kazoos they make per month. If they produce $16,000 worth of kazoos in a month when employees work 400 hours, the formula is $16,000 / 400 = $40 / hour. This means that the factory produces $40 worth of kazoos every hour.
While this formula helps measure one type of productivity, it doesn’t give the complete picture. For instance, it doesn’t consider other important factors like output quality or production process costs. The kazoo factory might be able to produce many kazoos per hour, but if those kazoos are of poor quality, they won’t sell as well. And, if the factory spends more money than it makes in sales, it won’t be very productive or profitable.
Measuring productivity has many layers, and it can be even more difficult to calculate personal productivity for knowledge workers who don’t produce a physical product.
The Significance of Measuring Productivity
Whether you’re manufacturing kazoos or developing software, measuring productivity is crucial. When you measure your productivity, you can gain insights to help you improve efficiency, effectiveness, and profitability.
Measuring productivity can also be beneficial in several other ways:
- Hold yourself accountable: Tracking your progress is a way to stay committed when you have specific goals. Objective data can help you stay on track and motivated.
- Improve your time management skills: By keeping track of how you spend your time and comparing it to how much you accomplish, you can identify areas to improve efficiency.
- Assess your progress over time: Seeing how much you’ve accomplished and watching your measurements improve can be motivating and help you set future goals.
- Identify your peak hours: We each have our own optimal time to be productive. Measuring your productivity can help you identify your peak focus hours and plan strategically.
- Uncover areas for improvement: In time, regularly tracking your productivity metrics can reveal strengths and areas that need improvement. This information can help you make changes to improve your efficiency and increase productivity.
- Benchmark against others: If you’re curious about how your productivity stacks up against others, measuring it is the only way to find out. This information can be helpful if you’re aiming for advancement or incentives.
Of all these benefits, the most important one is this: Measuring your productivity can help you improve it. When you understand your strengths and weaknesses, you can improve your work habits and routines to get more done in less time.
How to Measure Productivity Using 5 Strategies
While measuring productivity has obvious benefits, understanding how to measure productivity can be a bit tricky. A common mistake people make is confusing efficiency with productivity.
When you’re efficient, you accomplish tasks faster than the average person. Even though that’s one aspect of being productive, if you’re doing unnecessary or poor-quality work efficiently, that doesn’t make you productive. A productive person gets the right things done efficiently and in the right way.
This is why using a wide range of metrics is essential to measure overall productivity accurately. Try a few of these effective productivity measurement strategies to get started.
1. Task and Time Tracking
Task tracking is one of the most basic and essential ways to measure productivity. Keeping daily or weekly lists of tasks, such as checklists or to-do lists, helps you break down your work into smaller, more manageable pieces. You can then set a specific number of tasks you’d like to complete and track productivity as you check off each item.
Time tracking goes hand-in-hand with task tracking. Tracking your time alongside managing your tasks can help you better understand how long each job takes you to complete. That way you can budget your time more effectively and optimize your workflow.
This strategy can be as simple as a task list and timer, or you can use more elaborate digital tools. Plenty of task tracking and to-do list apps can help you keep up with tasks.
A time-tracking app like Rize monitors your workday in real time, identifying how you’re spending your day and the amount of time you’re actually focused. Tracking and categorizing your time can help you see how often you’re succumbing to distractions and if you’re being as productive as you think you are.
2. Assigned Benchmarks
One common way businesses measure productivity is by using assigned benchmarks. For example, suppose a company aims to produce 100 widgets in one hour. They can use that benchmark to measure their productivity. If one day the company only makes 80 widgets per hour, then its productivity was at 80%.
This method can also be used to measure employee productivity. In many cases, employees are given a standard or benchmark for evaluating their performance. These might be numbers to meet for quality of work, quantity of sales, or a number of other metrics that help measure company goals.
Having productivity metrics to measure against can help you stay on track and motivated. For example, if you have a benchmark to write six articles in one week, you can measure your productivity by the total number you complete. If you only write three articles, your weekly productivity measurement is 50%.
How you’re assigned benchmarks will depend on your company’s goals, or you may have a hand in setting them for yourself. If so, it’s important to set standards that are realistic and achievable. Otherwise, you might become discouraged when you can’t reach that level of productivity.
3. Short- and Long-Term Goals
Another way to measure productivity is by setting short-term and long-term goals. Short-term goals are those you hope to achieve soon — these are the items on your daily and weekly task lists. Long-term goals are ones you want to accomplish in the long run — they might be your annual goals or your five-year plan.
In the short term, a goal might be to deliver a completed client project by the end of the week. You can use that due date to measure your productivity by setting daily mini-goals. Check-in on your goals each workday, and if you’re meeting your daily targets, your level of productivity is on track. However, if you’re not making enough progress, you’ll know you need to improve your time management and increase productivity if you want to meet the deadline.
Long-term goals are a little more challenging to measure because they often take months or even years. However, you can still use them to gauge your overall productivity. Break them down into smaller goals and follow the same process as short-term goals.
For example, if your long-term goal is to double your social media impressions in a year, break the desired total number down into monthly targets. As you check your monthly reports, reaching those smaller goals will let you know you’re on track. As a bonus, this approach allows you to adjust plans as needed.
4. 360-Degree Feedback
You can also use feedback to gauge your current level of productivity. One popular method is 360-degree feedback. Using this approach, multiple sources — e.g., managers, coworkers, team members, clients — offer a well-rounded assessment. A feedback circle is often considered an unbiased and fair method of evaluating employee performance since it doesn’t depend solely on one opinion.
Adapt this to your productivity by collecting feedback from those you work with most. Ask a coworker directly, set up a meeting with your boss, or design a survey template they can fill out at their convenience. The survey method can benefit freelancers, contractors, and others without formal performance review systems. Employees should discuss their options with their employers.
If you create a survey, a few considerations can help you optimize it for success:
- Explain why you need feedback and how you will use it.
- Take precautions to ensure confidentiality.
- Create a survey that is comprehensive but easy to complete.
- Choose the right productivity measures rather than just focusing on labor hours — e.g., meeting deadlines, total output against a relevant project baseline, and other appropriate benchmarks.
- Structure the assessment to discover strengths, not just deficiencies.
The feedback method can be helpful because it gives you an idea of how others perceive your productivity. However, this strategy is less objective than other methods as the feedback could be either positively or negatively biased. If you decide to use the circle of feedback method, be sure to collect feedback from various sources. This will help you get a more well-rounded view of your productivity.
A self-evaluation is exactly what it sounds like — you evaluate your own productivity. To conduct a self-evaluation, start by looking at your current and past short-term and long-term goals. Use any metrics you’ve gathered to conduct an assessment, like a time audit or weekly work plan review.
Note how often you met your goals and how well you met them. If you didn’t meet a goal, ask yourself why. Was it because you procrastinated? Was the goal unrealistic?
Also, consider how you felt about your work. Did you enjoy it? Were you proud of the results? If not, why? These questions can help you identify your productivity strengths and areas where you can make changes.
Self-evaluations are helpful, but they can be challenging. It’s essential to approach them with honesty and an openness to change. Combining several productivity measurement strategies can be beneficial as well. Using numbers and other objective metrics can help ensure you aren’t too hard on yourself (or too lenient).
Learn How to Measure Productivity and See Your Focus Rise
These are just a few productivity measurement strategies that can help you assess your overall productivity. By combining multiple methods, you can get a well-rounded view of your productivity and identify strengths and areas for improvement. Just remember — productivity metrics are much less important than actually putting in the work to increase productivity.
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