On Productivity and the Human Utility

Even before the wake of the Second Industrial Revolution and technologized labour, which boosted the wealth of nations and standard of living, productivity has always been an imperative for human survival.

For most of human history, leisure was a rare luxury. Toiling from dusk to dawn just to survive was the lot of almost all men, women, and children up until about a hundred years ago. For instance, the English geologist, Sir Charles Lyell wrote that in the 1840’s, America was a country where all, whether rich or poor, were laboring from morning till night, without ever indulging in a holiday.

While searching for a definition of the word, “Productivity”, I settled on one quite simple to understand, yet precise in its practice: Productivity is a measure of economic performance that indicates how efficiently inputs are converted to outputs. Input can be the resources such as skills, raw materials, creativity, etc., which are used to create goods and services; while output is the result or accomplishment of the work done or services rendered.

These definitions could all be attributed to the economic perspective of what Productivity is, also reflective of the personalized outlook we as humans have when we tend to define how productive we are. However, a good principle in measuring our productivity is the 80/20 Rule by the Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto, which states that “80% of one’s result comes from 20% of one’s effort”.

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The perspective some people share when it comes to productivity has, oftentimes, been warped by the notion that it is when you are busy undertaking many projects with vigour and passion that you are productive. This is false. Busy does not equate to productive.

Harnessing Productivity

Working on too many goals at the same time makes progress slow compared to handling one goal at a time. One’s 20%, which is one’s effort, must be focused first on the most critical to-do. This depends on one’s ability to prioritize what matters most over the others by scheduling the most results-driven task early to ration time better.

On the other hand, one does not have to take on every project just because it is offered. The ability to say “no” when it is required helps to create mental space and time needed for strategic focus on tasks that matter most. Busy people say “yes” to everything, thereby choking themselves, and becoming least likely to deliver the best results in any given project.

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Moreover, intellectual “shape-shifting” is another vital strategy. The 2020 COVID19 saga was a true test of fate on how we, as humans, have to be innovative in regards to productivity and the production process in the world of work. When a system of work rearranges itself, the productive soul evolves, as there are diverse ways of altering one’s input, as long as the output brings efficient results.

The Tripartite Influence on Productivity

The outbreak of COVID19, which resulted in a global shutdown in 2020, opened our eyes to what the future holds when it comes to economic and individual productivity. Nowadays, wages drive productivity, not the other way around, as technology and e-commerce have shrunk the demand for manpower. The factors that have influenced productivity include:

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1)      Technology: I, for one, have been influenced by the evolving use of technology; talk less of organizations which use these factors to enhance their productivity as innovation raises profit margin.

2)      Personnel: Employees are vital in the world of work. Organizations situated in strategic locations invest a lot to enable a healthy work environment. Studies prove that 90 minutes of work, followed by 20-minutes breaks, allow workers to have mental clarity which enables productivity.

3)      Finance: E-commerce plays a big role in today’s economy as governments, organizations and individuals rely heavily on investment for any goal to be realised productively.

Through times and ages, research has shown that passivity breeds mediocrity and mental illness. The human need to achieve results transcends the quest for financial stability; it is the trait that stops us from “sinking into the blank stare and blank consciousness of the idiot”, as Colin Wilson puts it. Productivity is, thus, germane to our continuous thriving as individuals and collectives.

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