Productivity vs. Efficiency: Four Ways They Differ, and What Matters Most

"Profitability is coming from productivity, efficiency, management, austerity, and the way to manage the business. " — Carlos Slim, Mexican business magnate Most of us know the difference between effectiveness and efficiency. Effectiveness is doing the right things, while efficiency is doing things right. Their intersection yields high productivity. I even wrote a book about it: Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time. But many people remain confused about the difference between productivity and efficiency. Too often, the terms are viewed as synonyms. They're not. They're related but certainly not interchangeable. Indeed, in some cases, they couldn't be farther apart. Productivity is simply output per unit of time. Efficiency is the best possible output … [Read more...]

Attention Management vs. Time Management: Five Ways to Emphasize What Truly Matters

"I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day. " — E.B. White, American writer and co-author of ¬Elements of Style. When it comes to using modern English, E.B. White, along with his mentor William Strunk, have influenced the style, readability, and productivity of five generations of Americans. If such a towering literary presence had trouble focusing his productivity, then it's no surprise the rest of us do. Indeed, the entire industry of time management has grown up around our desire to use our most limited of resources effectively, so we can accomplish as much as possible in what time we have. Time management has become one of the more ingrained productivity toolkits of the … [Read more...]

Forgotten Productivity: Four Facts About Total Factor Productivity to Keep in Mind

"The standard growth theory tells us that economic growth in per capita basis comes from mainly two sources: capital deepening and total factor productivity growth, or TFP growth." —Toshihiko Fukui, Japanese civil servant. If you work in customer service, administration, human resources, or IT, you might sometimes wonder how your work contributes to the organization's bottom line. After all, you don't actively bring in income, so does it really matter whether you maximize your productivity? Of course, it does! Support jobs are crucial to a business's survival. Just because your job doesn’t generate revenue doesn't mean you don't move the organization forward. Every report efficiently produced, every product documented, every brilliant mind hired and retained—it all contributes to the … [Read more...]

Contrary to Popular Belief: Five Ways Social Media Can Boost Productivity

"If you make customers unhappy in the physical world, they might each tell 6 friends. If you make customers unhappy on the Internet, they can each tell 6,000 friends." —Jeff Bezos, CEO of In most businesses, it's standard policy to restrict and discourage the use of social media during work hours. An average of just ten minutes of social media use daily, over the course of a year, adds up to over one week of work time (just under 42 hours). This may seem astonishing, but you can't argue with the math. Almost 90% of us sneak occasional peeks, but moderation remains key here: don't set out to break your organization's social media policy, and set some personal rules even if you do have permission to indulge. There's no doubt that when used irresponsibly, social media can … [Read more...]

Shutting It Down: Six Steps to Productively Closing a Project

"There's a light at the end of the tunnel/ Loooooord, I hope it ain't no train." —B.B. Watson, American singer All things, good or bad, must come to an end—even your projects, hallelujah. Whether you've nailed your goal perfectly, on time and under budget, or you just missed hitting your quota, you've hit the end of the line. Game over. But… even when you're done, you're not quite done. You still must put that project to bed. Even if closing the project isn't your primary task, or someone else acts as the primary, flexing those closing muscles contributes not just to your experience, but to your productivity. The quicker you put the project to bed, the quicker you start the next one. Here are six simple steps that contribute to effective, productive project closure: Check … [Read more...]

The Main Thing: Five Signs You’ve Broken Your Productivity System

"The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing." —Stephen Covey, American productivity expert. We’ve all used the wrong tool for a task. I’ve often used my fingernail as a screwdriver (usually with disastrous results), but I’ve found a dime or a butter-knife can sometimes work as well. Did you know a brick can be used as a hammer in a pinch? However, none of these substitutes do the job as well as the tool specifically designed for the job. Similarly, a snapped screwdriver or a hammer with a broken handle isn't nearly as effective (or efficient) as a complete tool. You can't even do some things without a specialized tool. You can't really tighten a hex-bolt, for example, without an Allen wrench. Using the wrong tools or broken ones might eventually get the job done, but it will … [Read more...]

Bold Steps: Five Ways to Improve Your Productivity After a Promotion

"Every time you win, you get another fight." —Chael Sonnen, American mixed martial artist. Laurence J. Peter is famous for the business principle named after him, which states that workers are promoted to their level of incompetence. In other words, the better you do your job, the more likely you'll get promoted into a position you're not good at. I don't necessarily agree with the Peter Principle, but I have noticed that, to paraphrase British satirist Terry Pratchett, "If you dig the best ditches, they give you a bigger shovel." Unless you fight it or make yourself irreplaceable, at some point someone will promote you to a higher position in your organization. For those who crave success, this is a primary goal of work. For others it’s not as important as the paycheck that lets one … [Read more...]

Three by Three: Creating a Mini-Crisis to Improve Your Productivity

"You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it's an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before." —Rahm Emanuel, American politician and former mayor of Chicago. In his Spenser PI novels, the great mystery writer Robert Parker created an unforgettable character in Spenser's girlfriend, Susan Silverman. She thrives on crises, often of her own making. In fact, when preparing for an appointment or presentation, she would often wait until the last minute to get started, knowing the stress will push her to productive heights. Forcing yourself to accomplish too much in not enough time is an intriguing concept, but by definition, it can’t work if constantly practiced. We all remember times when we had to push to do more in less time—say, because we had … [Read more...]

What Does Productivity Mean to You? Four Important Questions to Ask Yourself

"You can, you should, and if you're brave enough to start, you will." —Stephen King, American novelist. We all know the standard definition of productivity: the amount of something produced in a given unit of time. That’s difficult to determine in some jobs. How do you easily determine daily or weekly productivity for the HR analyst? How about for a sales person who makes only two or three enormous sales per year, bringing in millions from the company? Or the idea man who spends most of his time immobile, thinking about ways to save money? Even Henry Ford, one of the 20th century moguls who helped quantify productivity with his assembly lines, valued his idea man—although his productivity wasn't obvious to others. Some jobs don't seem productive at first glance, especial in the short … [Read more...]

Shooting Yourself in the Foot: Five Ways Internal Competition Kills Productivity

"How can we trust one another if we're competing in a dog-eat-dog culture? Instead of trust, fear prevails." —Evan Rosen, executive director of The Culture of Collaboration Institute. In military and police organizations, the professionals involved are well aware that if they're not extremely careful, their actions can be lethal to co-workers. Navy SEALS call it "blue-on-blue," but it's better known as "friendly fire." This occurs when personnel find themselves accidentally under fire from their own side. Most police or service people with combat experience have stories of tragedies or near-tragedies that occurred during the aptly-named "fog of war." Sadly, friendly fire can kill you just as dead as enemy fire. Friendly fire is common in the workplace, too. While it may not prove … [Read more...]