Productivity Measurement: Making Sure Your Work is Worth It

Productivity MeasurementMeasuring productivity is far from simple. Although many productivity systems and models for measuring productivity exist, most focus on metrics and measurements that aren’t actually of crucial importance for individuals or organizations.

In this guide, we’ll look at productivity measurement from both an organizational view – that of a manager or consultant tasked with measuring the productivity of a company or organization – and from an individual perspective.

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What is true productivity?

Measuring productivity is impossible without knowing what your goals are. This is true whether you’re an individual (such as a contractor measuring results for one of your clients) or a company or organization.

At the core of productivity measurement is an understanding of what your primary goals are. What do you produce? If your company produces shoes, for example, you may wish to measure your productivity in terms of your total shoe output.

Large organizations need to break productivity measurement down further. Since they often have multiple departments each pursuing different goals, productivity can only be measured by looking at the goals of each department on its own.

The key to effective productivity measurement is knowing which metrics you should be monitoring, how they should be measured and monitored, and why they matter in both the small scale (day-to-day operations) and the large scale.

You can even apply the principle of true productivity to your personal life. Think of a to-do list, or a notebook as a productivity tool. Read our blog post on the Best Apps for Productivity to learn more about measuring your personal productivity.

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The mistake of measuring work

It’s easy to assess productivity based on the amount of work that gets performed in a certain time period. There are endless clichés of corporate managers assessing the productivity of their department by the amount of time employees spend at work.

Even the highly successful are guilty of assuming that work and productivity are the same thing. In a speech to college graduates, former Mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg said that the secret to success is being “the first one in the office and the last to leave at night.”

Why is measuring productivity by hours at work a mistake? Because a huge amount of work is what’s known as ‘busywork.’ It’s work that, far from being completed for a strategic of actionable reason, is completed simply because it exists as work.

Many corporate productivity measurement methods mistakenly measure busywork instead of measuring total output. Because of this, it’s essential to measure output in real terms using metrics that you can accurately manage to assess productivity.

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What gets measured gets managed

Legendary management consultant Peter Drucker had a simple saying he would use to inform businesses and entrepreneurs of real productivity: “What gets measured, gets managed.”

The logic behind Drucker’s famous quote is simple: in order for your business, your organization, or your department to know if it’s really being productive, it needs to measure its output and see if it aligns with its goals.

In order for something to be measurable, Drucker claims, it needs to be a clear goal that you (or your company) can aspire to. It needs to be achievable. It needs to be a static, clear target that you can pin on the wall and set your mind to.

Let’s return to the shoe manufacturing company example used earlier. A bad way of measuring productivity for a shoe company is to simply assess how many shoes it’s sold each quarter, and see if the number continued to increase.

A good way of measuring productivity, on the other hand, is to set a specific number of shoes to be manufactured and sold each quarter, and see if it achieved each goal during the specified time period.

Measuring productivity is ultimately about ensuring that your business achieves its goals in a measurable, action-driven way. Simply noticing that you’re making more money before, or that you’re growing quickly, doesn’t mean that you’re productive.

Setting measurable productivity goals for your business

If you operate your own business – be it a young and rapidly-growing startup or a large, powerful corporation – it’s tempting to base all of your thoughts on business productivity on your company’s growth rate.

If you sell more products in February than January and generate more profit, you must be more productive – right? This isn’t always the case. Using the well-known Peter Drucker measurement idea, the key to productivity is about setting goals.

As an individual contractor seeking to maximize your income, your measurement for productivity should be whether or not you achieve your target income, not just that you earned more than you did in the last month.

As a startup focused on user acquisition, your productivity metric should be your achievement of a specific user base, not simply general user growth. Is your goal acquiring one million users? Is it simply to add 10,000 new users to your app?

Without actionable, measurable goals for your business to use as measures of its productivity, it’s hard to know how productive you really are. Even huge growth could disguise poor productivity and work practices.

Learn more about setting actionable goals and managing projects in our Project Management by Trello course. Suitable for freelancers and businesses, this great course provides a mindset and framework for smart productivity measurement.

Are you really being productive?

Measuring productivity is often treated as a subjective discipline, when it should actually be objective. Start measuring your productivity today by setting goals for your professional or personal life that can easily be measured and monitored.

Then, come back to your goals at the end of each day, week, or month to see how close you’ve come to achieving them. When you switch from a vague mindset to a focused, action-oriented one, you’ll be surprised by how productive you become.