What is productivity? Definition and steps to improve

By Elle Holder

9 min read

What is productivity? Definition and steps to improve
Illustration by Maya Ramadhina

magine a business that was unproductive. For example, what if Samsung, Apple, or Google decided that what they’d already created was good enough, and they stopped innovating?

Today’s business landscape is dynamic and competitive, so it could be said that productivity is the foundation — or at least a cornerstone — of a company’s success. It’s a key driver that propels an organization toward achieving its goals and maintaining a competitive edge.

Productivity is often expressed as the ratio to output input or, in a broader sense, it reflects the ability of individuals and organizations to generate desirable outcomes with whatever resources are available.

Productivity is not just about efficiency — it encompasses the effective use of resources, time management, and even the ability to adapt to changing demands and circumstances. In today’s fast-paced environment, where every minute counts, understanding and prioritizing productivity isn’t just a choice. It’s a necessity for businesses that are aiming to do more than just survive, businesses that also want to thrive and excel. 

As you may have guessed, productivity doesn’t just happen. There are several key elements that contribute to it. To name a few:

  • Efficient processes
  • Technology and automation
  • Time management
  • Goal setting

Let’s dig a little deeper.

Benefits of being productive

We’ve already established that productivity is key to the success of an organization, but let’s get a little granular as we look at some of the benefits.

Increased efficiency and time management

Enhancing productivity involves optimizing processes and the effective use of all available resources. When individuals and organizations focus on efficiency, they can streamline workflows, reduce unnecessary tasks, and prioritize activities that contribute most to their objectives.

Effective time management ensures that each task is approached with purpose, which minimizes procrastination and distractions. By cultivating a culture of efficiency, both organizations and individual employees can maximize their output without compromising the quality of their work.

Accomplishing more in less time

One fundamental advantage of productivity is the capacity to achieve more within a given timeframe. When you eliminate time-wasting activities and employ strategic planning, individuals are able to tackle a higher volume of tasks without sacrificing the quality of their output. This not only enhances individual performance but, in the end, it also contributes to the overall success of your organization.

The ability to accomplish more in less time means being able to meet deadlines, exceed expectations, and overall, helps the organization stay ahead of the game in today’s competitive business world.

Reduced stress and improved work-life balance

If you think that productivity is just about output, it’s not. It also has a significant impact on the well-being of individuals and teams. When you efficiently manage tasks and responsibilities, it leads to reduced stress levels as deadlines become more manageable, and workloads are more evenly distributed. 

Productivity can also lead to a healthy work-life balance by allowing individuals to complete their tasks efficiently, leaving time for personal pursuits and relaxation. If you can strike this balance, it will contribute to increased job satisfaction and possibly even better mental health.

Factors affecting productivity

Achieving optimal productivity is going to be contingent upon an organization’s ability to master a set of factors that influence how efficiently they operate. If you can master these, you can lay the groundwork for improved productivity and ensure that everyone’s time is utilized effectively, and that goals are achieved with minimum efficiency.

Let’s look at three specific areas:

Time management techniques and strategies:

  • Effective planning: Structured planning allows for the allocation of time for specific tasks and projects
  • Task prioritization: Identifying and prioritizing tasks that are based on urgency and importance will ensure that the most critical activities are addressed first
  • Time blocking: Allocating specific time blocks for particular activities will help maintain focus and prevent tasks from spilling over into each other
  • Prioritization and goal setting:
    • Clear goal definition: Establishing clear and achievable goals provides a sense of direction for tasks and projects
    • Priority assessment: Regularly assessing priorities ensures that efforts are concentrated on high-impact tasks that align with overall objectives
    • Flexibility and goals: Being adaptable to changing circumstances allows for adjustments in priorities without compromising the overall goal 
  • Minimizing distractions and improving focus:
    • Environment management: Creating a conducive work environment minimizes external disruptions, leading to better focus and concentration
    • Digital detox: Limiting unnecessary digital interactions and notifications reduces interruptions, allowing for sustained concentration
    • Task batching: Grouping similar tasks together helps minimize context switching, which enhances efficiency and focus

Bring your people together

Strategies to improve productivity

If you’re seeking to enhance productivity in your organization, you’ll need to focus on three separate things — the personal habits of your staff, their surrounding work environment, and their motivation and mindset.  Let’s look at some effective strategies that should be considered in each area.

  • Personal habits:
    • Establish a morning routine: Try to structure the start of each day with a consistent routine that sets a positive tone and prepares everyone’s mind for focused work. If possible, this could include activities like exercise, meditation, or goal-setting — anything that enhances mental clarity and energy levels. Establishing a well-defined morning routine fosters a sense of control and purpose.
    • Utilize productivity tools and apps: Incorporating digital tools and apps will streamline tasks and improve overall organization. Consider things like calendar apps, task management and collaboration tools, and more. Anything that can enhance efficiency and help manage deadlines. Set a goal to regularly explore and adopt new productivity tools as this will help keep workflows current and optimized. 
    • Practice effective time blocking: Allocating specific time blocks for different tasks minimizes multitasking and improves concentration. When you set boundaries for designated work and breaks, productivity is enhanced. And when you adjust time blocks based on energy levels and task complexity, it optimizes daily schedules.
  • Work environment:
    • Organize workspace for optimal productivity: When you declutter and organize your workspace it reduces distractions and promotes a clear mind. Additionally, arranging essential tools and materials within easy reach helps to minimize disruptions during tasks. Try to implement a minimalist approach to desk layout as this enhances visual focus and efficiency.
    • Create a conducive work atmosphere: When you establish a positive and collaborative workplace culture, you’re fostering motivation and engagement. When you encourage open communication and mutual support it enhances team dynamics. Where possible, consider integrating elements like natural light, plants, and comfortable seating all of which contribute to a pleasant atmosphere.
    • Implement ergonomic practices: Ensure desk setups and seating are ergonomic, as this reduces the risk of physical strain and fatigue and ultimately aligns with long-term health and productivity goals. Encourage regular breaks and stretching, as this contributes to overall well-being and sustained productivity.
  • Mindset and motivation
    • Cultivate a growth mindset: When faced with a challenge, embrace it as an opportunity for growth. This will help foster resilience and adaptability. Additionally, when failures are viewed as learning experiences, it can contribute to continuous improvement. Always encourage a culture that values effort and perseverance — it will enhance team morale.
    • Set realistic expectations and avoid perfectionism: When you establish achievable goals it promotes a sense of accomplishment and prevents burnout. Be quick to acknowledge that perfectionism is unattainable, and it will allow for more realistic and sustainable work standards. When you balance high standards with flexibility it encourages creativity and innovation.
    • Find intrinsic and extrinsic motivation: Always align tasks with personal values and interests, as this enhances intrinsic motivation. Be quick to recognize and celebrate achievements, both big and small, as a way of providing extrinsic motivation. When you create a sense of purpose within your organization it fosters sustained enthusiasm and dedication.

Overcoming productivity challenges

It shouldn’t be surprising that productivity challenges are an inevitable part of professional life. However, the ability to overcome them is critical for any company aiming for sustained success.

Let’s explore a few strategies to help overcome these obstacles:

Deal with procrastination

Procrastination will hinder productivity and eventually lead to unnecessary stress. Tackling procrastination involves understanding its root causes, whether it stems from fear, lack of motivation, or simply being overwhelmed.

Implementing strategies such as breaking tasks into smaller, more manageable steps, setting clear deadlines, and utilizing productivity techniques like the Pomodoro technique can help overcome procrastination. Additionally, strive for a positive and self-compassionate mindset — a mindset that can create a more conducive environment for taking proactive steps and avoiding the pitfalls of procrastination.

Manage stress and burnout

Stress and burnout can significantly impede productivity and overall well-being. Managing these challenges will often require a holistic approach that addresses both physical and mental aspects.

Implement stress reduction techniques, such as mindfulness, meditation, and regular physical exercise, as these can contribute to a healthier mindset. Establishing realistic workloads and setting clear boundaries between work and personal life are also important when it comes to preventing burnout. Watch for early signs of burnout, such as fatigue and diminished enthusiasm, and allow individuals to take proactive steps, such as taking breaks or seeking support.

Seek help and delegate tasks when necessary

Recognizing limitations and knowing when to seek help is a key element in overcoming productivity challenges. Employees should feel empowered to delegate tasks to colleagues or team members when their workload becomes overwhelming or when others possess the expertise needed for a specific assignment. Effective delegation involves clear communication, trust-building, and understanding the strengths of everyone on the team.

By distributing responsibilities appropriately, employees can focus on their core competencies, reduce stress, and build a collaborative and productive work environment. Seeking help not only helps lighten individual burdens but also contributes to the collective success of the team.

Tracking and assessing productivity

For any organization pursuing optimal productivity, tracking and assessing performance are extremely important. It involves using a strategic approach to understand current efficiency levels, reflect on progress, and ultimately make informed adjustments.

Here are three key practices to help track and assess productivity:

Use productivity metrics and indicators

Productivity metrics serve as a quantifiable measure that helps to provide insight into various aspects of performance. These could include key performance indicators (KPIs), project completion rates, and time management metrics. When you leverage these indicators, individuals and organizations are able to gain a comprehensive understanding of their strengths as well as areas where they need to improve.

Regularly monitoring productivity metrics facilitates data-driven decision-making, and it enables the refinement of strategies that could help better align with organizational goals. It serves as a valuable tool to help identify trends, track performance over time, and make proactive adjustments for sustained improvement.

Reflect on progress in making adjustments

Reflection can be a powerful tool for personal and professional growth. Regularly assessing one’s progress involves introspection and an honest evaluation of accomplishments and challenges. This process can help individuals identify patterns, recognize successful strategies, and even pinpoint areas that need improvement.

Making adjustments based on these reflections is necessary for adaptive productivity. Whether it involves refining time management techniques, optimizing workflows, or reallocating resources, the ability to adapt and evolve is an attribute of a productive and resilient individual or organization. 

Evaluate the effectiveness of productivity strategies

Not every productivity strategy will yield equal results, and their effectiveness may vary based on context and individual preferences. Evaluating the impact of implemented strategies involves gauging their influence on overall efficiency and goal attainment. This assessment considers factors such as employee feedback, project outcomes, and the alignment of strategies with the organization’s mission.

A continuous feedback loop ensures that productivity strategies remain dynamic and responsive to changing needs. This process of evaluation refinement is essential for sustaining a culture of productivity that evolves with the ever-changing demands of the workplace.


Optimizing productivity in the workplace involves a multifaceted approach that encompasses personal habits, work environment, mindset, effective strategies, and the ability to identify and overcome challenges.

By establishing strong personal habits, individuals can enhance efficiency through routines, utilize productivity tools, and implement effective time management techniques. For leaders, building a conducive work environment involves organizing workspaces and fostering a positive atmosphere.

Implementing productivity strategies is a great first step, but remember that the path to enhanced efficiency and achievement is a gradual process. Small changes can lead to significant outcomes over time. Take the time to refine your routines and experiment with new tools. Commitment to productivity is an investment in your organizational success and well-being. Stay motivated, celebrate your progress, and know that each proactive step you take brings you closer to a more productive and fulfilling work life.

Finally, productivity weaves together efficiency, achievement, and fulfillment, and it’s far more important than mere output. Think of it as a journey of continuous improvement, where every step forward reflects everyone’s commitment to realizing their full potential. Productivity can transform not just the way you work, but the outcomes you achieve.


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Elle Holder

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