The difference between productivity and performance

Being an entrepreneur for 20 years, productivity was always always on the top of my KPIs list. I believed that being productive is a must-have ingredient for any achievement. You probably read a lot of posts and even books on how to manage your productivity, get shit done, keep yourself motivated, and do not burn out in the meantime.

Today I would like to share some of my findings on why productivity is overrated and how another KPI — performance — can be your guiding light in the world of never-ending tasks.

A torch of motivation

Everything we do starts with motivation. Some internal or external push, some inspiration, some idea that helps us to take the first step. Do you recall the feeling when you are starting something new, or doing something exciting? Time flies. You barely notice any weariness, and obstacles don’t stop you, you are at your maximum. But then, suddenly, motivation disappears and you find yourself in the middle of something that is not that exciting or interesting as it was.

Sounds familiar? I bet it does.

Motivation is a bitch. It shows you where you want to go. It gives you a glimpse of how great you will feel when you get there. It even paints a vibrant picture of the destination in your mind. But… it abandons you after the first turn.

Discipline eats motivation for breakfast

Any athlete will agree with this fact. Motivation doesn’t last, and when it disappears, you need something different. We call it discipline. This is a virtue that will accompany you when the motivation is long gone.

Imagine motivation as a rocket-fuel. It will easily lift you off the ground. But to keep you in the air you need somethings much slower burning. The discipline.

So, now we come to our main topic — productivity. I define productivity as one’s ability to sustain discipline in time. Productivity = Discipline X Time. The longer you can keep yourself disciplined, the more productive you are. But there is a trick… we are not robots. Sustaining discipline is boring. Boreness inevitably leads to a decrease in discipline, thus a drop in productivity. Wait, but why?

Productivity is dead.

Productivity is: having a plan; sticking to schedule; focusing on the thing at hand; tracking time; [put-your-definition-here]… All of these things are short-term. Just think of how do we measure productivity. In hours, lines of code, paragraphs, minutes of video, deals closed, emails sent, [put-your-KPI-here]… A vast majority of the GTD (Getting Things Done) techniques, task management apps, and services are focused on a short period. They work on a small scale.

The scale is Achilles’ heel of productivity. You can remain productive on a week’s level, sometimes even on a month’s level. But then, productivity as a KPI becomes obsolete and brings unnecessary confusion and stress. What should we monitor instead?

Long live the… Performace!

Remember, we all are running a marathon. At our own pace, with our own gear, though our own terrain. As we already agreed that productivity doesn’t work at scale, we need something different. And here comes the mighty “Performance.”

Performance is a much more suitable KPI to track our progress in the long run. Performance isn’t as volatile as productivity (because it isn’t tied that much to motivation and discipline). And of course, performance works perfectly at scale.

The magic of scale

Let me introduce an analogy here. Imagine managing your health. How healthy are you at the moment? How do you sustain your particular level of health? Do you brush your teeth twice a day? Do you workout?

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Another term you can use instead of “scale” is “perspective”.

We all understand that to keep ourselves healthy, we need to be disciplined and implement some routines. We should brush our teeth every day, go for a run twice a week, have a massage once a month, get our flu shot once a year, and perform a full medical check every five years. Do you see the magic of scale here?

To remain in perfect health you need to focus on different things on a different scale. Some of them are boring, some of them aren’t. Exactly the same concept works for performance and productivity.

Performance = Productivity X Scale. Where the scale is a particular focus in time. Depending on the scale, you should perform different actions to keep performing at your maximum. Here are some examples of scale and things you have to focus on:

  • Daily. Implement “Pomodoro” or other focusing techniques. Timeboxing techniques. Silent hours. Meditation & gratefulness practices. This is like brushing your teeth every day.
  • Weekly. Planning the most important things first. Reviewing last week’s results. Analyzing and eliminating time waste. Taking a break or time for yourself. This is like visiting a gym twice a week.
  • Monthly. Prioritize your projects and activities. Eliminate things you shouldn’t focus on. Learn something new; try new tools, meet new people. This is like a monthly visit to a masseur.
  • Quarterly. Refresh your annual goals. Cancel things that didn’t work out. Visit events. Update your reading list. This is like visiting a SPA.
  • Annual. Reviewing your life goals and beliefs. Taking a new challenge or project. Making investment decisions. Going off the grid. This is like getting your flu shot.
  • Every five years. Write down your findings. Define new personal development vectors. Research new fields. This is like a full medical check.

On each scale, you focus on different aspects to maximize your performance. You don’t need to question your goals every day or decide on what GTD technique you will use every year. Focus on things through the scale perspective.

Give it a try. It won’t take a lot of energy, but you will see that bad day won’t ruin your motivation so quickly, a bad week won’t affect your discipline so much, and a bad month won’t ruin your annual plans.

If you read so far, I say thank you, and wish you all the best my fellow high-performer 🙂