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Workplace Productivity:
What It Is and How to Measure It

Measuring and improving workplace productivity has been one of the biggest concerns for managers since the beginning of the twentieth century. The famous “If you can measure it, you can manage it” cliché implies that a simple number is enough for a manager to understand the trends and dynamics of their team’s output and take steps to improve it. This approach may have made sense back then – but it seems to have become obsolete in today’s world.

It’s easy enough to count how many drinks a barista serves per hour or per day, but how do go about measuring a designer’s or a software developer’s workplace productivity? That’s the question that’s been puzzling managers and productivity experts the world over. Hours spent, goals achieved, revenue gained drawn – it seems like every possible index is taken into account when trying to calculate work efficiency.

So What Is Workplace Productivity?

The classic productivity formula is very simple:

Productivity = output ÷ input

And while there definitely are cases where it may be helpful, at the end of the day it’s just a number. It can tell you that there is room for improvement, sure. But it won’t tell where or how you should go about it. And I think we can all agree that pure data is useless without practical application.

You can run numbers and build complicated KPI charts all day long. But it will take you nowhere unless you have a good understanding of what lies between input and output. You need to have a solid idea as to what changes you’re going to introduce based on all those numbers if want them to have a real impact on your team’s productivity. And that’s the hardest part.

Measuring and Improving Team Productivity

Team productivity is where quantitative indexes are still pretty prevalent. Weekly, monthly, quarterly reports, statistical data, balance figures – all collected, compared, and analyzed to determine the level of productivity and efficiency of a given team.

The key objective here is to establish input and output. What is the best metric that represents the result of teamwork? The number of tasks accomplished, revenue gained, or new customers acquired? It all depends on your company’s profile, and the goals your team is trying to achieve. The general practice is using the number of successfully accomplished tasks as a measure of team’s work output.

With input, on the other hand, things are a bit more straightforward. It’s usually time, with results evaluated against specific periods: weeks, months, years, etc. Which is why keeping track of it is such a crucial element if want your productivity analysis to be accurate. Knowing how much time your team spends on specific projects or individual tasks not only helps you see their performance overall, but also identify any problematic areas, and spot any trends before they get a chance to leave a major negative impact on the company.

  • Break down larger projects into smaller, more actionable tasks. Having a large project with a strict deadline hanging around your team’s collective neck is overwhelming and intimidating. Breaking it up into smaller and more manageable tasks motivates people to take action and shows clear progress.
  • Help your team prioritize. As their list of tasks grows, it becomes difficult for employees to concentrate. Be sure to constantly communicate the top priorities to your team and direct them to the tasks that actually drive value at your company. That way they will always know what to focus on and spend their time on what’s actually important.
  • Discourage multitasking and overtime. When people feel really invested in a project or a task that they’re working on, they can be tempted to go a bit overboard with their commitment. Doing multiple things at the same time or working longer hours only leads to wasted time and stress respectively. And perhaps ironically, it also results in reduced productivity.
  • Encourage collaboration by fostering positive company culture. Employees tend to feel a lot more positive and happy about their work when they’re surrounded by positive and happy people. And when they know one another, they feel more comfortable about collaborating and sharing ideas with their teammates. Which in turn leads to better and faster results for the company.

Measuring and Improving Individual Productivity

As for individual productivity, there seems to be a bit more room for qualitative evaluation. Mostly because personal input is a lot easier to assess in quality terms. If you ever filled out a customer feedback form, you’ll probably remember how it asked you to name a specific employee.

And again, time is the primary type of input when evaluating individual productivity as well. It’s a precious and non-renewable resource, so keeping an eye on where you spend it is truly vital. You may not realize just how much of your time goes wasted on routine and non-essential tasks and distractions every day. Time that could instead be invested into more important projects.

So what can you do to improve your personal workplace productivity? Well, in addition to getting better at time management, there are quite a few other great techniques to help you do more in less time:

  • Work smarter. Keep track of your progress on a project in a visual format and update it as you complete tasks to keep yourself motivated. Take regular breaks to rest and recharge in between intense work sessions. When feeling truly stumped, take some time off and tackle the task again the next day with renewed energy.
  • Start your day with the most important thing. By making a habit out of tackling the most important tasks during the first half of the day, while your mental energy is at its peak, you greatly increase your chances of making actual meaningful progress.
  • When stuck, kick yourself back into gear with smaller tasks. If you’re struggling with a particularly challenging or large task, pick a few smaller ones that you know you can complete. Use that positive momentum to keep your productivity snowball rolling.
  • Stop chasing perfection. Try to be more realistic about your goals and standards. Working on a task for days in an effort to deliver the best possible result (instead of delivering any result) is counterproductive in the extreme. If the work you’ve done checks all the boxes, then it’s good enough, and you can move on to whatever’s next on your list.

Measuring workplace productivity is a tricky task, especially when it comes to workers in knowledge heavy fields. And while data and stats do matter, it’s important to remember that they mean very little in of themselves. Without meaningful and concentrated effort on your part they will remain just numbers. To improve productivity, you need to take actual steps. And taking control of your time expenses, along with some of our other suggested strategies should be enough to set you on the right path.

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