After all, what is productivity and how does it relate to wellbeing?

World Productivity Day is celebrated on 20th June. This is a subject that many people talk about, but is not always consensual, or rather, does not have the same understanding for everyone. Perhaps you think that this is more a question for managers and economists, but if you consider that your productivity is always a measure of what you obtain in function of the effort and energy you dedicate to each thing, perhaps it will attract more attention. But go on and you will understand in a simple way what productivity is, how it relates to your quality of life and how to improve your productivity and well-being without becoming a machine or expending more effort than necessary.

“Life is divided between prose and poetry.

Prose is all the things we do out of obligation.

Poetry is everything that makes us love, communicate and flourish.”

Edgar Morin

What is productivity?

Productivity is a management and economic indicator that relates resources (time, people, cost, etc.) to the production of a certain result (money, products, among others). One person is more productive because he/she is faster than another or because he/she does the same as another for a lower salary. A company is more productive than another if it has the same turnover but fewer employees and a country is more productive than another if for the same GDP (gross domestic product, indicator of economic development) people work fewer hours on average than another with the same GDP. For example, Germany is a more productive country than the USA, why? Because in Germany, on average, you work eight hours a day while in the USA you work ten hours a day (according to what I heard in a conference by the late economist José da Silva Lopes).

Is quality of life directly related to productivity?

Numerous studies have linked the importance of quality of life in physical and psychological well-being with an impact on creativity, performance and, in particular, productivity.

In a 2014 study[1], the importance of quality of life at work (analysing various factors that influence working conditions) and quality of life (which encompasses everything from more immaterial factors, such as individual happiness and emotional satisfaction, to more tangible factors, such as material well-being) was highlighted. It was concluded that quality of life which includes lifestyle and conditions at work directly influence balance, physical and psychological well-being, commitment at work and productivity (which results from the relationship between effort and energy spent to obtain something or carry out an activity).

“A life without fun is a long road without rest.


How to improve productivity and quality of life?

Productivity is also a result of the amount of energy and effort you have to put in to achieve a certain result. If you have to work harder to achieve what someone else achieves with less effort then you are less productive, and more importantly, you may compromise not only your health but also your quality of life.

Quality of life, according to the World Health Organization (WHO ), is the difference between how you perceive your position in life in relation to what you aspire to given your goals, expectations, standards and concerns. Your quality of life is lower when your possibilities – according to talents, conditions, resources – are not in line with your expectations or aspirations. In other words, you could achieve more, but because you fall short you can become a companion to states of frustration, unease and/or demotivation.

What to do when you feel unproductive? 

Although a large part of individual and collective productivity depends on a set of government and corporate policies, as well as on the leaders and managers who impact on your work, it is worth paying attention to and, at least, preventing a set of occupational risks that damage your life and your health.

So, what should you do? Here are some suggestions. 

8 Tips to increase your productivity: 

The first four suggestions aim to respond to the greatest threats to productivity identified above and, in practice, are among the most cited strategies in various research studies for the prevention of burnout, an occupational disease identified by the WHO in 2019, and which results, among others, from continued overload, intensity and demands at work, often the result of disproportionate and unhealthy effort. Burnout results from prolonged professional stress at work, which produces mental and emotional exhaustion and is often responsible not only for absences from work, but also for being present only, without interest or motivation. The remaining suggestions can be found in my book “STOP – 50 Strategies for people without time” and are also aimed at increasing your quality of life.

1. Enjoy what you do or find meaning in your work.

If you do not find a purpose for your work you are unlikely to have optimal performance as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the psychologist who identified the flow experience, which is a mental state of total immersion and involvement in an activity associated with the experience of when someone feels happy and at the same time high performance or productivity, says.

2. Have balance between your personal, family and professional life.

Do not live to work, but work to live and do not forget your family and social life. One of the great risks of burnout is the absence of social life.

3. Have fun, cultivate humour in your life and laugh.

Madan Kataria, an Indian doctor, discovered that laughter without reason, or feigned laughter, in addition to causing well-being, is good for your health. This practice combines playful moments, breathing exercises and small movements that you can introduce into your daily life to relieve tension.

4. Have realistic goals and establish priorities.

Start by dedicating yourself to the most important and priority, distinguish the important from the urgent (what is urgent is rarely important). Start and finish each matter only once. Mental health and productivity professionals recommend the OHIO technique: Only Handle it Once. This is a fundamental rule for people who have concentration problems, but also for those who need to get organised.

5. Say NO to too many e-mails and communicate accurately.

Learn to manage your e-mail better by reducing the messages you receive and send. Use digital media and tools without passion (without losing sight of the fact that they are a tool for a particular purpose) and communicate directly, concisely and objectively.

6. Set limits.

Set schedules or how many hours you will dedicate to your work, so that your work is not omnipresent, either in your “out of work” time, thinking, tasks and/or in your e-mail messages, telephone, or in your Internet surfing, time with family and leisure.

7. Take breaks and have regular holidays.

Take advantage of breaks to do something different from what you were accomplishing. Take naps – short naps of just 15 to 20 minutes can increase personal performance and productivity, and are part of the circadian rhythm (24-hour cycle) of sleep. Take advantage of the holidays to do something different than usual, and thus invigorate yourself in activity or other forms of rest.

8. Practise a physical activity that you enjoy.

There are countless possibilities that allow you to re-establish a balance between mind and body, either through dance, yoga, gym, walking, pool, bicycle, among others.

Less is always more. 

Changing or acquiring a single habit is hard enough, so it will be more effective if you focus on one thing at a time rather than several at once.  Keep it regular and start with something. But, remember that your productivity does not increase if you increase your activities, if you complicate them, if you increase the time you dedicate to what you already do.

Your productivity increases if you focus on what is most important and learn to concentrate on priorities. Simplify what does not bring value neither to your work nor to your life. And to achieve more you need to learn to do, in many cases, less, especially if it does not add value either for you or for others. And for this… do not be afraid. Do less to achieve more! Lose your fear of going “beyond so as not to fall short”!

[1] Brouwer, W.B.F., Koopmanschap, M.A. and Rutten, F.F.H. (1997), Productivity Costs Measurement Through Quality of Life? A Response to the Recommendation of the Washington Panel. Health Econ., 6: 253-259. (Consultado em Junho 2021)


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