Ugh, that word: “Productivity.”

I’m sick of it in so many ways, and yet it is still so very useful. It has been used in so many scenarios to mean so many things.

Some hospitals, for instance, measure their staff through “productivity units”. The more you do of X, Y, or Z, the more productivity you have achieved. And of course, market forces ratchet that number up, often to the detriment of staff, patients, and hospital alike. The immeasurable things that are meaningful–the interactions, the ability to be present, and the actual listening–are all crushed under the weight of the perverted word.

We might blame money, but money has its nature. It does what it does, much like the scorpion riding the frog’s back across the river.

What’s important is recognizing where we lose touch with the meaning of the word.

It reminds me of Goodhart’s Law:

“When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”[^1]

Still, that word ”productivity” can hold meaning. But, we do better to ask ourselves, what is meaningful productivity?

“Meaning” itself is about a depth and breadth of connection, conscious and unconscious. It carries a living sense of importance, both individually and societally.

We can see where we lose our grip on it individually when, for example, we mark the task “Exercise” complete though we didn’t do it. We can see its loss societally in the example I described above.

But could there be a measure that doesn’t lose meaning? Is it that meaning here must be undefinable?

So my question to you is,

What does meaningful productivity mean to you? How would you measure it?