Productivity: is more better?

And, therefore, how much is enough to make us feel good?

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Productivity Maths…

As a former economist I can state, confidently, that productivity means getting more, or the same, for the same or fewer inputs.

But I also know if I ask you what would be helpful to talk about when it comes to productivity, as I did with yesterday’s group, most of you would give me an answer closer to the feeling of achievement. We know we want to do, but we also want it to feel good. We want to have an experience of constructive contribution, and participation in activities that feed our soul.

So far so obvious.

The sticky part comes when we try to connect those two variables; when we make assumptions (innocently) about what getting things done means about achievement, and how we think we are measuring up to some yardstick of our own, or someone else’s past or future performance.

The Feeling of ‘More’…

I asked the group whether more felt better and, I think, universally we all had some level of awareness or experience that ‘more’ is a trap-a dog chasing its tail, or an ever-increasing, never-reachable target.

We were all pretty confident, or at least we had a suspicion, that ‘more’ doesn’t always satisfy.

We wondered about less… what if we spent less time? Took things more slowly? But that didn’t feel quite right too — a kind of cop-out.

So then…

…How Much is Enough?

If more doesn’t satisfy, and ‘less’ feels like a cop-out, how much is enough? Is there a sweet spot?

What number, or event, answers the question, I’ll be happy when…

Well, this is another trap, of course.

The set-up of the question itself is leading you away from the thing you’re looking for, because the moment we start to define ‘enough’, or even consider that the question has an answer, is the moment we start the chase. The trapdoor has been lifted and we are a greyhound chasing a metaphorical rabbit.

What we don’t see is that any answer, no matter how large, how modest, how enlightened, or possessing of any other adjective that rabbit is, it only exists in the moment of the creative thought that conjured it up.

Let me put it another way…

…What if those two measures can’t be calibrated on the same scale, or even in the same plane, or even in the same paradigm? What if they have no relationship at all with each other?

There is an Answer, Though…

There is a different question, though, that I think gets closer to reconciling that productivity maths for you.

What if ‘enough’ is exactly how much you have now?

We sat with this as a group yesterday, and I know, for myself , it’s been a very powerful question.

I usually smile.

Of course, it’s an impossibility to have more, or less, than I have now, and bringing myself back to that fact usually reminds me to set aside the imaginary gymnastics of the greyhound track.

And, when I am free of my feeling of chasing, it’s much easier to bring myself back to the present, to the task, the question, or person in front of me.

Questions without answers can be the best kind, because they can open up a space for what really matters.

With love,


Cathy Presland

Here to help with leadership and impact. I have lots of free resources here, including regular free seminars, if you’d like to explore more deeply or join a conversation.

Originally published at on January 27, 2021.

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