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What Is Productivity?

There's only so much time in a day, a year, or a life. Productivity generally refers to the ability of an individual, team, or organization to work efficiently within that time in order to maximize output.

High productivity results from a mix of factors: motivation, personality, natural talent, training or education, environment, support from others, time management, and even luck. Physical elements also play a role in fostering productivity: Exercise, healthy eating, and sufficient sleep can boost efficiency both in the short- and long-term. Some people seem to be natural super-producers; others struggle to become more productive and may look to daily exercises and better habits to help them get things done.

An individual's productivity hinges on mental energy and a sense of internal and external motivation. It often emerges naturally from work that they find inherently meaningful or valuable. And while not everything one must do each day can hold deep personal meaning, researchers find that maintaining a focus on a larger long-term goal can help activate the drive and energy to push through more tedious day-to-day tasks.

Unfortunately, there are countless ways for productivity to be derailed. For example, it takes time for the brain to disengage from one set of tasks and to commit to another, so switching between many tasks at once will slow overall productivity. Technology poses an endless supply of immediate distractions as well; avoiding them as much as possible should help fuel productivity.

What Makes People Productive

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There is no magic formula for productivity. But decades of research suggest that some people are better able to execute and be productive than others and that personality, motivation, and emotions all play a key role in how well someone is able to get things done. While some factors that drive productivity, like personality, aren’t always easy to change, those who feel naturally less productive need not despair. Anyone can take steps to increase their productivity, identify hacks and techniques that work for them, and overcome obstacles to productivity that may be in their path.

What motivates people to be productive?

In humans, the drive for productivity tends to be motivated by a set of overlapping natural desires. These include a desire to contribute to a group, a desire to be challenged and mentally stimulated, and a desire to fulfill basic needs such as food, shelter, and safety. Such desires could motivate someone to complete a project at work, clean the house, make dinner for loved ones, or engage in any other necessary task.

Beyond these basic needs, productive pursuits are also driven by identity and emotions; people may be motivated to complete a difficult project because it will grant social status, for instance, or because they will feel pride afterward. The desire to be perceived by others as a productive person—a highly valued trait in many cultures—may also motivate someone to get things done, even if they aren’t technically necessary for survival.

Why are some people more productive than others?

Individual differences in personality likely play a major role in how productive someone is able to be. Individuals who are higher in conscientiousness, for example, tend to be more organized, attentive to detail, and goal-directed than those who are lower in the trait, which often translates to higher productivity. Individuals who are better able to delay gratification may also be more productive than those who tend to pursue immediate rewards. External factors—such as support from others, educational attainment, and environment—can also influence an individual to be more or less productive.

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