Personal Growth

How Productive Are You? This Research-Backed Quiz Can Shed Some Light

We live in a golden age of productivity hacks. You can, for instance, batch tasks instead of multitasking. You can follow the Arrow Method, and schedule your least pleasant tasks early in the week. You can make a don't-do list to complement your to-do list. But are all these tools really making you more productive? There's a quiz you can take to find out.

What Is (and Isn't) Productivity?

Let's back up for a second and talk about what productivity means. Every workplace uses different metrics to define it, but at the core, productivity is the rate at which you convert resources (including company money and your own time) into value (so, quality work). A highly productive person doesn't put in more hours than their coworkers; they put out more work in a normal workday.

As the saying (and hashtag) goes, productive people "work smarter, not harder."

Americans often confuse smart work and hard work, though — hence the infamous freelancing platform ad that equates hustle with not sleeping or eating lunch. An international Harvard Business Review survey of roughly 20,000 people recently found that North Americans work longer hours than people in other countries but get only average scores on productivity. Typical European, Asian, and Australian workers in the survey were all more productive.

Why? Well, according to Robert C. Pozen, the HBR survey's creator and a lecturer at MIT's Sloan School of Management, meh productivity usually has its roots in four basic pitfalls:

Aimlessness

A productive person devotes most of their time to essential projects, according to Pozen. When scheduling an appointment, Pozen advises jotting down the objective it serves in your calendar. If you can't think of one, reconsider going! He also recommends streamlining or delegating low-priority tasks.

Micromanaging

Micromanaging your employees means doing your job and theirs, which is several times a reasonable human workload. Productive people delegate everything they can and give their subordinates space to make (and learn from) mistakes.

Overscheduling

If you jam your schedule with so many meetings and projects that one bout of food poisoning could derail your entire career, you look productive — but you're actually setting yourself up for missing deadlines and important meetings. Pozen advises blocking out time for unforeseen crises and even more for thinking quietly. Sitting and thinking might look like doing nothing, but it fosters creativity!

Email

Spend your days reading and responding to email the moment it arrives and you'll achieve inbox zero at a terrible price. Most emails don't merit a read, let alone a reply. Pozen recommends checking email every hour and replying sparingly.

The Quiz

So — how productive are you? Pozen's productivity assessment consists of 21 statements about subjects like meetings, email, daily routines, and procrastination.

You'll respond to each statement — for instance, "Do you prepare for the next business day by reviewing your calendar the night before?" — with one of three responses: "Mostly," "Sometimes," or "Rarely." (Pozen's focus is habitual work patterns, which are constantly in flux, so "Always" or "Never" aren't options.)

When you complete the assessment, you'll receive a numerical productivity score, out of a maximum possible score is 105. Whatever your score, though, you can always work to improve and maintain your productivity. To make sure you're not slipping, Pozen recommends taking his assessment every year.

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Get a boost on your productivity with "The Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and Energy" by Chris Bailey. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Mae Rice April 26, 2019

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