Productivity Reimagined: Shifting from Time Spent to Outcomes Achieved

Productivity Reimagined: Shifting from Time Spent to Outcomes Achieved
Photo by Ahmad Ossayli / Unsplash

In today's dynamic work culture, a common belief distorts our perception of productivity: equating time spent working with productivity. But is this a fair and practical measure?

The Fallacy of Face Time

"Face time", the amount of time an employee is visibly working during regular business hours or beyond, is often viewed as a productivity metric. However, this perspective is fundamentally flawed and inappropriate for today's work environment. A study by the University of California and the University of North Carolina [1] found that managers often perceive employees who spend more time at their desks or work longer hours as more "engaged" and "dedicated.

This practice is particularly outdated in today's distributed work culture, where physical visibility is an outdated concept. The idea that hours worked equals productivity is a relic of the industrial age. Over time, it has created an unhealthy incentive structure in which faster workers who complete tasks in shorter time frames are perceived as less committed than slower workers who put in more hours. It inadvertently fosters a culture where individuals stay busy to maintain the illusion of productivity.

Shifting the focus: From Hours Spent to Meaningful Results

For a more effective, meaningful understanding of productivity, the focus must shift from time spent to results achieved. Here are five key strategies for making this shift:

  1. Rethink meetings: The culture of endless meetings needs to be critically examined. Many meetings have unclear goals and seem to serve only as time-fillers. Always establish a clear purpose for each meeting and consider whether there are more efficient ways to achieve the desired results. Email updates, collaborative digital tools, or short stand-up meetings can often be more productive alternatives.

  2. Set clear and focused goals: A lack of goal clarity can lead to time wasted on irrelevant tasks. Using frameworks such as SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound)[2] and PACT (Purposeful, Actionable, Collaborative, Trackable)[3] can help set clear, purposeful goals that keep everyone focused and aligned.

  3. Minimize repetitive tasks: Repetitive tasks are often time-consuming and do little to achieve important goals. Identify such tasks and explore ways to automate, simplify or outsource them. This can free up a significant amount of time for more meaningful, productive work.

  4. Apply the Pareto Principle: According to the Pareto Principle[4], or the 80/20 rule, it is useful to identify and focus on the 20% of tasks that produce 80% of the results. This approach helps prioritize tasks and focus energy and resources on what really matters and will have the greatest impact.

  5. Be a steward of your time: Be mindful and intentional about how you spend your time. Plan it wisely, focusing on the critical tasks that align with your goals and make a meaningful contribution to achieving them.

Productivity reimagined isn't just about increasing efficiency - it's about fostering a work culture that values impact over hours and results over appearances. The clock shouldn't dictate our productivity; instead, every moment should count toward our goals. Remember, in the age of results-driven productivity, it's not about working longer, it's about working smarter.

  1. Elsbach, K. D., Cable, D. M., & Sherman, J. W. (2010). How passive ‘face time’ affects perceptions of employees: Evidence of spontaneous trait inference. Human Relations, 63(6), 735–760. ↩︎

  2. Peter F. Drucker: People and Performance: The Best of Peter Drucker on Management. Harper’s College Press, New York 1977 ↩︎

  3. What are PACT Goals? The Lesser-Known Technique To Set Smarter Goals ↩︎

  4. Pareto, Vilfredo, Cours d'Économie Politique: Nouvelle édition par G.-H. Bousquet et G. Busino, Librairie Droz, Geneva, 1964. ↩︎