The Difference Between Productivity and Meaningful Work 

Do you ever feel like you’re just going through the motions at work? That you’re productive, but not doing anything meaningful? If so, you’re not alone. A lot of people feel disenchanted with their jobs when they find their work personally meaningless. Although they’re being productive, they don’t feel like they’re making a difference in the world. Before you jump ship and start looking for a new job, keep reading. In this blog post, we’ll discuss the difference between productivity and meaningful work, and how you can easily obtain both. 

What is the difference between productivity and meaningful work? 

Understanding the difference between productivity and meaningful work will help you pinpoint what is missing in your own work situation. 

What is productivity? 

Productivity is the amount of work you can do in a certain amount of time. Productivity matters in the workplace because it is easy to measure- you look at the number of tasks you complete in a certain amount of time. The more you get done, the more productive you are. Productivity is often used as a measure of efficiency during performance reviews. We all feel the pressure to be productive. Although productivity effectively motivates us in the short-term, it doesn’t usually sustain us in the long run.  

The Danger of Productivity Alone 

While the desire to be productive is admirable, none of us are indispensable production factories. Focusing solely on productivity will lead to burnout and dissatisfaction at work. 

Working productively toward something meaningful, on the other hand, comes with numerous business benefits. Personally meaningful jobs will retain talented workers, provide a productivity boost, increase motivation, and job satisfaction. 

What is meaningful work? 

Meaningful work is work that has a purpose or value beyond simply completing a task. This is much harder to measure because meaningful work focuses more on how the job makes you feel and the impact your work has on the world. Meaningful work can be both productive and non-productive. 

For example, a doctor may save lives through their work, but they may also spend time talking to patients and providing support that doesn’t directly lead to a cure. Similarly, a teacher may prepare students for the future, but they may also create an environment where students feel safe and supported. 

Why Meaning Matters 

Participating in meaningful work gives us a sense of purpose and helps us feel like we’re making a difference in the world. According to Viktor Frankl’s formula to experience a life of meaning, we all need to: 

  1. Create or accomplish something.  
  1. Be involved in something greater than ourselves. 
  1. Accept suffering as a part of life and use our experiences to create meaning.  

If you want to be more engaged at work, or are striving to improve employee engagement, connecting your work to a greater meaning is crucial. 

Can you have both productivity and meaningful work? 

It is possible to be both productive and do meaningful work, but it is a challenge that requires balance and intention. 

If you focus too much on productivity, you may find yourself completing tasks that aren’t moving you toward a meaningful goal. Alternatively, if you focus solely on meaning, you may not get anything done at all! The key is to find a middle ground where you are doing work that is both productive and meaningful. 

How to be Productive While Doing Meaningful Work 

In Donald Miller’s book, Hero on a Mission, he outlines a structure that we can all use to live a life of consistent meaning, both at home and at work. To do this, he encourages readers to live life as heroes on a mission by living with the end in mind.  

Miller challenges readers to write, and regularly read, their eulogies. This practice serves as a filter for your day. By living each day focused on the legacy you want to leave, you are more likely to make decisions that align with that goal instead of just focusing on getting things done. You can find guiding questions to write your eulogy in Hero on a Mission. The book also comes with a free “Hero on a Mission Daily Life Planner” template which includes tools to help you live a life of meaning and be productive at the same time.   

As Miller says “heroes on a mission get things done”. Once you’ve defined the legacy you want to leave, it is time to get to work. The planner provides sheets to outline your ten-year, five-year, and one-year visions. You then take those visions and break them down into smaller goals. 

Each day, you choose three primary tasks, or important tasks you will complete, to move toward the vision you have laid out. You will also make a list of secondary tasks which are the small, menial to-do list items that need to get done but have nothing to do with your end goal. 

Miller reads these planning sheets and fills out his daily planner each morning. He has done this for over ten years and attributes this morning routine to increased productivity and a greater sense of meaning and purpose. You can use the book and planner to do the same for yourself and your business. 

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