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The traditional productivity analysis consists in comparing output over time in given periods of time. For instance if I make 5 pizzas in 15 minutes it's easy to tell when I improved by either raising the amount of pizzas, reducing the alloted time or both. The same doesn't apply to writing, painting or studying considering the output in this case does not use the same standard.

That said, what are some alternative methods to the traditional output/time?

Famous alternatives examples: pomodoro technique, gamification. Feel free to expand them in answers.

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I like to think about this way: You have a mental model that shapes your observance and with it your action plan. If your mental model is good, than the actions you take (what to write, paint or concentrate on for study) have more leverage. But I think that you do not want to hear something like that as answer :) –  hellectronic May 9 '12 at 11:53
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3 Answers

By definition productivity is measured by calculating the total output per unit of total input. What exactly you take as "input" and "output" entirely depends on your goals and what you think is important.

For example, many countries use Gross National Product or Gross Domestic Product as a productivity measure. However, there is one country (Bhutan) that thinks happiness is more important than money so they decided to measure Gross National Happiness instead.

Of course, you'll need to come up with a way to quantify your inputs and outputs. Here creativity also plays an important role.

For example, if your goal is to write good books then you need to quantify "good". One way to do this is to let a group of people read and rate your books, but you can think of many other ways; count the number of sold books, count the revenue of the sold books, see if your books make it on the best-seller lists, position on best-seller lists, number of positive versus negative reviews, etc.

My point is, the list of possible input/output used in productivity calculations is endless. If you think something is important and you can find a way to quantify it, then it can be used to measure productivity. This being said, you can say something about often used inputs and outputs. Many people have similar goals so often-used input/outputs are:

  1. Money
  2. Raw materials
  3. Energy
  4. Quality

(5. Reputation points on SE sites ;-)

One thing that is constant is time. Since a productivity measure is used to compare one situation with another (else why bother measuring it?), time has to be included somehow in the calculation. Without time there wouldn't be situations to compare.

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Thxs for sharing Gross National Happines, hadn't heard of it but like it a lot! –  Christofer Eliasson May 10 '12 at 15:04
    
You mentioned "the list of possible input/output (...) is endless". I'm looking for at least one of them. GDP calculates what's been produced during a given year which is basically output/time. GNH is not very different as it compares surveys results. –  Renan May 10 '12 at 18:53
    
@Renan If you look really close to it, all productivity measures are based on input/output and time. Without time you can't compare productivity measures. Only what you consider as input and output will vary, as well as the methods to quantify things. I've revised my answer a bit to make this point more clearly –  THelper May 11 '12 at 7:52
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It's really difficult to quantify productivity. If you did something faster today, it could be because of billions of reasons other than improved productivity. The problem is that you never can find a control group. One way to measure is to trust your gut feeling. If you genuinely are getting better, i don't want to go all yoda on you but, you'll know. Another method would be to somehow form a control group, if for instance you want to improve your rate of studying. Get 50 similar passages, read 25 now. Then., go on a productivity improvement spree for whatever time and read the rest. Test yourself for retention, comprehension, joy of learning etc.

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"Trusting your gut" sounds a lot like testing the water temperature with your bare hands. You feel it's hot if your hands are colder than the water, you feel it's cold when your hands are hotter. I'm looking for the equivalent of a thermometer in this analogy. The role of standardized formulas is, in my opinion, to measure more objectively. –  Renan May 10 '12 at 18:57
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The Pomodoro Technique consists basically in working continuously in blocks of time, which are usually predetermined in 25 minutes. After the first three blocks of time, named pomodoros, there is a mandatory break of 5 minutes. Finally, after the last pomodoro a longer break is scheduled ranging from 15-20 minutes.

Considering long interruptions can null an entire pomodoro, this method is accounting for how many 'focused effort' were invested in an activity. It is thus specifically designed to handle activities that causes anxiety for not having a precise end. For example: you know when you're done writing an article but it's nearly impossible to estimate beforehand how many pages or how many hours have to be spent in that task. The Pomodoro Technique provides the instructions to begin right now.

Over time, the constant estimation feedback - which is guessing how many pomodoros are going to be spent in each task and the actual spent pomodoros - builds a personal estimation database that can be used to enhance time organization.

This method measures the alotted time reserved in consistently trying to finish a task, instead of quantifying how much of a standard unit was produced in a given time.

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I don't think the Pomodoro technique itself is a productivity measure. If you count the number of Pomodoro's for a task that is a productivity measure, but since a Pomodoro stands for a particular time interval it's basically just a way of reframing your "traditional output/time" –  THelper May 11 '12 at 7:41
    
Counting the number of pomodoros is indeed following the tradicional output/time but that was never mentioned in this answer. This technique is not designed to measure any kind of output but organize it's efficiency by managing the intervals. The output in this case is the mere conclusion of a task which can't be compared to another task. –  Renan May 14 '12 at 20:45
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