For the past week we’ve tweeted about it, shared tips about it on Facebook and even convinced Cpl staff to compete against one another in a challenge centred around it. But what exactly does productivity mean?

Is it how fast you respond to an email? Clocking longer hours than your boss? Or is it working through lunch and never taking a break? Fifty years ago the answer would have been yes to all three. Productivity has never been a concept much understood by companies but the current pace of change in the workplace is forcing an evolution of the tired notion of a 60 hour week being seen as a cornerstone of productivity.

It’s not about working longer hours

For most people it’s simple: work longer hours, get more done. But this is a futile mantra to live by. Research continues to prove that working longer hours is only a waste of time. A 2014 study carried out by Dr. John Pencavel of Stanford University found that there was no direct relationship between working longer hours and increased output. Whether you work a 56 hour week or a 70 hour week, it makes no difference. Those extra 16 hours? Pointless.

Over 60% of Irish employees work longer than their contracted hours. Combine this with an inability to switch off when we finally do push in that office chair for the evening and you have the perfect recipe for burnout. Whether it’s ticking off your to-do list on the train or updating the work blog on the bus – we’ve all done it, and technology makes it so much easier. We just can’t let go. Our workload is increasing, and we are struggling to keep pace. And when it comes to delegation we have serious only child syndrome – we won’t share the workload, don’t make us.

It’s about working smarter, not harder

What we need to understand is that it’s not only what you do and how you do it, it’s also about making sure you make time not to do anything at all. Book your annual leave, take regular breaks, don’t answer that email and please, for the love of god, go home on time. Treehouse is an organisation that understands what it means to be productive. They discourage working at weekends and get all their work done in 4 days. If you take any longer then you are not maximising your time. You are even classed as unproductive. For them it’s about working smarter, not working harder.

That right there, is productivity in a nutshell.

And companies are starting to agree

Knowledge workers are a growing sector of the economy – a workforce whose output is ideas. With a changing workforce comes a changing workplace. Companies are focusing less on trying to measure productivity and investing more in creating environments that facilitate results. After all how do you measure ideas?

It’s not that they are no longer concerned with results, they just trust that the staff will get it done, and make it as easy as possible for them to do so. For example, by offering places for more effective breaks – from nap rooms to ball pits. The goal is to create an energising culture where staff have freedom to carry out their tasks however they please. The result? Motivated, engaged staff and increased productivity.

Productivity is very individual. Understanding it means understanding your work habits and recognising that we all have peaks and troughs. Work with those highs and don’t kick yourself on the bad days. We need to change how we work – delegate, make the most of the time we do have, be realistic about what tasks you can achieve and let yourself watch that duck army video a few more times.

Watch the ‘Cpl Productivity Challenge’