Being Productive: Dissecting the Productivity Formula

In Deep Work, there is an interesting formula for productivity. Here it is:

Work Accomplished = Time Spent x Intensity

You can see here that your productivity depends on two factors: time spent and intensity. The more time you spend on a task and the more intense you are, the more you will get done.

Let’s now dissect this formula.

First of all, it’s clear that you need both quantity and quality of time to get things done. Time spent represents quantity while intensity represents quality. You need both of them to be productive. To put the formula another way:

Productivity = Quantity (of time) x Quality (of time)

Now, which one of these two factors comes first?

Well, I believe that quantity comes first. Why? Because if you spend some time on a project, even if the quality is poor, you can still get a little progress. But if you spend zero time, you will get no progress whatsoever. You need to put in the time first (quantity). Only then can we talk about quality.

I learned this from my personal experience. Whenever I saw little progress on a project, often the main cause is that I spent too little time on it. I might spend two hours on it one day but then skipped it for days or even weeks. No wonder the progress was so slow.

So how do you have the quantity? By blocking your time. Block enough time on your schedule to work on the task.

Having the quantity, you then need to increase the quality. There are some strategies on how to do that.

First, make sure that you use the allocated time as intended. It’s useless to allocate two hours on a task but use much of the time for something else (e.g. checking emails).

My suggestion here is to use a timer. Set a rule for yourself that while the timer runs, you must work on the task. If you want to do something else, you must stop the timer. This way you will know for sure how much time was actually spent on the task. Having to stop the timer before switching to something else also helps you become more focused on the task.

Next, remove distractions so that you can work on the task for a long stretch for time. This is how you build momentum so that you can enter the state of flow.

Lastly, match your energy level with the task at hand. Do the most difficult tasks when your energy level is highest, at the time of day when you are most alert. Referring to the formula above, this will help you increase your intensity which leads to getting more work accomplished.

By having both quantity and quality of time, you will increase your productivity.

Any thoughts? Feel free to share them in the comments!


  1. Dear Mr.Donald, Good day.

    Any amount of theory/knowledge/information is not helping unless we do it. How to convert the knowledge into ” doing “. The gap between thoughts to action is very big. If knowledge is not converted into action, the knowledge is useless and no Productivity in terms of quality and quantity. How and what to do for this conversion process? Kindly share your views. Thanks

  2. Mary Ng Shwu Ling
    Mary Ng Shwu Ling

    Thank you for this very good article on being productive, Donald!

    May you have a productive week ahead ?

  3. Hi Donald,
    Thank you for a great article! I really liked the formula you use to measure productivity, I think that’s a great way to think about it. Just looking at the formula, I would think quality would be more important. To me, it seems like people often spend a lot of time barely focused, and then they also don’t accomplish anything, but they also waste a lot of time (almost negative productivity). Also, have you considered a method like the pomodoro method so that people take short breaks, thus increasing the quality of time spend without significantly decreasing quality? I’ve found this to be really helpful for productivity. Thanks for sharing this article!

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