Productivity is a flow, not a stock

I just noticed that it is February, and I already can see I will publish at least seven book reviews this year, already tying my best year so far (2016). If I keep my pace up, I should be able to knock off between 15 and 20. This is happening as I am limiting the number of book reviews I take on.

And I did this following the kanban idea of limiting work-in-progress, to create flow and avoid waste. I realized that the economic distinction between stocks and flows in economics can clarify what is going on here.

Too many people, including me a year ago, confuse having a large stock of jobs in progress with productivity. In this view, to be productive is to be busy. If I was juggling six book reviews, "Boy," I thought, "I sure am productive!"

But productivity is a flow, not a stock! What matters is not how many things you are up to, but how many finished products* are coming out of your "workstation." And perhaps paradoxically, we can often increase our flow by decreasing our stock: our work tends to behave somewhat like a highway: the highway can deliver more cars from point A to point B by putting more cars on the highway, up to a certain point. But beyond that point, we start to get traffic jams, and if we fill the highway with as many cars as it will fit, traffic comes to almost a complete stop.

If you want to be productive, aim to maximize the flow of work through your hands, not the amount of work you take on.

* Or at least products with your part finished, if you work in cooperative production of some final product.


  1. Oh? You mean these book reviews? Nice "personal" workflow.

  2. And another thing! The name of this blog hasn't changed in quite some time!


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