Their, I said it! Measuring productivity, even thinking about how productive something orr someone is, is a waste of time. At least in my opinion.
First, let me dive into the reason I started thinking about productivity. I somehow discovered RescueTime, a productivity measurement tool which analyzes the programs you are using on your PC and making reports outt of it. You can then see how productive you are, at which times you are more productive or how you compare to yourself last week or to all the other users.
I tried it, spent some time configuring it and then waited to get the first meaningfull results. I ended up being 70% productive, which is nice considering I'm using my laptop for both business and private means almost every day.
But I soon realized that the measurements where somehow not relating to my feeling of how productive I was. The reason is very simple: There is no way to tell if I'm productive if I use software X or browse website Y. Let's say I'm on facebook: I could do random stuff and be 0 % productive or write someone a message which is related to work and being 100% productive. It's even hard for me to put a number on my productivity in many cases. Consider me installing some tool to play around a bit. It could be just for fun but the knowledge could be useful for me 1 week later. Or it could turn out useless because the software is crap. But even then, if I never try new software, I'll never find the usefull ones either.
My last point is the real problem with productivity for many jobs. You will always do stuff which will not be productive in a direct way but an indirect one. Let's pick a real-world example: I knew a very good hair stylist. What does it meant for her to be productive? Wash the hair, cut it, dry it? Well, of course, but also to create a nice atmosphere for the client. The output is not a haircut, but a happy customer with a haircut that looks well! And if she takes 15 minutes "off" to help a co-worker get in a better mood and this co-worker happens to make the customers more happy partly because of this, wasn't her "break" productive as well?
As a member of a start-up team, my job is not to write code. Yeah, ok, it's part of my job, but not the most important one. I also have to do system administration, project-management, human resources, administration. And on all of this I don't have one specific role, but all roles possible. I don't only have to write our apps, I also have to research new technology, think about system architecture, testing, quality, deployment. I not only maintain our servers, I research IT topics, improve our current servers or check them for security or stability. I'm not only responsible for finding new talent, but also to make the team happy. Of course all the other members are responsible for all this too, but that doesn't mean I don't have to know about all this stuff.
Thinking about this, if I read an article about a new Ruby framework, am I productive? We are not using Ruby now, but maybe we want to in the future. Maybe someone applied to use who has a ruby background? And even if all this is not true, is it not part of my job to know about the frameworks out there to be able to make proper decisions? It happens very often that I use things I create in my free time at work and the other way round. I play with a framework, some tool or simply create something, and later I come up with a solution for a problem which just popped up because of this knowledge.
I guess it all comes down to what is the expected output. And for the most (if not all) jobs you cannot really define the output and all the different things it gets influenced by. I mean hell, even if I play a game of Sudoku for 15 minutes but get back to work refreshed and faster it has made me more productive overall. So, for me it's not about productivity anymore.