Am I productive?

TreadmillAre you productive? Do you think you’re accomplishing things that truly move the needle?

Or do you get that funny feeling that you might be too busy being busy to be making any significant progress?

It’s an interesting question. How do you know how productive you really are?

Perhaps it depends on how you define productivity. Some people define productivity by the amount of output or things they get done during the day. This is a good starting point, but what about the return on (time and energy) investment for those outputs?

Maybe just ‘getting things done’ is not enough.

My definition of productivity is Outputs x Value. This means determining what activities will generate the most valuable outcomes and then optimising the execution of those activities.

What is a valuable outcome?

In a business-sense, valuable outcomes can be revenue increases, cost savings, increased brand value or improved customer satisfaction.

At a personal level, valuable outcomes can be improved health, mastering a new skill or happy experiences spent with family and friends.

With so many choices, you need to know what outcomes are most valuable to you to prioritise your focus.

Measuring your productivity

Measuring productivity is really difficult, especially for knowledge workers.

It used to be much easier back in the olden days, when the majority of workers were employed in factories. Back then, the rate of production for uniformly built products meant managers could use things like time and motion studies to make the production line more efficient.

And then the knowledge economy happened. In the 1950s Peter Drucker coined the term ‘knowledge worker’ and wrote extensively about the difficulties of making people in offices, classrooms and labs more productive, because the production line mentality no longer applied.

More than ever today, we are still grappling with the challenges of measuring and improving productivity; so when you are thinking about how to measure your own productivity, it’s best not to get too caught up in trying to create accurate measurement models.

Metrics are great, but they can be laborious to define and track, especially for individuals going about their work.

That is not to say, don’t bother with metrics at a personal level – it is just that sometimes we need a quicker way to gauge our performance; so an alternative is to use the following behavioural questions to help you decide if you are being productive.

Productivity self-assessment questions

So now’s the time to start getting introspective! Read through the following questions and use them as prompts to think about your behaviour and assess whether or not you have the propensity for super-human levels of productivity.

Each question has some background explanation to help you assess yourself and determine the actions you need to take to become more productive.

Questions:

Do you focus more on outputs or outcomes?

If you find you are measuring the success of your day by the number of things you’ve ticked off your list and less by your progress towards a longer-term goal, they you need to consider whether you are just being busy for the sake of being busy or actually achieving anything worthwhile.

Do you have a clear set of long-term goals that you are working towards?

What is your motivation for getting up in the morning and going about your day? If you don’t have a clear destination in mind, then you’ll struggle to find the best path and could simply be drifting through life.

Are you able to link what you do on a day-to-day basis with your long-term goals?

Assuming you do have long-term goals, how often are you able to work on them and what can you do to ensure you allocate a decent amount of time each day to work towards them?

How often do you plan and strategise?

Are you constantly head-down trying to get on with the work or do you take time-out to look at the horizon and check you are still heading in the right direction?

How many projects and key activities are you working on at the moment?

Having too many projects and activities on-the-go at the same time dilutes your focus and requires you to increase context switching, which can be very tiring and stressful. Can you limit yourself to just two or three projects at the same time, giving you a nice balance between diversity and focus?

Are you learning from what you are doing?

As you do your work, interact with others or focus on yourself, are you learning from the activities that you are doing and are you taking that new knowledge and using it to optimise for the future?

Are you creating useful assets?

Do the activities that you do result in the creation of useful tools or resources that enable you or other people to achieve their goals? Another way to look at it is does the work you do directly help people to reach their goals?

Are you constantly doing repetitive tasks?

Do you spend the majority of your time repeating similar tasks that you have long since mastered and are no longer learning from? Can these tasks be delegated or outsourced instead?

Are you focusing on your strengths?

Are all the things you do the things you are able to do best or are you struggling with tasks that would be better delegated to others, so that you can focus on what you do best?

Are you a perfectionist about your work?

The balance between pride in quality and perfectionism is difficult to manage, but releasing a product that is only 80% perfect is better than never releasing a product because you want it to be 100% perfect.

Are you regularly working extra hours and not taking a lunchbreak?

Constant overworking can only lead to eventual burn out and diminished quality, so if you are always working extra hours then you may not be ruthless enough in your prioritisation of what you do during your core hours and when to (politely) say ‘no’ to people.

Assessing your productive behaviour

Hopefully these questions have helped you think about the way you work and run your life, enabling you to better understand your strengths and weaknesses.

Remember there is no right or wrong answer to the questions and answering all the questions ‘correctly’ doesn’t actually mean you are a super-human productivityist.

Instead it is better to think about productive behaviour as a sliding scale, with High Productivity at one end and Low Productivity at the other. Different people will be at different levels on the scale and our own positions on the scale are prone to moving up and down at different points in our lives – depending on the circumstances we are going through.

If you do feel you are lower down on the scale, you need to think of the behavioural changes that will help push you further up. Maybe it is spending more time thinking about your goals or learning how to delegate better.

As you introspect, write down your productivity weaknesses and decide on your improvement actions, then plan how you’ll build those actions into your working days, so you can become more productive.

Good luck 🙂