Dave Seah is having an informal “how do you measure productivity pre-poll,” by which I mean, the poll is currently more about your to-do list than about how you actually measure productivity. Here are the questions:
- How many tasks are on your To Do list?
- How many tasks are you getting done a day, on average?
- Are you satisfied with what you’re getting done?
- What makes a task hard to start?
And my answers:
- How many tasks are on your To Do list? My main to-do list is housed at Remember The Milk, which holds all of my immediate next-action lists for both work and personal stuff as well as “waiting” and “someday” items. I have about 37 next-actions, which range from two-minute to half-day tasks. This does not include the inevitable 2-5 work-related tasks per day that come up on their own, from customer requests to starting the next next-action on a project to “life.”
- How many tasks are you getting done a day, on average? While it sort of depends on how long the tasks take, I think my average falls around 6-10 tasks. Of course, I’ve had days where I’ve only completed one or two tasks because they were things like “redo all pages of xxxxxx project.”
- Are you satisfied with what you’re getting done? Yes, at least if I speak for last week!
- What makes a task hard to start? A task is hard to start if I think it will take a long time or if I feel inadequate to the task. The good thing I’ve been learning is that my pessimistic time estimates for things I don’t want to do are usually way off, and if I just start them for the sake of checking them off my list, they usually don’t take very long. Feeling inadequate to a task is a tricky one; usually I only say “yes” to things I know that I can deliver or to things that I’m excited to learn more about, so if I really feel inadequate (don’t know how to do it and don’t think I can learn how to do it), it’s a hard roadblock to overcome.
Some thoughts about the poll’s meta-question, “How do you measure productivity?” and the meta-question’s meta-question, “How can I be happy?” (which Dave phrases as “How can I make time for the people in my life while maintaining optimum forward momentum in my work?”) They may not be direct answers but somehow they relate in my mind.
- I feel satisfied about my day when I have done one or more of the following things:
- Checked off the to-do items that I thought I could do today
- Spent quality time with loved ones
- Made a conscious choice to do something, or not (for example, choosing to not work on a weekday in order to do something else)
- Overcome an obstacle
- I think I can summarize the above: I feel satisfied about my day when I have been in control of the things I can control: myself and my choices. Did I choose to work hard, or did I allow laziness to overwhelm me? Did I choose to relax and “be lazy,” or did I let emails and the pressure of a to-do list drive me at a frenetic pace?
- Interestingly, my satisfaction level doesn’t often correlate with how “productive” I was, although I’d say that I generally enjoy being productive.
- Some of my projects are discrete entities with a specific end-date, after which I can send them off and never deal with them again and cross them off my project list. Other projects — like laundry, cleaning cat litter, and web maintenance — just keep going and going and going. I can be very productive with maintenance tasks, but sometimes doing them is not very satisfying because I know I’ll be doing them again next week.
- Do I think of “being happy” and “living a balanced life” as equivalent statements, as Dave as sort of defined them in his own post? While I can be happy about living a balanced life and while not living a balanced life can lead to unhappiness, I think being happy could be a choice in itself despite circumstances. My day might get away with me and I can be disappointed with not accomplishing as much as I thought I would, but ultimately I can be happy and grateful for the day that I ended up with and the fact that I am loved.
- My values and beliefs include the concept of stewardship — that all I am given, including my time, is something to be used and invested well. I’m not great at it, but this value definitely affects how I view using my time and why getting lots done seems to be important.
- At the same time, my other values and beliefs should help to define what kinds of things I want to spend my time on. I think this second part is harder for me as I’m not as much of a big-picture person. Not having a big picture to work towards, however, can be frustrating because then I don’t feel like I’m “really” accomplishing anything of value despite all my checked-off to-do lists.
- Which puts me in a bit of an angsty mood; I have plenty of goals (as you can tell from my monthly reviews), but I’m still lacking a calling, or vocation, for my life, at 29 years of age. Ack!
And on that happy note, I’ll get to work!