Measuring productivity poll

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:

  1. How many tasks are on your To Do list?
  2. How many tasks are you getting done a day, on average?
  3. Are you satisfied with what you’re getting done?
  4. What makes a task hard to start?

And my answers:

  1. 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.”
  2. 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.”
  3. Are you satisfied with what you’re getting done? Yes, at least if I speak for last week!
  4. 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!


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