How I… measure productivity in 2021

The “right to be busy”…

One particularly horrible week in a particularly horrible job, I was told by a colleague: “You need to do more. You should be making sacrifices for your team; not the other way around”. 

In the same week, another colleague made a complaint that my long working hours, which bled into evenings and weekends, were “demoralising” to others. 

That week taught me two things. First, the important life lesson that you really can’t please all the people all the time. Second, that nobody else can measure your productivity or decide if you’re doing enough. 

I never feel that I am doing enough. A strong work ethic and in-built sense of duty toward others, coupled with doing a job you genuinely care about, is a dangerous concoction that can lead to burnout. 

At the very least, it’s a constant sense of panic bubbling away below the surface as the to-do list only gets longer, and the person you finally remember to email has the audacity to reply straight away (what were they doing for six weeks?)

2020 has been a good year for me in learning to look after myself and measure my productivity on my own terms. Here are some things I’ll continue to consider in 2021 to keep that panic at a nice dull roar.

Where do I add value? Keep coming back to this question because the answer will change. As I progress as an editor, the role becomes less about writing and editing and more about offering opinions and advice, and that can be hard to measure. 

Shifting from “doing” to “thinking” is usually a positive sign in your career. You should be able to discuss problems and talk through ideas without worrying that you have 1000 words to write, or cakes to bake, or whatever it might be. If people are asking for your support and you’re giving it – this is productive.

Be honest with others. There is nothing worse than knowing a colleague isn’t being honest with you. Yes, I might come across as negative in meetings when I say things like “I haven’t even had a chance to start that yet” or “No, I can’t take that on in the time available”. 

But I know from experience this is a lot less frustrating than insisting something is “almost there” only to deliver it late, badly, and lacking the support it needed from the team. Keep everyone in the loop,  even if it’s not a nice loop to be in.

Be honest with yourself. I am not writing this article to tell you to do less. Self care is key but there’s enough toxic content out there that screams “don’t fancy getting out of bed? Never do it again!”

In 2020, we have been left to hold ourselves accountable more than ever. Some of us have an even higher workload and have to ensure we make time for breaks. We also have to keep up communication and be honest about our output – with our colleagues but also with ourselves, ideally not spending all our time wandering over to the fridge, opening it, closing it, and opening it again with lower expectations. 

During my brief career as a “runner”*, I used the walk-run method to start and was advised to “run until you feel tired and walk until you feel guilty”. If you’re kidding yourself, you’ll know – so listen to that voice really deep down.

Prioritise. It sounds obvious, but keep coming back to how and why you are prioritising your tasks. It’s easy to get caught up with the loudest client or the most persistent emailer, at the expense of the bigger picture.

I have regular discussions with my boss and wider team about what needs to be done to take the business forward, as well as taking time out to think about what content our community needs. Sometimes, I even prioritise the most fun task – which is not just allowed, but recommended. 

Reverse the situation. Having to delay things or not quite meet expectations is part of life, but never seems to feel any less disappointing. I can’t stand letting people down even if that’s just having to cancel a meeting or rearrange a call. But am I letting them down? Or was a call with me not necessarily the highlight of their week? 

How would you feel if the situation was reversed? Would you take it as a sign of laziness and lack of consideration, or a sign that someone is obviously busy and important (ergo worth talking to), and be grateful they want more time to properly prepare for the call?

Embrace the right to be busy. On that note, just as the people you work with have the right to be too busy to take on another task or make it to a call, so do you. In a society that praises the “grind” and 24/7 working, we still somehow feel horribly guilty for having too much work on. Remember being busy (as long as it’s productive busyness) is a positive sign, and if people have time to judge you for it they’re probably not adding much value themselves. 

*I did one 10K very slowly, and after much consideration running will not be on my list of resolutions for 2021. 

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