When it comes to productivity, most of us have come to think of our workday as a clock, with every hour we work designated as ours. The notion of a time continuum and the new tools available to share what we’re doing online makes for a more user-friendly workspace. There are countless apps that show you how far into the day you’ve come, how much you’ve accomplished, how much you have left to do. And all of this tracking helps you make sure you’re at the top of your game and maintain your motivation.
Unfortunately, the problem with this system is that it doesn’t address a key issue with our current way of doing business. We all have time, but productivity is a dynamic process, not a fixed time. My recent productivity in this case came in stages, each of which was defined by a completely different time frame.
After gathering the necessary materials for my clients’ monthly meetings, I took the day off (on this day, my boss asked me for specific reminders to keep up with the meetings I’d later schedule. When I arrived at work, I cleared a path for everyone else who was getting ready for the meeting to pass us by. Then, even though I was preparing the materials for the board meeting that was just a few hours away, I found myself asking, “How many people are in this meeting?” I was at work, and I wasn’t.
Although I was moving most of my focus into the board meeting, I had reached the same conclusions as everyone else. I was not where I needed to be. What’s interesting is that no one stopped on the way to the meeting. Everyone kept moving and doing their jobs. But this is not the way that every one of us tends to operate.
Perhaps we’re afraid to make a change, even if the change would benefit us both in the short term and the long term. For my next steps, I devoted the morning to emailing the attendees. I discovered that while there were many who were spending the day in my office, a good percentage of the attendees also found themselves working at home and commuting to the office. I often hear people complain about the dead time spent on the way to and from the office. But at least in this case, I was wasting the day on my office computer that might otherwise have been used for doing email, Excel, and other non-work related activities. It’s a distraction that could easily be avoided.
Then, with no productive time left for talking (possible thanks to email), I composed one final note for the board meeting, explaining who should come and what the agenda would be. This became the end of my day. By now, I’d learned that if I went back to complete the “action items” in my workshop while I was in the office, the clients I’d needed for the meeting wouldn’t arrive until late afternoon. I was already worried about my stress level and nerves about whether my board meeting would be successful.
As it turns out, my decision to leave early was not the result of a series of decisions, but the result of the breakdown in a single moment of boredom. It was a game changer in every way. But there is a single tool available that could change how we think about productivity: exercise.
The mechanism for the end game of a game or a marathon is usually a set number of points (although the reason why is not usually obvious.) But what’s true of the end result and percentage of the race to the finish line is similar to the motivation for the end game of a productivity endeavor. We can define how much we think we are working and what we set out to do. From there, we set up goals (and bad habits). The more we set ourselves up for failure and feel this pressure, the easier it is to forget ourselves and just drop out of the race. But, again, it’s not necessarily what happens until we get there that matters, but the moments before. If we stick with it and work through the process, if we keep our end-game in mind, if we stay focused on what we’re trying to accomplish, it’s much easier to make the critical adjustments we need to make.
Having success doesn’t come simply by putting work aside and sitting back. Anyone who has tried to chase one of life’s goals over many years knows that it always takes more time and effort to achieve success than we first imagine. When we don’t recognize this, we will make counterproductive decisions. In a different way, I’m in the process of moving on to the next milestone. I’ll watch my progress as a friend and advocate, but I’m not in charge