Measuring Your Productivity The Right Way

A busy filled in schedule on a white desk with a white magazine

There’s a difference between being busy and being productive.

But the modern workplace has made it seem like the two go hand in hand. We equate productivity with long hours and burning the midnight oil, with no time for breaks or relaxation. And busy work doesn’t necessarily translate into professional fulfillment. If you’re doing a million things, you’re not tending to the goals that really matter. 

So then, how can we tell if we’re actually doing meaningful work or just being busy for busy’s sake? How do we measure our productivity? 

It’s also important to note that measuring your productivity isn’t just about measuring your output. It’s a chance to check-in with yourself and see if you’re actually taking time to rest and recover. Being busy will take a toll on your physical and mental health. And it’s critical that you assess your workload on a regular basis. Our society tends to view rest as laziness. But studies have shown that rest leads to better work.

Below are different ways that you can measure your productivity so that you can be more productive, without draining your energy with busy work. 

What do you consider a productive day?

In order to measure your productivity, it’s first helpful to define what exactly a productive day means to you. 

Some people like to gauge their productivity by the number of hours they’ve worked, but that’s not always a helpful indicator. As we discussed earlier, it’s important to take breaks throughout the day. Plus, people who work from home don’t have a typical 9-5 work schedule and creative professionals often need unstructured time to brainstorm and problem solve.

If you’re looking to set a goal post for your productivity, it’s more effective to define what a productive day means to you. 

Ask yourself: When was the last time you felt truly productive? What was it about this day that made you feel like you were getting a lot done? Did you get a lot of writing done? Did you meet with interesting people? Were you also able to get around to working on your personal goals or knocking things off your to-do list?

You’ll also want to take note of the tools that keep you focused and productive. Maybe you need a big notebook to jot down your to-do lists and notes. Or maybe you like to record your tasks in a notes app. You’ll definitely want to keep these tools by your side. 

After defining your ideal productive day and your favorite tools, you’ll be able to set yourself up for success. Of course, it’s important to remember that we’re not always going to be super efficient and productive day in and day out. We’re human beings after all. But at least we’ll have a reference point that we can use to measure our aims and our progress. 

Do a time audit

If you’ve ever wondered “where does the time go?” a time audit will give you a definitive answer. 

A time audit may sound tedious or even intimidating, but it’s a simple and straightforward way to gauge how you’re actually spending your time. And with this handy information, you’ll be able to manage your time better, create a foolproof schedule, and improve your productivity. 

Here are some pointers for conducting your own time audit. 

  • Do it over the course of a week. Your schedule probably fluctuates from day to day. You might have back-to-back meetings on one day, and then a day spent on deep work and projects the next. So conducting a time audit over the course of the week will give you a better reflection of how you generally spend your time. 
  • Use a timer. Set a timer to see how long it takes you to do routine tasks, projects, chores, and other activities. Whether it’s composing work emails, drafting a report, or making breakfast you’ll want to record how long it takes you from start to finish. Now you can see if you’re underestimating certain activities or overestimating others. 
  • Check your screen time. You might think that you’re only spending a few minutes each day on social media but your screen time might be telling you a different story. Check your usage and see which apps or sites are consuming your day. 
  • Estimate how long a task will take. You’ll also want to record your time estimate for a task versus how long it actually takes. You might think that you only need a few minutes to fire off emails, but in actuality, you might see that it takes an hour. Or, on the flipside, you might think that you need an hour to do creative writing, but maybe you only really need 15-20 minutes. Then, you can create a more realistic schedule with these updated timeframes. 

After completing your time audit, you’ll be able to see the patterns of your day, including:

  • The activities that take up most of your time
  • How long you spend working on your priorities 
  • How long you spend on your distractions 
  • How long it takes you to complete an activity 
  • How many breaks you’re taking and how long you need to rest 

Once you have this information, you can find solutions for distractions or busy days. Maybe you’ll discover that you need more time buffers on days with back-to-back meetings. Or maybe you’ll find that you’re not taking enough breaks and that’s why you find yourself getting distracted or zoning out on your phone. 

A time audit can shed light on your behaviors and preferences, and help you be more thoughtful about how you plan your day. 

Set daily goals and track your results 

Another way to measure your productivity is to track your daily goals and results

If you’re not meeting the results, then you’ll know that you need to either course correct or reset expectations. 

Here’s an example:

Today’s goal:

Write a draft speech for the CEO

Results I want to achieve: 

Finish my research 

Brainstorm ideas 

Write an outline 

At the end of the day, you can track your results to measure your work. Did you conduct research? Did you brainstorm ideas and write an outline? You can log your results in your planner or with an Excel sheet. 

A specific goal gives shape and focus to your day. Once you have this goal in mind, you can track your results to make sure you’re heading in the right direction. 

Written by JiJi Lee.

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