For the longest time, I defined my productivity by the quantity of things I completed. If I edited five articles, responded to 10 emails, and attended two meetings, I had a successful day. If I spent a good chunk of my day researching and writing one single article, I felt guilty leaving the office. Some days, I’d even stay an extra hour to accomplish one or two more small tasks just so I could leave fully satisfied.
But I soon realized I was thinking about my to-do list all wrong. It’s not that I wasn’t getting my work done, it was that I was hurting myself by thinking this way. I’d power through task after task almost recklessly just to check them off. Worse, I beat myself down for taking too long on something when I actually did good work.
I realized that if I could get away from believing “quantity” was equivalent to productivity, I’d be ending every day on a more positive note. (Because there’s nothing worse than trudging out of your office at 6 PM feeling like you did “nothing.”)
There’s that very common saying, “Quality over quantity,” and it really is true. So the next step, then, was reevaluating how I approached each day.
If for example, I was going to spend Tuesday focused on writing the best, many well-researched article I could, I would have to make sure my schedule was cleared. This would mean doing lots of little projects or getting ahead on Monday so that I would have all the time in the world (or, at least an afternoon of quiet time).
And when I would look back on both Monday and Tuesday, I wouldn’t say “Monday was more productive because I did more.” I’d say “Monday was productive because I cleared my schedule for Tuesday. And Tuesday was productive because I took my time and wrote an article I’m truly proud of.”
It’s such a small mindset switch, but it makes all the difference for me when I leave the office each and every day. I can feel good about crashing on my couch and watching TV, because today, tomorrow, and the next day will all be productive days. Just like that.
So how can you adopt this mindset, too? I suggest you ask yourself these three questions every day before leaving the office:
- Did I make my life slightly easier for tomorrow?
- Am I proud of the work I did today?
- Did I do everything that was required of me?
If you can say yes to all three, you have nothing to worry about.
And if you can’t, take a step back and figure out if this is a common occurrence, or if you just had an off day. We’re only human, and that means some days we won’t do everything that needs to get done, or create work we’re proud of. But as long as you end most days nodding enthusiastically to those three questions above, you’re right on track.
By A. Kalish