Letting go of false productivity metrics

How often have you said or heard someone else say one of the following, “I’m so busy- I worked 60 hours last week” or “While I was on vacation, I got a million emails to respond to” or “I can’t call out sick- they need me at ?

I bet many of us are familiar with this way of thinking. I get it: I used to do it all of the time and still find myself reverting to that way of thinking from time to time. Whatever your go-to mantra here may be, it can ultimately be unhealthy and could potentially be holding you back from truly being productive or truly being successful at whatever you do- whatever success means to you.

My friends and I were on our annual Villanova girls’ weekend trip in Florida last week (see amazingness below), and obviously, Blizzard #2563 occurred while we were gone. One of the gals was saying that at her husband’s place of employment, people were making the trek into the office and a few of them got stuck in a multi-car pileup and were unable to make it into work.

I was astonished at this, but I know it’s not an uncommon tale. Those folks somehow felt there was some sort of ‘badge of honor’ or sense of importance to being in the office on a day when the Philly area got 18 inches of snow. Not only is that unsafe, but ultimately those people spent the day stuck on the PA Turnpike and were in the end, unable to do what they had set out to do in the first place: WORK!

So, how can you let go of some of these assumed hallmarks of productivity to truly be productive?

Gain Clarity- Define What Productivity Means To You: Look at your current work stream(s) in relation to whatever measurement of productivity you’ve chosen for yourself. Do you feel like you’ve latched on to someone else’s definition of success or productivity? What does productivity mean to you? To one person it may mean an all out workfest 7 days a week and to someone else it may mean finishing a huge project. The point here is that the definition is completely unique to you, and it can be easy to be swept up by others’ proclamations of how productive they are, especially in an office environment. The following pointers will help with that phenomenon.

Challenge Your Assumptions: Explore your relationship and/or attachment with the barometer. In my case it was time. I often said things like, “I worked 70 hours last week” and would wear it like a badge of honor (or, sometimes, a chip on my shoulder, depending on the week). I started to explore with both of my coaches why I felt this way and we basically talked through answers to the following questions:

– Where is it coming from? (For me, it was upbringing and environment)

– How is it serving me? (For me, it gave me a false sense of productivity and importance.)

– How true is that feeling, really? (It wasn’t. I actually wasn’t getting the right stuff done effectively because I was using the wrong metric- time.)

– How can you begin to let go of this?

Adjust Expectations: I’m talkin ‘bout your own AND your company’s. It’s about both in conjunction here, people! Maybe you’ve recently had a child and it’s just not realistic to work 60+ hour weeks anymore. Maybe you’ve had a frank conversation with yourself, and you know you burn out two months after the holidays each year with such a schedule. Once you have that internal convo, you can then have a similar one with your manager, peers and direct reports. Bottom line? No one will respect your time if you don’t.

When You Aim To Unplug, Actually Unplug: This has been a huge life changer for me. In the age of Smartphones and constant connectivity, some people have a hard time justifying that they are simply not available. I’ve made a rule for myself that when it’s a weekend or I’m away or it’s after x-o’clock, I simply turn my email off from all devices. If I’m away for two weeks, I don’t look at email for two weeks. I’m able to do this through strict planning leading up to the trip, strong communication with team members about where I am at with a specific project & strong contingency planning in case something comes up when I’m out of the office. Usually this involves briefing someone so they are able to cover for me. I gladly do the same for others when they are out of the office.

There’s also the added bonus of actually being present with whomever or whatever you’re with at the moment- whether it’s loved ones or friends or just a good book. Allowing yourself that simple act of being present actually recharges you more than anything else, and you can be ready to hit the ground running when it’s actually time to get back to the grind.

Revisit If & When You Slip Back to Old Patterns: If you’ve been operating in this thought pattern for years, as many of us have, it’s not going to change overnight. And that’s OK. Give yourself the space to revisit as many times as necessary to change your thought pattern to something that better serves you. Practice makes perfect.

While this is not an overnight kind of movement in your way of thinking, I am confident that if you apply the above techniques and ask yourself some of those questions, you will be much more able to let go of false barometers of productivity and by proxy, success and ultimately become more productive…on your own terms.

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