Intelligent standards of productivity

July 11, 2021

I have something to confess: last week, I didn’t do my weekly review.

What?! 😱

This is almost blasphemy for a productivity teacher. Reviewing your inboxes, updating your tasks, and checking the status of your projects weekly helps you feel in control and stops things from slipping through the cracks. I know this is true and I’ve made reviews a bedrock of my productivity system… but last week, I didn’t review.

Lesson #1: Productivity teachers don’t always follow best practices either.

See, I had friends staying over—that’s why I didn’t get to my review. I had also just come back from a trip. And, as I write this, I’m on a plane for my next trip. So I’ve been pretty busy. Then again, we are all busy and we can always find reasons for not doing any particular thing. Okay, new excuse: I wanted to be present in the moment with my friends. Sounds better, but it’s still an excuse.

Did my tasks and projects get completely out of hand? No, they didn’t. I did feel less in control than I usually do. Not by much: I still had my trusty task manager to rely on. But I wasn’t 100% confident that I was on top of everything.

Lesson #2: There are consequences to not following best practices—but they don’t have to be dramatic.

The story gets worse. A few weeks ago, I didn’t send my “weekly” newsletter. (Attentive readers might have noticed.) I believe it was my first time ever missing the weekly email. Before I sent weekly emails, I spent a year publishing a blog post or a video every single day… so it had been a long time since I skipped this work.

I’ll be honest: it took me so time to accept that I would be skipping my weekly newsletter once, while I was on vacation. It is very important to me that I do what I say I’m going to do. Skipping the newsletter one week felt like a violation of one of my core values. I hate it when other people don’t deliver on their promises. I really don’t want to be one of those people.

So why didn’t I take 45 minutes on my trip to write my newsletter?

Partly it was exposure therapy. Ever since I burned out in 2015 and 2016, I have felt the need to control my work. Perhaps to counter the perpetual overwhelm I felt while burned out, I became highly organized and I created reliable systems. As long as I followed my systems, nothing would slip through the cracks and I would never disappoint anyone. (Yeah, right.)

I was curious what would happen if I decided to simply enjoy my vacation and to forget about the newsletter one week. It turns out that… everything was fine. Okay, lesson learned.

More importantly, though, I thought about my standards for myself and for my work. When I recently launched Big-Picture Productivity, my course that helps you consistently achieve your goals, I was extremely on top of my work. I pushed myself, creating a schedule for recording course videos and for writing up workbook exercises. I replied to emails daily or every other day. And I launched my course two weeks before going on my scuba diving trip, as planned.

In other words, I disciplined myself. It worked: I got the course out, many students enrolled, and I’ve had lots of positive feedback.

Now that the course is out and I’m on vacation, I deliberately lowered my standards. I still reply to students in a reasonable time, but I’m not as on top of other things. My podcast and my YouTube channel, for example, are on the back burner. (It’s been weeks since I published an episode or a video.) The key is that I intentionally decided to put them on the back burner, for a limited time. I wouldn’t be comfortable approaching my work like this all the time, but for these two months of summer, this is the right standard.

Lesson #3: You don’t need to have the same standards all the time. You can intelligently lower your standards, or increase them, when appropriate.

In fact, in Big-Picture Productivity we spend some time figuring out how you should measure your productivity. That’s a matter of what you measure—for example, hours worked vs. output generated—but also of what’s “good enough”. If your standards are unreasonable or inappropriate for the moment, you’ll find yourself dissatisfied with your productivity no matter how much you try or stress or push. And that’s not a recipe for happiness.

All right. Newsletter done. I’ll leave you with a few questions:

  • How do you measure your productivity?
  • What standards do you hold yourself to?
  • Should your standards change over time?
  • Are you current standards intelligent?

Now, on to my weekly review…

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