Productivity noun: “the effectiveness of productive effort, especially in industry, as measured in terms of the rate of output per unit of input.”
I’ve always found the word productivity prescriptive. It assumes that if you’re a productive person, you’re organised, you’re confident and you can get into the zone. You’re a machine.
A machine that’s able to function whenever the work requires it. A machine that can power through a to-do list at a rate deemed more than acceptable. A machine that has inputs that results in outputs.
The modern day workplace thrives on employees feeling the pressure of productivity. But in the endless cycle of brief, work, presentation, we neglect to remember the rise and fall of the human condition. We’re not programmed to be productive, we occasionally find the right rhythm and the right pace for us to feel like we’re getting things done.
Changing the narrative
2016 was an absolutely rubbish year for so many people and I, like many, felt the suckerpunch of huge political and social upheaval across the world. As awful as it was, many of us have emerged blinking in the light of 2017 with an urge to change something.
Now is the time to feel the power to stand up for what you believe is right. And it’s also the time to look inward and focus what isn’t right in our own lives.
Whether you’re freelance, own your own business or you work for someone else, many of us work too much. We’re in the office early, we eat at our desks and leave late. And yes we look at emails just before we head to bed.
But you already knew that. We’ve been told this for years. And our working patterns have been compared to other countries, other nations, other industries... This is nothing new.
The difference is that you have control. If your yardstick for productivity has always left you feeling like you’re underachieving (how many times haven’t you ticked things off your to-do list?), you can change.
This may sound like an idealistic view – we all have deadlines to meet. The key is to feel like you’re thriving at the the work you’re doing, not just getting through. That’s the underlying core of productivity.
By supporting yourself in different ways, you can change your relationship with your working life.
Breaking the habit
As humans, we’re creatures of habit. We subconsciously form patterns in our lives. But these habits can be dangerous for us. We’ll put up with things that aren’t right for too long before we snap. We can only bend so far.
Something about ranking your ‘rate of productivity’ against how early you’re getting up and how late you’re going to bed doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel human. Neither does describing our work rate as a ‘GDP per employee’.
As workers, we’re suffering mentally. There are more people with diagnosed and undiagnosed mental health problems in the workplace than ever before. And instead of giving ourselves time to heal, we’re told to ‘power through’. We’re drowning under the weight of deadlines – and it’s no wonder, when social media and blog posts are full of stories of people achieving in their worklife and their homelife.
No wonder we feel the weight of productivity. No wonder we feel pressure to be like machines.
Finding your own beat
You can’t be taught how to be productive. You can learn techniques and apply them to your own life. But you’re unique and your life changes every moment – there isn’t a one-size-fits-all. If cutting out caffeine, embracing the Pomodoro technique or turning off your emails isn’t working for you. Stop.
Let go of the pressure of what everyone else is doing and find what work rates work for you. Even if you’re in a traditional office, you can find your comfort zone. Whether it’s walking around the building to stretch your legs or having a conversation with your employer about how you want to develop your working patterns. There’s room to try something different.
For those who are in charge of their own working life, the pressure can feel worse. If the day just isn’t your day, the beauty of being a freelancer is that you’re in charge of your own time. It’s easy to forget that if you have a demanding client and bills to pay. But the reason you are self-employed is to take charge of your life. You can be flexible. Don’t let anyone make you feel guilty about not working a 9 to 5.
Slowing the pace
My selfish story is that I’ve started a process of removing and adding to my day-to-day to find what gives me a buzz. The biggest impact has been from slowing down a little more and considering every step in a day.
I’m approaching the morning a little more gently. Setting off a little earlier to walk to the bus a little slower. Turning down my headphones and reading, rather than scrolling. Writing things down in my own handwriting before getting to the office, rather than typing.
These tiny changes have created a warm-up to the day, meaning my arrival at work isn’t as loud and my mind feels calmer and clearer.
When it comes to tasks, I’m shouting up more when there’s too much for me to manage in a day, rather than just scribbling a huge list in my diary. I’m trying to bend worklife around my rhythm so I can focus on each task properly – rather than constantly chasing the next thing I need to do.
And when it comes to hometime, I’m not beating myself up so much if the washing doesn’t get done or I don’t find time to write or I miss that phone call. It’s accepting that your hours are limited and there are only so many things can get done right in the day. But this is just me.
Try to let go of the word productivity. Instead replace it with ‘what works for me?’. You deserve it. You’re not a machine.