How to Measure Productivity


I’ve been thinking a lot about productivity of late, especially after recently having one of the most productive days I’ve had in a long time. Although I love everything related to productivity: from understanding how to really rock it, to making small tweaks that yield big results, to learning how my body can work with alongside my psychology, there is one area of productivity that is still a wasteland for many an aspiring productivity hack like me.

That area?

The productivity you enjoy when you don’t realize you’re actually being productive. 

Now I’m not talking about the concept of “flow” here (when you’re so much in the zone that you’re rocking it out and feel great). Instead, I’m talking about a strange, less understood type of productivity that happens when you think you’re not making progress, but you actually are.

I spent a few months of 2013 in a strange situation where I enjoyed this exact type of a productivity.

For me, that experience was called being pregnant.

You see, when you’re pregnant, there’s this magical thing happening inside you (you’re creating life! a tiny lentil-sized fetus is turning into a human!) and yet you’re not really doing all that much to make it happen. You throw up, you take naps, you hang out with doctors. But your efforts are really quite minimal in comparison to all that’s really going on behind the scenes.

And in terms of your regular life, all bets are off. Some women plow forward and live and work as they do in a normal year. In my case, due to medical issues, I was doing way, way less than normal. And yet despite the fact that my professional projects were at a complete standstill and I was basically lying in bed watching House Hunters International all day, I was actually, amazingly, “being productive”. In fact, I think most people could argue I was the most productive I’ve ever been. (Making a human trumps writing a book or leading a successful career, right?)

Overwhelmingly, this taught me that we ultimately don’t always know when we’re truly being productive, and when we’re just spinning our wheels. Sure, sometimes we might have super human productive days or weeks where we know we produced, but other times we might have little indication that huge strides are actually being made behind the scenes.

So what’s the lesson here?

Look behind the curtain to see what’s really happening. Is there true “productive” growth going on? Is a critical framework being laid? In all your efforts, take more time to try to see where you are “really” being productive, and not just where you think you are.

Have you ever had a time where you thought you were being unproductive, only to realize that you were really moving the needle? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. 

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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9 thoughts on “How to Measure Productivity

  1. Powerful post Claire – thx you 🙂 recently a new mom and a fearless entrepreneur passionate about unleashing human potential and on a mission to show the world we were all born amazing – I struggled immensely with the idea of productivity when my son was born. Fighting myself daily feeling I wasn’t working on my dreams in the beginning – piling more to-do’s on my plate and creative a vicious cycle. Only to look back now – 10 months later to realize I’ve been manifesting my dreams all the while. I love this post – have a wonderful day. Be amazing

  2. Such a good reminder – thank you Claire!
    Being relational with colleagues is one of those unproductive-productive things for me. In this moment it doesn’t seem productive, but in the long run it is these relationships and the support from my team that is the make or break factor in times of crises or pressure.

  3. Hi Claire,
    It’s very interesting your view and I want to ask you to detail what is in your opinion the difference “to be productive” in a small company vs a big company.
    Many thanks,

  4. I can’t trump the pregnancy, however have observed that sometimes productivity is in the eye of the beholder. I was working on an agile transformation recently and frustrated by the dev. teams seemingly lack of progress in terms of completing work in each iteration. (Impatient, the fact that they got closer to the target over 3 iterations didn’t satisfy me!). Anyway, the rest of the team were in the meantime being blown away by the quality of what was produced in each iteration which was surpassing their previous capabilities. So, if we were agreeing on what we’re trying to achieve we can find that we are in fact being productive. Focus on the wrong things and it can feel like failure even when it’s not.

  5. Thank you for this article. It is applicable in all sorts of ways and a good reminder for the times when it seems nothing concrete is happening. Often when I write it seems as if I am going nowhere and then an idea will bloom as if from nowhere almost fully formed.

    I do want to quibble with one part of your description. I think biology is making it increasingly obvious that rather than “a tiny lentil-sized fetus…turning into a human” you were nurturing the tiny living human being that you and your partner had created to grow into the beautiful infant to whom you gave birth and who continues to grow. No less magical, but an important distinction nevertheless. One never sees a happy pregnant woman wearing a maternity top with an arrow and the word “fetus.”
    Your writing is so insightful. I hope that all your “productivity” – in career and family – continues to bring you joy.

  6. I can totally relate to what you are saying. I have been laid up since December 9th – not allowed on my feet, was productive. I was able to do research for blogs and books that will save me.time later when I am busy again on my feet. Count your blessings.