When contemplating your level of productivity, it’s easy to get caught up in how much you’re able to do in a given day, week, and so on. Quantified productivity is something anyone can calculate. It’s why measurements like Inbox Zero have become so popular in figuring out whether or not you have had a productive day.
The problem with using numbers to constantly measure productivity – especially personal productivity – is that they don’t always paint an accurate picture. Sure, they’ll tell you how much of something you’ve finished, but they won’t necessarily tell you whether or not those were the right things to do.
That’s where the nuance of qualitative productivity comes into play.
Qualitative productivity is geared around the idea that what you’ve been productive with is of a higher quality. Essentially, you might wind up doing far less tasks but the impact they have over the long term is greater than what quantitative productivity can achieve. Getting to Inbox Zero every day might feel great more often but if you aren’t doing the things that are more impactful then you’re not seeing (or measuring) the entire landscape of your tasks through to completion.
I’m not suggesting that you should abandon quantitative productivity altogether. It’s an important measurement. But it shouldn’t be the only – or even primary – way we determine how productive we’ve been. What you need is a healthy balance of quantitative and qualitative productivity.
And that’s when you must consider pacing your productivity. It’s how you’ll be able to more accurately measure your productivity.
Pacing your productivity can come in several forms.
Pacing by Priority
Do you know what can happen when you are focused on getting as much as you can done in a day? You can lose sight of what the most important tasks are that you should be focusing on.
That’s when you wind up with a false sense of how productive you were for the day; you did plenty of things but not the most important thing.
When you pace your productivity by priority you’ll make progress on what you prioritize. That means you’ll do the most important thing no matter how long it takes – perhaps even breaking it down into smaller things that can be done to further your progress.
The end result of pacing your productivity this way is that you may not end up with as many tasks checked off your to-do list but the ones that matter the most will be. Plus you’ll start to measure your productivity in a more balanced way.
Pacing by Energy
Incidentally, when you pace by priority that doesn’t mean you’ll do that thing first off. If you’re like me, you’ll wait until your energy is best suited to work on that priority.
When you pace your productivity by energy, you’ll tackle your to-do’s based on your body clock.
If you’re someone who is an early riser (or a Lion, as outlined in The Power of When) then you’d be best serving yourself and your to-do list by taking on your most energy-sensitive tasks early in the day. Then tackle the ones that don’t need the best of you as the day draws to a close.
If you’re like me, you’ll work the other way. I’m a night owl (or a Wolf). So I start my day with lower energy tasks and then hit the high energy tasks starting in the afternoon. I’m actually writing this blog post at 3 PM, during the Horizontal Theme of 2-6 PM. This themed timeframe is what I’ve set aside every weekday for Writing.
So instead of working through your daily tasks in a sequential or ranked order of priority, try pacing your productivity the way your body clock works. You’ll be able to bring the ideal amount of energy, attention, and effort to each task if you do.
Pacing by Limitation
There’s only so much you can do in a day. We often overestimate that number. When we estimate what we’ll be able to in a day and fall short of that number, it isn’t just our perception of our productivity that takes a hit. It can affect our overall well-being.
Jesse Itzler circumvents this by avoiding the whole “X number in a day” concept. He broadens the scope to a week instead.
You can do the same. Maybe you should.
Instead of getting to Inbox Zero every day, strive for it every week. (If Inbox Zero is your thing, that is.) Rather than write 1000 words per day, shoot for 5000 a week. Miss a day and you can make up for it on other days.
There will be tasks that you will want to do on certain days. Give those tasks room to breathe. Don’t overload yourself with other tasks that you don’t need or want to do on those days.
Limitations are important. Setting limits that are reasoned makes sense, so set some for yourself on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. When you go beyond those limits, you can stretch them in the future. You’ll find that sweet spot at some point… and that spot may differ depending on the day, week, or month.
If you’re open to exploring this way of pacing your productivity, then I invite you to start with a limit that I think works well. It’s a number that allows you to give attention to your intentions without casting aside the demands of others in the process. (In other words, both you and those that are affected by what you do will recognize how productive you are.
The number is 6.
And if you’d like to explore the power of this number, then check out my productivity program, The Six, here. We’re human beings, not human doings. Pacing your productivity will help you live up to that. Just because technology allows for things to happen faster than ever doesn’t mean that everything can (or should) happen at that breakneck speed. There’s a reason the term “breakneck speed” exists, after all.
Try any (or all) of the above ways to pace your productivity and I know you’ll feel more like you’re not “doing” productive. You’ll feel – and know – that you’re being productive.