Are You Measuring Productivity on Someone Else’s Stick?

Productivity. What does that really mean anyway? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, to be productive means “yielding results, benefits or profits.”

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It does not mean yielding results, benefits our profits according to your mother, your boss, your best friend, your partner, your (fill in the blank). None of the above! It simply says that you are yielding them. So why do we spend all kinds of time comparing our productivity – our results, benefits, or profits – to anyone else’s? Doesn’t it just get us feeling like we are a complete failure and that we somehow fall short?

Case in point. Back in March, when we were all in the middle of adjusting to a global pandemic, I was still trying to adjust when it all started – the little productivity comparison started to creep in. I’d get a text from my friend who would say, “I was so productive at work today,” or I’d log in to Facebook or Instagram to see someone’s newly found “time” to be productive posting. “I’m so grateful for all this time that I have to spend with my family, and picking up this new craft. I even joined an online yoga class thru Zoom,” I saw on her post. Oh my gosh. What had I done? I was still kicking and screaming about having to work from home (vs. the office). I was still trying to wake up from the fear and anxiety of seeing empty grocery store shelves and freezers. Who had time to pick up crafting again, let alone an online yoga class? It took all of me to show up in those early days of the pandemic. I didn’t have time to be productive I thought.

Then my life coach asked me a very good question in the middle of it all early one week. She asked,

“What does being productive mean to you?”

It means taking a walk in the morning to help ground me and get ready to face the day I told her. It means doing the best I can working from home without all the equipment I would have in the office. It means taking a nap during the middle of the work day because my body needed rest. It means calling a friend and connecting with her over our commonalities and differences. The list went on and on. It means so many things I soon realized.

In this moment, I learned something that I had known before. Comparison kills your joy. It wasn’t until I was brought back to the reality of this fact by that one simple question that I realized I was comparing my own productivity to my friends and neighbors and colleagues at work. This was stealing my joy. What is productive to me is completely different to someone else. And that’s ok. That’s what makes us unique.

If you have been feeling like you are not measuring up to your friends, your neighbors, your partner, my challenge to you is to get out your own measuring stick and start measuring your own productivity according to your own standards. To take it even further, start a conversation with someone when they say, “I was so productive today,” by asking them what that means. You will soon learn what productive results, benefits or profits they achieved and how they define productivity. You may be surprised by what you learn. If anything, your mental health will thank you for asking this one simple question!

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