You woke up this morning with great ambitions. You were planning to hit the gym, eat a healthy breakfast, get to the office an hour early and write all your reports by noon.
In the afternoon you’d give yourself a headstart on that massive project. Finishing everything by 4pm, you’d beat the traffic home and help the kids with their homework.
...At least that’s how you imagined your day.
Did any of this really happen? Nope. You skipped the gym and breakfast, bolted out the door late, and battled constant interruptions at work. You left the office with a longer to-do list than when you started, and were caught in miserable rush hour traffic heading home.
Heating up your cold, leftover dinner you wonder how another day managed to slip through your fingers.
Why? Because like every other human being, you struggle with personal productivity.
What is personal productivity?
You’ve heard of personal productivity a million times. It’s an internet buzzword, loved by self-help gurus, bloggers and entrepreneurs around the world. But what is productivity, really?
In simple terms, productivity is our ability to achieve tasks in a set amount of time (e.g. how much we get done in a single day, or a working week). It’s about how much effort we put in, how efficiently we complete tasks and the results we produce.
What these tasks are will depend on your individual goals and priorities. There are millions of things you can become more productive at - whether it’s maintaining your crossfit body, writing university assignments, or running your business efficiently.
Increasing your productivity not only helps you achieve better results in your work life, it means you get the most out of your time.
This can free up many hours to relax and enjoy other passions.
Why is productivity so difficult?
We’re lucky to live in an amazing time of global connectivity, with a world of information at our fingertips. But this also means it’s harder than ever to avoid distractions. Online temptations like social media, messenger apps and entertainment are omnipresent in our daily lives.
It’s not just technology that makes personal productivity difficult. It’s because we’re often unaware of our unproductive moments.
These days it’s so natural to glance at your smartphone, click on a link or start browsing the internet - we don’t realise the magnitude of these distractions. Not until it’s too late.
That’s why measuring your own personal productivity is so crucial. You can’t improve anything without first quantifying and understanding it.
How to measure personal productivity effectively
Even the most chronic procrastinator can learn to increase productivity. Over time your brain can be trained to prioritise important tasks, while tuning out distractions.
But before this training begins you need a clear picture of your own habits. These are four of the most popular techniques for measuring personal productivity effectively.
The first step towards understanding your productivity is logging time. Time logging involves keeping track of all your activities, both business and personal. This is best done over a 7 day period, including your work hours and any other time you want measured.
Throughout your day, make a note of the time you start and stop each activity. While this can be done the old-fashioned way (pen and paper) you’ll save a huge amount of time and stress by using an online app.
It’s important to calculate your business tasks (reporting, paying wages, accounting) in as much detail as possible. But you must also record all other activities in your day.
Did you go to the bathroom? Take a 10 minute coffee break? Chat on the phone to your mum? Browse memes on Reddit? All of these things should be recorded! That way, you’ll know how and why time is being lost. Recording your work interruptions is just as important as recording your actual output.
You should end up with at least 50+ time log entries per day. It sounds like a big job - and it is - but a week of dedicated time logging is the first step towards increasing productivity permanently.
Calculating your personal productivity ratio
Now that you’ve completed a one-week time log, you can calculate your personal productivity ratio.
Start by identifying the total number of hours you ‘worked’ in the week. This is the time you’re supposed to be achieving your goals - long hours spent in the office, at the library, or sitting at your desk trying to write that Pulitzer prize winning novel.
Now calculate your actual time spent on productive tasks. Subtract all the non-important activities and distractions that occurred in these time blocks.
Your personal productivity ratio = Hours spent on productive tasks, divided by total hours worked.
The first time I tried this I measured my standard 40 hour work week. I was shocked to discover I’d only spent 12 hours on writing (which was the core component of my job). Everything else was eaten up by emails, social media, helping colleagues and random workplace distractions.
40 / 12 = 0.3. So my productivity ratio was a dismal 30%.
This might sound crazy but it’s more common than you think. A study by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics found that in an 8 hour work day, the average worker is only productive for 2 hours and 53 minutes. It seems that most of us are struggling with serious productivity problems!
And time logging isn’t just for the office. If your goal is to learn computer coding in your spare time and you dedicate Saturday afternoons to achieving this, write a separate time log of what is productivity on Saturdays. Record all distractions like making lunch, internet browsing, cleaning up after the kids, etc.
You can calculate a productivity ratio for almost any goal you’re trying to achieve.
Just imagine the possibilities if we all made full, productive use of our working hours - both at work and in our personal lives.
Identifying productivity sinks
Knowing your personal productivity ratio is only one piece of the puzzle. If you’re 30% productive at striving towards your goals, where’s the other 70% of your time going?
It’s time to develop a clear picture of your productivity sinks and pitfalls. You must learn your weaknesses so you know where improvement is needed.
To identify your productivity sinks, return to your time log. Calculate all the time spent on non-productive tasks (those that don’t bring you closer to your business or personal goals) and random distractions.
Here are some of the most common productivity sinks:
- Social Media
- Other Web Browsing
- Checking / Replying to Emails
- Food & Drink Breaks
- Helping Colleagues
- Talking / Socialising
- Phone Calls
- Family Issues
- Online Gaming
Once you have the total time spent on each, group them into categories and assign a percentage. You can’t solve every productivity sink - so a good approach is highlighting your biggest 3 offenders. Tackling these should be your priority.
In my case, my biggest productivity sinks at work were: answering emails (22%), social media (18%), and reading news websites (7%).
Having this information let’s you create a targeted plan to increase productivity. I installed a social media and news website blocker on my PC (which automatically activated during work hours) and designated time blocks for checking my emails. I’d only open my inbox from 9am-9.30am and 3.30pm-4pm.
It took a while to form these new habits but the results were long-lasting. And I never could have achieved this without first measuring my productivity, and understanding what productivity is.
Using the right productivity tools
As mentioned previously, you don’t have to track your productivity by hand. There’s a multitude of online tools available to help you understand what productivity is, track your tasks, and ultimately increase your productivity.
If you’re interested in improving not only your work habits, but increasing productivity across your whole company, a cloud-based software like WorkflowMax can be extremely effective. WorkflowMax offers time tracking on the go and makes it easy for your employees to log their activities.
View at a glance how long it’s taking them to complete tasks and jobs, and learn where your business profits are being made and lost.
So are you killing your productivity?
Your time is a non-refundable asset, so why not make the most of it?
Knowing what your productivity is can make you more efficient, happy and successful, both at work and at home.
By measuring your own productivity you will get a clear picture of your strengths and weaknesses. You’ll learn which days of the week and times you work best. You’ll also discover the pitfalls which affect your own productivity most - whether it’s social media, phone calls, task swapping or general procrastination.
And this knowledge is power. Armed with these insights, you can start developing a strategy to dramatically improve your personal productivity. Learn how to get more from your day, every day.
Personal productivity is especially important for small business owners, as time management can literally make or break your cashflow. In the upcoming chapters we’ll give you some powerful techniques designed specifically for business owners, but also applicable to anyone who wants to increase their productivity.