How to measure your productivity

Everyone wants to know how to be productive but very few people are sure what it means. I’ve already discussed what productivity means to me and how to approach setting goals for yourself and making behaviour stick so I’m not going to fill up this introduction space with a ‘previously on the Freshconnect blog’ segment. Instead, let’s talk about tracking productivity.

If you’ve never done it before, it might not be immediately obvious why you should set up ways to measure your productivity. Once you have your goals, tracking them gives you:

  • The room to identify whether you’re moving at the right pace. This way, you can either step it up or modify the scope of the project to make it more intensive. Maybe you pick up some tasks that you originally scoped out because you thought you wouldn’t be able to tackle them as well.
  • The feel good factor. Few things can crank up your motor like the satisfaction that comes from a job that’s progressing as it should.

But before we dive into methods to measure productivity, we have to talk about what you’re measuring. As in, what metrics are you capturing?

To me, productivity is a means to a goal. I want to make sure I’m making optimal use of my time i.e am I on the right track to meeting my goal(s)? This means I should have a clear breakdown of my goals into mini-goals in the time period I have in mind so I’ll know what I should work on next, instead of just grappling with the big picture.

And one more thing…it’s an important thing that you should keep in mind: You do you. What works for everyone else might not work for you. And that’s okay. You just have to keep trying until you figure out what works for you.

It’ll be frustrating and you might stay up nights wondering why you can’t be as organized as Anna, with her beautiful calligraphy and her meticulously detailed planner.

The point is: everyone learns and remembers differently. Some people remember visually – it helps them to write down and draw their ideas. Some people need a kanban board to visualise progress. Others need a mindmapping software. Just give everything a fair run until it doesn’t work and your manager’s calling a meeting because they’re concerned.

Let’s talk productivity tools

The way I see it, you can divide productivity tools into two broad categories: tools that help you manage your project and tools that help you track your time.

Let’s talk first about tools that help you manage projects –

1) Notebook and pen (and pencils, if that’s what floats your boat)

There’s a lot to be said about the satisfaction one can derive from writing down a to-do list and then scratching it off one by one, with your plan. There’s also a lot to be said about the effect that this can have on your vanity – the half-filled notebook magnifies your feeling of accomplishment and adds some cherries to it.

You don’t really need a system to have a to-do list in your notebook but it certainly doesn’t hurt to have one. Here are three interesting systems:

  • Bullet journal method. Cal Newport, the author of Deep Work, calls it a method that not only helps you get more organized but also makes you a better person. Wowza! Two birds, one stone. Definitely an edge over all those other methods that just help you be more organized.

    The BuJo method as some people refer to it stands apart from the regular to-do list because of something that people called rapid logging. Rapid logging is a method of capturing information as bullet points with the bullet point itself a different symbol to indicate its category. Dots (.) for tasks, dashes for notes and circles for events. Tasks can have different adjective-symbols to indicate their state.

    This is the daily log. The BuJo method also recommends setting up a monthly log with a calendar page to indicate upcoming events, an index so you can quickly flip to the relevant page and custom collections for your hobbies/events you’d like to track. For instance, you can create a monthly log to track your food habits.The Bullet journal method is for people who like pen and paper to-do lists, like journaling and stationery, and love creating art. Like really. If you have the time, and the jealousy to spare, take a look at the bulletjournal tag on Instagram.
  • The Becky Higgins method. Compared to the labor-intensive BuJo method, the Becky Higgins method is really straightforward. Make a list of tasks on a page – top to bottom for work-related tasks and bottom to top for personal tasks (if you run out of space, move to the next page). Use a highlighter to highlight the next important task to do next, do it and then strike it out. As simple as that.
  • The Neville Medhora method. Founder of the Kopywriting Kourse, Neville came up with a really straightforward method to track his to-dos when other people’s systems didn’t work for him. Date on top, appointments to the top- right, tasks to the center-left, hourly accomplishments to bottom-left, summary at the bottom of the page. Every day gets its own page. By making sure he writes down what he’s accomplished every hour, he can course correct if he realizes he’s slacking off. He makes the to-do list every night so he can just immediately get started on tackling stuff the next day.

I know that these pen and paper productivity systems seem really complex and like they’re more work than the actual work itself. However, these systems offer a flexibility that digital apps can’t measure up against because they’re unique to you. You can create and maintain a schedule that makes sense for you and capture details in the manner you want and not how the app creator mandates. Research also shows that the tactile experience of writing down tasks helps you remember them better.

There’s also the added advantage that it is as cheap or expensive as you make it and it’s a one time purchase. If you want to learn some BuJo hacks from practitioners, may I suggest the r/bulletjournal subreddit for some inspiration, feedback and support?

2) Apps to keep track of time

When you’re trying to make your working hours more efficient, there are two ways to go about it:

  1. You take a look back at the working day. Example: RescueTime. RescueTime is an app that shows you how you spend your time through detailed reports and data. You can also set up events based on this data – ask RescueTime to block certain websites that you feel you waste time on (some social media sites come to mind) or just send you alerts when you’ve crossed a time threshold.
  2. You make the most of every minute. Okay, more like every 20 minutes with a pomodoro timer. The brainchild of Francisco Cirrillo, the pomodoro technique helps people focus on their work by breaking up their time into work chunks and break chunks. You can either go with a real timer (bonus points if it’s a tomato timer) or an app like Tomatoes that’s basically a timer on screen. Zapier has a list of top 10 Pomodoro apps if you want to delve into this a little more.

3) Project management apps like Asana, Trello and Basecamp

Paper productivity systems are great until you have to:

  • Work with another person and make sure everyone’s on the same page
  • Share your ideas with a group of people so they can build on them
  • Backup your thoughts so that a wild coffee spill can’t take them out

That’s when digital project management apps step in to save the day. There are the popular project management apps like Asana, Trello and Basecamp – as well as an assortment of to-do apps including Evernote, Google Keep, Todoist, and Microsoft To-do.

Trello

Trello is a project management app whose USP is its kanban style organization method. Kanban is the Japanese word for ‘visual signals’ – the kanban style seeks to represent work in a visual manner so you, and everyone else, can keep track of it. In Trello, you’d ideally create a board for every project and use lists to represent the various stages of the project.

This is great for:

  • When you want to see in a quick glance what stage each task is in and who’s the owner
  • Adding detail to tasks because your team can interact with the cards and add comments, links, images and even checklists – so you can have sub tasks!

Trello is great at showcasing the kanban style of work but if you prefer a different style like timeline or calendar, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Another limitation is the absence of chat – board members cannot chat with each other in real-time for quick clarification.

Asana

If your style is more timeline and calendar than kanban, Asana is definitely the right tool for you. In Asana, you can view tasks in the kanban style, a list view, timeline view and a calendar view – whatever floats your boat. You can even create reports measuring project progress, in a jiffy. Asana also does not have chat – team members cannot chat with each other for quick clarification.

Basecamp

Basecamp has task management, message boards, calendar views, document and file storage, and group chat in the same tool. If Asana and Trello are sophisticated task management tools, Basecamp is the bazooka you bring to the knife party.

Both Trello and Asana are priced similarly – they start at $0.00/mo and work their way up to $9.99/mo/user. Basecamp is a flat $99/mo for the entire team.

Bonus: iDoneThis

iDoneThis makes it really easy to do check-ins – every day, your team can check in, either via browser and email, and update their status. If you want to keep track of everyone’s work but let them run their own part of the project, iDoneThis is definitely the way to go.


Feature image credits: Swetha Kanithi. Cheers to Prashanthini Mande for feedback.