In the spirit of productivity, let’s cut to the chase. The best way to measure personal productivity is this:
For a given period of time, the amount of progress you make that your future self will thank you for.
If that makes sense, stop here. Or if it’s not clear, read on because it’ll be worth your time.
Think back to what you got done last week.
Do you think if you shared it with the Future You from a year from now—or ten years, or fifty—they’d tell you, “Well done, Younger Me?”
Isn’t that all that matters?
Who cares if you ticked off every item on your to-do list?
Maybe none of your to-dos needed doing in the first place. We’re talking about measuring productivity here, not efficiency.
Who cares if you made a ton of money?
Everyone who doesn’t have enough money. Duh. Believe me, I know the feeling. I’m a blogger.
We all have bills to pay. And it feels good to be able to splurge. But the point where your opportunity costs exceed your income is lower than you think.
And who cares if you meditated, did deep undistracted work, or successfully executed whatever productivity porn move is popular these days?
Not your future self, that’s for sure.
Future You doesn’t give a shit about how you did what you did. They care what you did.
Look at it this way: Future You is your boss. You who’s reading this now are their employee. Like every boss in the world, Future You wants you to deliver results.
To be clear, we’re not only talking about work results here. If anything, your future self cares less about your work than you do. We’re talking about life results.
Future You wants you to deliver well-being. And that’s why the best way to measure personal productivity is to ask ourselves how much what we do will matter to our future selves.
How to calculate your personal productivity.
The Redo-It Ratio
Just because your future self may be glad you did what you did doesn’t mean you couldn’t have been more productive.
If you want to make the most of your trip through life rather than make it reasonably pleasant, you’ve got to hold yourself accountable by monitoring and improving upon your performance.
That’s where this rough calculation of personal productivity comes in. I call it the Redo-It Ratio1Because I can’t think of a better name.
Set your objective.
Like any successful company, we individuals need our own personal mission statements. They guide our decisions and ensure all departments in our lives work together towards the same long-term objective.
Your personal mission statement can be anything. And it will change over time. But it should be something. You can’t make measurements and make meaningful progress without anything to measure against.
To give you some idea of where to start, see my quick guide to making your own personal mission statement. And to give you an example, here’s my mission:
I inspire people to think for themselves and try new things so they escape the suck of the status quo, find more rewarding paths, and make the most of life. The more who do so, the less powerful the status quo becomes. Eventually, we can make this an extraordinary world where the unconventional is conventional.
Assess your progress.
What, if anything, did you accomplish that your future self will remember and thank you for because it got you closer to fulfilling your mission?
For example, this past week, I:
- Met with a couple of people to get their input on making this blog better at reaching my mission.
- Corresponded with some readers to answer their questions and help them find ways out of their ruts.
- Wrote a good Consider This that not enough people opened because of a crappy headline (so I learned a lesson the hard way).
- Got in a few solid outdoor workouts and played beach volleyball a couple of times.
- Spent lots of quality time with Kim and good friends taking advantage of the good weather, our youth, and the freedom we have.
Those were things Future Me will thank me for.
The rest… not so much.
If you could go back and redo the week, Groundhog Day-style, how long would it take you to make the same amount of progress towards your mission?
It’ll be an imprecise estimate. Still, it’s plenty enough to make you more aware of how productive you truly are (or aren’t).
I probably could have done the blog-related work I accomplished last week in a day and the personal stuff in two days. So three days, total.
Divide Step 3 by Step 2.
Divide the total from Step 3 into the actual amount of time it took.
That percentage is your Redo-It Ratio, a rough measure of personal productivity. The closer your Redo-It Ratio is to 100%, the more productive you were.
For me last week, three days out of seven is 43%.
Not bad. And much better than what I used to be before I pretired and started thinking bigger picture. But far from ideal.
What do you think your Redo-It Ratio was for last week?
Frequently Asked Questions
No. It’s too rough an estimate to waste time calculating.
But I highly, HIGHLY recommend you do steps 1, 2, and 3.
That means you need to have a mission, keep track of what you do, and review it weekly, monthly, and yearly. It keeps you accountable, aware, and on track.
Lifelogging (i.e., keeping track of everything I do) has been enormously helpful for me in this regard.
You’re right. Your future self doesn’t want to be broke and homeless because your earlier self acted rashly in pursuit of some righteous mission.
But do you think Future You will be happy if you manage to pay your bills, feed your family, and please your bosses but otherwise make zero progress toward your mission?
That’s up to you to decide. And it depends on your mission, I guess.
Oh, you want specific productivity tactics, not future self mumbo jumbo?
That’s probably your problem.
That line of thinking is akin to wanting to get the highest-tech new bike to win a cycle race, then taking off without even knowing which way’s the finish line.
First, decide on your mission. Then start tracking your progress. Only then is it worth tinkering with productivity tactics.
As productively lazy author Michael Lewis says, “People waste years of their lives not being willing to waste hours of their lives.”
So maybe “waste” an hour or two reflecting on your mission and how to get there rather than distracting yourself with busyness or blogs like this one.
You might feel unproductive doing so.
But it doesn’t matter what Current You feels. More important is what Future You feels. And it sounds like Future You might want you to waste some time thinking about what to do next.
If you’re like me, you from 10 years ago has a different mission than you today. And you 10 years from now will probably think something different, too.
Here’s how I look at it:
It’s better to live like explorers than little kids lost in the mall. Pick a direction and head there rather than stand still or wander around in circles crying for mommy.
But you can use it to hire and motivate employees better.
Take a page from the strategies for changing people’s minds (Belief Remodeling) and for getting your way without nagging (WART Technique):
If you can help get what they want by getting what you want, you’ll both win.
So, in the case of the Redo-It Ratio, that means two steps:
First, understand your employees’ missions.
Second, set up their roles in ways that help them work towards them while also helping you and achieve your mission.
Sometimes this is easy to arrange. Sometimes it’s not possible. In the latter case, do Future You and any such employee’s future self a favor by hiring someone else.
You’ve undoubtedly heard the quote, “What gets measured gets managed.”
Well, what gets mis-measured gets mis-managed, too.
And I’m willing to wager whatever (if anything) you’ve been using to measure your personal productivity tilts toward the mis-management side. If not, you wouldn’t be reading this.
But I think your Future Self will be glad you read this. Because while the Redo-It Ratio may not be the best cleanest answer to the question of how to measure personal productivity, I think it’ll guide you in the right direction.
It’s been working wonderfully for me so far.
And since part of my mission is to help people make the most of their trips through life, hopefully it works for you, too.
If so, my time spent writing this post was productive.
- Being Lazy Is the Key to Success, Inc Magazine. A riff on author Michael Lewis’ approach of using laziness as a filter to help him decide what to work on.
- Efficient or productive? by Seth Godin. In the spirit of efficiency (or productivity?), this post is only 72 words long.
- From productivity porn to mindful productivity, by Anne-Laure Le Cunff. How to self-diagnose an addiction to productivity porn and what to do about it.