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.
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 every item off your to-do list?
Maybe none of your to-dos needed doing in the first place. We’re talking about productivity, not efficiency.
Who cares if you made a ton of money?
Yes, 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 used whatever productivity porn move is popular these days?
Not your future self, that’s for sure.
Future You doesn’t give a rat’s patootie about how you did what you did nearly as much as about what you did.
I know this because when I think about what my past self did, I care about he did for me (the results), not how he did it (the process).
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 possibly made more progress and been more productive.
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 Mission
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.
Here’s Kim and my mission statement:
To fight complacency, which lulls us into going back and forth in our lives’ paths until the ruts we erode are too deep to climb out of.
We’ll do so by enthusiastically exploring and blazing our best possible paths. And we’ll try to haul as many people as possible out of their ruts to do the same.
Because a rut-less world where everyone makes the most of their trips through life would be an extra extraordinary place.
What’s your mission?
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. It depends on your mission, I guess.
Oh, you want specific productivity tactics, not future self mumbo jumbo?
That’s probably your problem.
You want to get the highest-tech new bike to win a cycle race then take off without even knowing which way’s the finish line.
First, decide on your mission and start tracking your progress. That itself will provide you with plenty of motivation and focus. Only then is it worth tinkering with 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 like 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 our strategies to change people’s minds (Belief Remodeling) and to get 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 you’ve been using to measure your personal productivity (if anything) 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 cleanest answer, I think it’s in the right direction.
It’s been working wonderfully for me so far.
And since part of my mission is to pull others out of their ruts, 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. Riffing 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?), the post is only 72 words long.
- From productivity porn to mindful productivity, by Anne-Laure Le Cunff. How to tell if you’re addicted to productivity porn and what to do about it.