A couple of my recent posts on motivation dance around the idea of productivity when you’re trying to accomplish big goals. In these posts I talk about the importance of your attitude and your process, rather than focusing on the product. Still, we don’t start with page one of a book and not have the basic plan that someday we’ll reach page 400 and be finished. And because we often have challenges (day jobs, kids, spouses, health issues) that interfere with our attitude and our process, we sometimes want to measure our productivity to know if we’re still on the path or if we’ve taken an unintended detour and need to refocus our efforts. Are we on track to finish that book some time this year? Will we fit into our old jeans before the end of the summer? Will we have enough saved for a down payment by next year?
But how do you measure productivity when it comes to the things in our lives that don’t yield to “x amount accomplished”? I’ve spent more than one day writing all morning and erasing everything I’ve written all afternoon. My net result of productivity for that day is zero. Still, that doesn’t mean I did no work worth doing. I just didn’t do anything you could measure.
Recently a friend asked me, a little tongue-in-cheek, what the secret to writing is. I said, not entirely tongue-in-cheek, “Stare out the window for an hour, write for five minutes.” I could claim that every one of those hours spent staring out the window was crucial for my writing, but that’s not true. A lot of the time, I’m not thinking about the book at all but am instead trying to figure out my grocery list.
I know various writers attempt to measure in various ways. Some work for a certain number of hours – and when that time has elapsed, they’re done for the day. Others write a certain number of words, whether that takes them one hour or ten. For me, I do some combination of both. I set aside two hours in the morning for whatever creative writing I want to do, and I set deadlines for each project. I know that if I’m fairly disciplined, I can finish a draft in a certain amount of time, a revision in a certain amount more. But I also know that when I’m working on something tricky (a recent book proposal, for example, that took me two months to write when I can usually do one in a week or two) all of these measures get tossed aside. So in the end it comes down to trusting myself to do what’s right for the work and to do it daily.
How do you stay on track and measure your productivity?