“Productivity” and Other Lies They Tell Us
I used to think that when I was busy I was automatically being productive. Then I worked three jobs simultaneously and I learned that there is an enormous difference. More importantly I learned a few shortcuts on how to actually be productive, the value of productivity and I debunked the biggest myth of all that you can do everything well at the same time.
The first lesson I quickly learned is that just because you sit at a desk for eight hours, it does not mean you have been productive for eight hours. When you sit down in the morning you first check emails, make coffee, say hi to the odd person, create your to-do list (half of which you probably will not get around to), and then after almost an hour of wasted time plunge into your first task. Then you get interrupted by a meeting or a new task is thrown your way, when the day ends you say almost in a self-congratulatory tone, “I spent the whole day at my desk.” To really get a handle on how much work you are actually doing, set a stopwatch when you start the task and then pause whenever you deviate from the task. It will very quickly illustrate how much time you waste.
Learn your body’s habits then ensure you work to maximise your peak productivity. Sitting in an office all day I noticed that I hit a brain lull at approximately 3pm. I obviously couldn’t just get up and leave the office at that time. I leaned into my body’s rhythm by ensuring that I did less taxing tasks when my slump hit so that I could listen to podcasts and productively make it through the weak spot of my day. It is futile fighting your body and its natural processes, rather learn to adapt to them.
Think of your time as money. This seems like an overused saying that has very little relevance in the real world, right? Wrong. As I was working three jobs and each paid at varying points of the monetary scale I found myself calculating how much an extra hour spent in one place would actually cost me. Out of a sense of obligation or necessity you may find yourself dedicating more time to a task than you had originally budgeted. At the time you can justify it by saying, “oh it’s only an extra hour or so”. Cumulatively all those extra hours you have dedicated to tasks without additional compensation have cost you a lot of money. Create a time budget, it will help you quantify what it means to actually waste time.
Prioritising is the key to a productive life. The reality is that you can have it all, simply not at the same time. While I was in this intense work heavy period of my life I found I had less time to gym, indulge in my love of all things food and even spend with my friends. I knew I would only be under pressure for a certain amount of time so I chose to prioritise work and rest to maximise my productivity.
Productivity is understanding that it is not how long you have spent working, but how well you have made the time spent work for you.
Litha Maqungo is an Honours student at the University of Cape Town. She is crafting a career path one internship and industry at a time. Finance may be her future profession but food is her passion. When she isn’t working you can find her in the kitchen whipping up new creations.