“ Why weren’t you at work between 8:21 and 8:33?” my corporate sales manager asked me. I told her I actually was working, I just ran into a colleague I share a project with on my way to the toilets and I quickly discussed some feedback I had received about said project. Her reply: “Look Ferry, if I don’t see you behind your desk or in a meeting I’m assuming you’re not at work”. That was the stupidest thing I ever heard in my entire life. At the same time, it was the best thing I ever heard, as it made me realise I needed to get out of that environment, quickly.
What does “productivity” look like?
Her words made me realize a couple of things. Like I said, first and foremost that I needed to get the heck out of the toxic envoriment. But secondly, and more importantly, it made me rethink the meaning of “ being at work”. Or better yet: what does it mean — to me — to actually be productive? Do I need my laptop for that? Should I be unavailable for anything but “ work” between certain hours and what actually is work?
There is so much pressure coming from social media, influencer and maybe even people you work with, where desirable things are shown off combined with people telling us to work harder. Sleep faster! Work 16+ hours a day! Cancel Netflix and use that saved time to work even more! But besides that sounding unhealthy and just like more work, is it true? Does working 16 hours a day increase productivity? Or, what I had gotten curious about, can I be productive while not sitting behind a work machine (my laptop)?
In order to understand what both work and productivity mean to me, I needed to get back to the foundation: what am I working towards and how can I get there. I needed to define a goal first, which could be a major goal (in my case: speak in front of a collective 1 million people), or a tiny goal during a certain day (like: make 6 sales calls). You see, work isn’t an end in itself. Work are the actions we perform to reach a certain goal. It’s the actions we take to get there, so work can be anything that brings us closer to our goal. If you are employed and you “go to work” you’re just going to a certain area to perform actions to reach a certain goal. That’s what work is.
Now that I had my goal set, I could determine macro and micro goals and the action that needed to be done, a.k.a: the work. With the work (actions) defined, it was time to have a long hard look at productivity. It’s all about producing an outcome, being productive and reaching the goals on the designated deadlines. But being productive can also mean: producing ideas that help me reach my goals (faster). Could I be productive without sitting behind a laptop? Yes! Because I needed to do a whole lot of thinking and planning before even starting. So I redefinied “work” for myself as “the actions I need to take in order to reach my goals”. Now, going to work just means setting myself up to reach goals.
Producing outcome, thus, being productive
Now I could focus on the outcome. As you remember, my goals is to speak in front of 1 million people — not all at once — and I’ve set myself a target for 10 years from when I set the goal (which will be january 1st 2032). But how can I get closer to that goal? I need to come up with a plan. And here’s where the magic happens: I was producing my plan while playing a videogame that required no focus. I was able to gather my thoughts, because I was away from my laptop, the office and everything else that could distract me. Now, I was in a comfortable zone doing something that allows my brain to focus on whatever I choose. I was actually producing my plan. If you would see me, sitting there, playing a game and smiling all the way, would you assume me being at work? I guess not.
Other things that I did that my former manager would describe as being “unproductive” (because I wasn’t sitting at a desk behind a screen), was working out in the middle of the day (and relieving stress to make space for more thinking and focus), walking around the block with my wife to share some ideas I had and even taking a 2 day work leave to Barcelone where I did more work than I could have dreamt of, using just 10% of laptop battery. Most work there was done eating Tappas, sharing thoughts and networking. The results where there, but again, if you see me sitting in the sun eating tappas and laughing out loud, you’d assume me being on vacation.
You decide what work means to you
We all have different definitions of work and being productive. Some jobs require a specific list of tasks, locations or steps, I get that. There are jobs that require a measured output over a certain time (e.g. containers loaded, shelves stocked, patients seen). I just want to reframe productivity in a different way than what influencers and society want you to believe. Besides, if you work in the docks loading containers, you can still be productive for whatever you like. Want to start a company but don’t have the time because of a full-time job? Use commuting time, breaks and so on to be productive any way you can.
The message is clear: you decide what being productive means.