Any measure that becomes a target ceases to be a good measure.[^1]
Having said that, two tools I use to measure productivity are:
1. The Inbox
2. The kitchen sink
These may seem odd, and of course, I’ll explain…
The Inbox is a singular place where I can set thoughts aside. It helps me keep my focus. When I am engaged, I can toss ideas there, knowing that I can rest on habit to clear them.
In order to clear the Inbox, there need to be places where those ideas can responsibly wait. I have to genuinely trust that those places will remind me of those ideas, with minimal friction, at the moments they are useful, and that they will stay out of the way, otherwise.
All that is to say, I have places for my ideas to go. When I can clear the Inbox regularly, it is ready to capture my thoughts for development. Once addressed, they tend not to come to mind. I have a sense that my concerns are addressed, and so I can continue to develop those things that I find meaningful at a pace that honors the flow between me and the things that matter.
So a regularly cleared Inbox, or more accurately a mind with its intentions regularly addressed, is one useful measure.
The Kitchen Sink
The kitchen sink might seem to be a strange choice. Cleaning the dishes is often upsetting or dreaded for many.
A kitchen is the heart of the home. It’s where we eat, connect, and pass moments between moments. Parties often wind up in the kitchen.
Of course, the kitchen sink is where dishes, pots, and pans can pile. It’s also where they are cleaned and renewed.
A clean set of dishes, much like any cleaning routine, is about supporting the things that are meaningful in life. If something meaningful is not developing, we can be angry, distressed, or upset.
Much like we might kick the wall on a bad day when the wall had nothing to do with the day, our routines often bear the brunt of our anger.
If we have no time to do the dishes, we are likely overwhelmed by our responsibilities.
If we cannot easily dry dishes in the rack and add them to cabinets with room for reach, we likely have too much competing for space. The same processes likely appear elsewhere in our home and office, with our self and relationships.
If we do not have a clear process to add soap and water to a bowl, then wash, and add the dishes to a drying rack, we likely don’t have supportive routines elsewhere in our lives.
When these matters are in place, when we genuinely feel that the routines we do support the gentle pace of a meaningful life, I find doing the dishes enjoyable. The flowing water, the cleaning of a dish for use once again, and my movements taking part in the act of renewal join into moments of reflection.
This is all to say, enjoying doing the dishes is one useful measure of meaningful productivity. When I do not, I have a prompt to consider what might be amiss.
If you are interested in finding a clear deck, where you have a relaxed, intuitive sense that what needs to get done will get done and where you still have time to allow your mind to wander, consider Being Productive: Simple Steps to Calm Focus.
[^1]: Goodhart’s Law