“How are you?”

“I’m good, but I’m so busy!”

Exchanges like these are the norm these days. We leap at any opportunity to explain how busy and overworked we are. Unlike the days of old, when free time was seen as a necessary luxury, today we equate busyness with a meaningful life.

The worst part? The busier we get as a society, the less productive we actually are. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, our productivity rate is increasing at the slowest rate to date, but people are spending more hours at work than ever before.

Stuck in the Past

It’s really no surprise that we measure productivity in terms of time. During the industrial revolution, our entire economy hinged on time. Workers ran machines, machined yielded a predictable output per hour. If you wanted to increase productivity, you increased time spent. It was that simple.

Today’s “knowledge economy” calls workers to be high-level thinkers rather than cogs in the machine. The nature of work has completely evolved, and yet we cling to old-fashioned ideas about what productivity looks like.

Clinging to Easy

Beyond sticking to the status quo, researchers argue that there is something else at play here.

Measuring time is easy. It’s predictable, and it’s the way most leaders were trained to manage. If an employee arrives early, stays late, and answers emails after hours, managers don’t have to wonder about their commitment. (We’ve even gone so far as to track mousepad movements when employees are out of the office.)

If managers, instead, had to regularly measure the value of the work, however, the job would become more challenging. Perhaps, as managers, we are subconsciously choosing to measure productivity with time because it’s easy; maybe we simply don’t know a better way.

What’s a Better Way?

“When we constantly talk about how hard we’re working, we perpetuate the idea that you have to work all the time to succeed in this world, and you just don’t.” How can we change our ways?

  • Stop When You’re Done: Set an output or performance goal for each new day or week. Attach that goal to the value it will contribute to the team or organization. Focus on that goal, and that goal only. When you achieve what you set out to do in a designated period of time, you get to stop!
  • Pack in the Value: Rather than striving for a certain number of hours, focus instead on the value you created that week. Maybe you held an out-of-the-box brainstorm that created a new energy on the team. Perhaps you got to reenergize with your family and friends and then arrived back at the office as a more wholesome version of yourself. Maybe you finally finished that deck a coworker was waiting on. In all of these achievements, there is a great deal of value.
  • Reframe Your Language: The next time someone asks you about your work or your day, go beyond how busy you are. Take a moment to identify a project you completed or a goal you’ve moved closer to achieving. Help others find the value beneath their busyness, too, by asking follow up questions. You may help change the culture around you!