As a recovering perfectionist*, I tend to be too hard on myself when I think I haven’t gotten enough done on a particular day. Can anyone else relate? Especially on a day off. I have grand visions of checking things off a long and aggressive to-do list.
At the end of the day, my husband will often ask, “How did things go today?” Almost without fail, I say some variation of, “Well, it was OK, but I didn’t get as much done as I wanted.” This happens so regularly, it almost makes me crazy.
My first reaction to such a realization is to feel bad for myself like I failed. This is my perfectionist nature, which can never be satisfied. Fortunately, I’m slowly coming to realize the trap that my perfectionism continually sets for me. I outlined a few things I learned in a previous post about productivity. Building on that, here are a couple things that I often need to remind myself.
Communication counts as productivity
One of my trademark moves is forgetting to account for the time it takes to communicate, and the necessity of it for getting things done. Not many of us accomplish things entirely in a vacuum; we must work with others in one way or another.
A big mistake I often make is limiting my sense of accomplishment to only tasks that appear on my list. When I don’t count human interaction item(s), I am setting myself up for disappointment in the amount I have gotten done, when in fact, I have done much more than I think.
For a work example, let’s say I walk into the office at 9 a.m. From there, I greet my co-workers, check my email, and write my to-do list for the day. Then a co-worker stops by my desk, and we chat for 10-15 minutes about an upcoming project. Afterward, I proceed to reply to time-sensitive emails from clients and employees, which gets interrupted multiple times due to incoming phone calls, and a text from a co-worker which requires a thoughtful response. In the midst of all that, I get an urgent, drop-everything-and-do-it-now email from the boss. To respond to it, I need to do some research, check with employees on various items, and take the time to write a well thought-out, detailed reply.
Next thing I know, it is pushing 11 a.m., and I haven’t gotten a single thing on my list done. Have I been utterly unproductive? No, quite the opposite. I’ve been humming with productivity and collaborating with others to help them get things done as well. My problem, at least partially, is failing to acknowledge the task of communication as a thing achieved. If I would re-frame my thinking, I would realize that I have in fact gotten quite a bit done. Just different things than I planned.
Caveat: I know there are 100s of articles and books out there from high acheivers on how to set up your day for productivity. That is not the focus of this post.
Make room for the unexpected
Just like that surprise email from the boss that can change the entire trajectory of the day, there are unlimited amounts of other surprises that crop up to veer me from the path I planned for myself. An older relative needs to be taken to the doctor. Traffic is worse than normal, and it takes an extra hour to get home. I run into an old friend at the store, and end up chatting for a long time in the parking lot. Etc, etc., etc.
Everything takes longer than I think it will. Everything.
Not much explanation needed here, other than expanding on the obvious. Take a simple task, estimate honestly how long it would take to do it while thinking vigorously, without interruptions. Then add 50% or more. That is how long it may actually take with all factors. The one who knows to build in a cushion for the unknown when estimating a time budget is wise indeed. Now multiply that process for every project. It suddenly becomes clearer why I don’t get done as much as I think I will.
I started this post with a * next to recovering perfectionist. That is to denote that I have learned that perfectionism, left unchecked, leads to perpetual dissatisfaction with one’s performance. There is always 1-12 more things that should have been done, and of the 78 things that were done, they weren’t done well enough. This type of thinking is a joy-stealer.
I am not advocating that we all loosen our standards of hard work, or pat ourselves on the back after a lazy day. What I am saying is that, if you struggle as I do with often feeling like an under-achiever, despite working hard constantly, it may be time to take a closer look at some of these items. Realize that communication is work, and worthy to be acknowledged as such. Acknowledge that unplanned items will pop up, and that is OK. Realize that everything might take longer than you think, and plan for it.
Once you’ve done all these things, adjust your expectations accordingly and give yourself grace when you don’t get as much done as you thought you would. Tomorrow is another day.