Be Careful What You Wish For

Back at the turn of the century (the turn of this one I mean, I’m not here since the 1900s, despite what my kids think) I was working in my first job, and at the time, there was a preoccupation with productivity. Predicting it. Measuring it. Improving it. You can’t manage what you can’t measure, all of that.

We were designing productivity sheets, and coming up with complicated formulae for tracking work done versus expected output. (You’ve fallen asleep now, haven’t you. I know.)

A view of my old-old office from my newer old office

I remember my boss at the time saying that people generally work at about 60% productivity. I was shocked, it seemed so low. We had to build that in to the sheet, he said. We spent more time, I suspect, designing the sheets than doing any of the work required to fill the sheets, and in the end, I don’t know if we actually gained any efficiency.

There are things I miss about my old life in financial services, but figuring out the productivity question is not one of them.

However, on Monday last week, when I spent five hours at my laptop and achieved absolutely, unequivocally, precisely nothing, I reckon I could have done with a bit of management. Or monitoring. Or even some kind of a heavy chain to keep me at my desk.

Suddenly I missed having a boss, or benchmark-setting peers, or even the bare minimum of scrutiny to keep me at my desk and off social media. (I even tried asking Alexa to make me do some work, but she just said, “Sorry, I don’t know that one.” You and me both, Alexa.)

When I finally closed my laptop and left to pick up the kids, I reckon I’d completed about one hour’s worth of work in the five I spent trying. Turn-of-the-century Andrea would not be impressed.

In my old job, I had unproductive mornings too. But there was always a meeting to break things up, or coffee, or a bit of eye-rolling about the others (the others changed throughout the years but there were always others; people on other teams or in other offices or other businesses – basically people who weren’t us and hadn’t done things our way).

There were good natured complaints and downright storm-the-castle complaints and who’s-taken-all-the-milk complaints (the others, it was always the others).

There were people to talk to when the meeting went badly and people to talk to about the ill-thought out project and people to talk to when the baby was up all night.

Until there weren’t.

Because the thing about being a writer is, it’s lonely. There is nobody to talk to when it’s going well and nobody to talk to when it’s going wrong. And on an unproductive morning, Alexa makes for dismal company.

And there I was on Monday morning, missing work, missing my old colleagues, missing deadlines (in every sense) and maybe even missing the old timesheets.

On Tuesday morning, I made myself a promise. If I put my nose to the grindstone, I’d let myself off the hook at midday. I’d go for a short run on Dun Laoghaire Pier, and a long coffee afterwards.

It worked, I got about six hours worth of work done in three, and by half past twelve, I was taking photos of boats, at the end of a very short but very satisfying run. I had coffee and a bagel, and bought myself a new book. I got air, and sun, and views, and broke the (cabin) fever.

It’s not quite the same as chats at work, and I can’t magic up some colleagues, but I think I’ve finally figured out the productivity question.


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Author: Andrea Mara | Office Mum

Blogger, freelance writer, author, mother - muddling through and constantly looking for balance.

4 thoughts on “Be Careful What You Wish For”

  1. I definitely find that when I work from home I miss the water cooler chats so I phone work colleagues or on purpose schedule meetings at times that I suspect I’ll feel restless. I’ve gone for walks during listening sessions too. Carrot and sticks always work well, well done in figuring out what you needed to do.

  2. I feel like, with writing – and quite possibly I’m only saying this to make myself feel better, but bear with me – sitting staring at the screen and not managing to write anything is part of the process. Part of writing is also time spent not writing, you know? Though when I’m stuck like that I’ll try to go for a walk or else do something non-work-related that I have to get done at some point that day, like the shopping or laundry.

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