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  • Tom Brooksher

How Productive Are You? Two Nautical Images to Provide Perspective

Do you ever go home wondering whether you accomplished enough that day? Do you find yourself questioning whether you’re as productive as you should be? Do you feel insecure about whether you’re pulling your weight or doing as much as you need to succeed?

Although we typically don’t voice these thoughts, I suspect that most of us have moments of self-doubt about our productivity. And though we may look at others and feel they’re not pulling their weight, I suggest that most people quietly question their own productivity as much as they question the productivity of others.

When I wonder about my productivity, I often think of myself as a ship on the ocean. Did I sail far enough today to get to my destination on time? Were the conditions especially difficult, which might make a less productive day OK? Or was it smooth sailing, and thus I should have made up time and traveled farther than average?

In particular, I find myself considering two nautical concepts to help me either feel good about my productivity or identify that I need to make mid-course corrections: wake and windward.

Examining your wake Wake is the water I’m disturbing as I sail through my day. A ship may cause a few quiet ripples as it passes by. Or it may create crashing walls of water that radiate for thousands of feet and roll everything on the surrounding surface.

What did my wake look like today? Was the day quiet, with few returned calls or email? With little reason for others to reach out or for me to contact them? With no deals closed or big ideas hatched? Just a few ripples of wake drifting out as I sail past?

Or did I leave walls of water cascading behind me from lots of activity: outgoing calls, incoming email, face-to-face meetings that pushed my agenda forward and resulted in a great deal of progress toward my destination?

Do you want to know how productive you were today? Look back at your wake. Did you roll the water, or did the water roll you?

But, of course, there’s good wake and bad wake. Did you drown everyone in your path? Did you cause a great deal of friction over unimportant issues? Or did you set an aggressive pace that others were challenged to follow…and did. That’s where the windward image comes in.

Assessing how much time you were windward The windward side is the side of a ship that’s facing the wind. It’s opposite of the leeward side, which is shielded from the wind. In my productivity analogy, when you’re windward you’re fighting against the wind. Sometimes that’s necessary. Doing great work is hard, and there are lots of factors that hold you back. You just have to turn into the wind and fight through them.

But sometimes sailing into the wind is unnecessary. Turning toward the leeward side will get you where you need to go faster and easier. So if the wind is coming from unnecessary distractions, or things that at first you thought were important but really aren’t, you need to turn leeward.

At the end of the day, when you look back and try to assess your productivity, here’s the image you’re hoping to see: a healthy wake favoring the leeward side with a few intentional turns windward.

Happy sailing!

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