I appreciated this post from Michael Hyatt today on how he’s had a low-productivity week. I can relate, because my week was the same! It’s frustrating.
I even did a sort of experiment this week. Normally this week I’m at ETS, the annual convention of the evangelical theological society. I didn’t go this year. So I thought it was a good opportunity to test this question: Do business trips decrease your tangible productivity?
As I’ve argued elsewhere on this blog, I believe that conferences are incredibly productive because of the relationships developed. In fact, I believe that everyone should go to every conference they can.
But the question I was experimenting with this week is: what does business travel do to the more tangible aspects of your productivity? Specifically, would I have a more productive week in terms of tangible output because of not taking that trip this week?
Unfortunately, I feel like I would have gotten just as much done on that front if I had gone to Baltimore this week for ETS as if I had stayed home. For if I had gone to Baltimore, I would have put in a good 12 hour day before leaving in order to get a bunch of stuff moved ahead, and would have had a plan for a bunch of reading and such in between sessions. There would have been also time on the plane for work, and on top of that the conference itself. As it was, I got some good stuff done this week, but not near what I had hoped or planned, and my energy flagged on several days.
It’s probably not always the case that you can get the same amount of tangible things done on a business trip as if don’t go, and there have been many times when I’ve had to skip out on a trip because of tight project deadlines. But I think we can conclude that at least on many occasions, business trips do not cut down on your tangible productivity, but sometimes even increase it.
The question of business trip productivity aside, all of us can relate to Hyatt’s point about having low productivity weeks. What should we think about those?
I actually think low productivity weeks are not always bad. One of the features you’ll see in my book when it comes out (the release is set for March) is that I rarely fall into the stereotypical thinking on productivity. I believe that the process of productivity and effectiveness is much less linear than we often think; there is often a three steps forward, two steps back component.
Which means we can be encouraged even in the midst of times when it doesn’t feel like we are being productive. That’s why in an earlier version of the book, I even had a box called “Seasons of Low Productivity Are Not Always Bad,” quoting Jason Fried from a great post on his blog a few years ago. (I had to cut the box for space reasons from the final version, unfortunately.)
So, for the encouragement of everyone who had a low productivity week this week (inlacing me!), here is that box from the original version of my book:
Seasons of Low Productivity Are Not Always Bad
Jason Fried, co-founder of 37 Signals and author of Rework, from his blog:
“A few weeks ago, I was on fire. I was working on some designs for a prototype of a new software product, and the ideas were flowing as they hadn’t in months. Every day, I felt as if I were accomplishing two or three days’ worth of work. I was in the zone, and it felt fantastic.
“It lasted about three weeks. And then I found myself back at my old pace. Instead of being super productive, I was sort-of productive. Some days, I felt as if I barely accomplished anything.
“So what was wrong? Nothing at all.
“I believe it’s perfectly fine to spend some of your time, maybe even a lot of your time, not firing on all cylinders. Just like full employment isn’t necessarily good for an economy, full capacity isn’t always great for your mind.”