You’re sitting at your desk as the clock ticks toward 6 pm. There’s a half-full, lukewarm coffee and a blinking cursor on the computer screen in front of you.
As you get ready to call it a day, you think to yourself: What did I actually get done today?
You sent emails. You attended meetings. You worked on some documents. You had lunch with a client. But there’s little trace of tangible achievement.
This is the plight of today's knowledge professionals. It stems in part from a false expectation that the output of a knowledge professional should resemble that of a manual worker.
If you’re a manual worker, you’re producing tangible goods. Input translates to output, often in a nice linear line. But knowledge work doesn’t function this way. The output is far less tangible. Knowledge professionals make decisions. They sell influence. They make change happen.
What’s more, there’s often a long lag between the input of a knowledge professional and the output. Many knowledge professionals view their work in manual terms by attempting to quantify their outputs.
Lawyers count billable hours in six-minute increments. Computer programmers count lines of code. Social media influencers count likes and retweets as evidence of tangible achievement.
We track what’s easy to track—not what’s important—and falsely assume that if we hit these metrics, we’ve accomplished something valuable.
Consider writing. Good writers know that creativity requires connecting the dots, and connecting the dots requires allowing time for your subconscious to consolidate ideas and make associations. This means, from time to time, you need to do nothing.
None of this feels productive, even though it is: Most original insights arrive during times of slack, not hard labor.
The remedy? Stop treating knowledge work as manual work. Instead of trying to quantify what can’t be quantified, ask
-Did I contribute today?
-Did you advance the conversation?
-Did you come up with good ideas?
-Did you help a colleague or a client?
These may seem like small things. But, small things add up to create big things over time.