Why task-planners won’t help you work effectively from home

August 4, 2020

Of all the stories that can be told about working from home, the most powerful one is revealed   from the following statistics: 

  • Our workdays have increased in length by an average of 30%.
  • The number of meetings and calls we’re part of has increased by 42%.
  • Yet our productive output per hour worked has decreased by 21%. 

Entire books could be written about the implications of just these 3 statistics. 

One of the less-discussed conclusions, however, can be summed up quite simply  

As work hours rise, meetings permeate, and productivity drops, we need to stop trying to measure up to our expected output, and instead focus on achieving our necessary input. 

In other words, we need to stop tracking tasks, and start tracking time. 

THE RISE OF TASK-TRACKING

When the economy shifted from brute labor to knowledge work, tasks became more complex and less predictable. This created a disparity: whereas the best laborers can maybe do 2x the output of an average laborer, the best knowledge worker can often do 10x or 100x the average knowledge worker. 

This motivated a shift away from measuring the hours of a worker towards measuring their output. From here rose the culture of results-only management and leadership that permeates the knowledge work sector. 

Overall, this trend was likely very positive. It encouraged the meritocracy that many high performers crave while offering managers a more precise and valuable metric to measure employee productivity. 

Before COVID, task tracking was the norm in knowledge work organizations. Tools like Asana, Monday, Trello, and hundreds of alternatives became part of our daily ritual, and to-do-lists became the metrics against which we evaluated our productivity. This allowed us to experiment with different habits, and ultimately improve our productive output over time. 

Then COVID happened, and we started working from home. 

Suddenly, our old work habits went out the window. Emails in the mornings and evenings eroded our work-life balance. Frequent breaks to deal with children, or to do the dishes became habitual. The number of meetings jumped by 1.4x. The routines that were the foundation of our productivity suddenly got flipped on their head. 

And somewhere in the middle of it all, our productivity began to drop. Task tracking is only making it worse, not better. 

THE PROBLEM WITH TASK-TRACKING

Think of your work day as a control system. There are inputs (how you organize your time and attention) and there are outputs (the tasks you accomplish). In the middle is what we call “productivity”: turning time and attention into work. 

Task-tracking is nothing but a method of quantifying your outputs. 

In a normal workplace, this is hugely valuable. Since our inputs were mostly constant – our office environment, our schedule, even our food and caffeine intake – we could experiment with our productivity and measure the success/failure of any given change by the work we produced. This is the logic of task-tracking. 

Working from home, however, is clearly a whole different story as per the data: our inputs are now anything but constant. 

As our work schedules, daily routines, meetings, and priorities shift faster than ever before, we’ve introduced dozens of new variables into work system. Maybe I get a lot done one day because I was extra productive – maybe it’s just because I woke up earlier, had fewer meetings, and didn’t get distracted as often. This new environment has muddied our data, making it near-impossible to truly rely on task-tracking as a proxy for productivity. 

What’s even worse,  on days when our productivity is lower for reasons outside our control, judging our output causes incredible stress and anxiety. No wonder stress levels have increased 64% since most of us started working from home. 

YOUR TIME IS YOUR MOST VALUABLE RESOURCE

Instead of tracking tasks, we need to measure what matters: our time. How many hours are we working? How many of those hours count as deep work? How much time are we wasting in meetings? These input metrics offer a deep insight into how your environment affects your productivity levels. 

Does that mean you should delete your to-do-list? Of course not. It simply means that our task-tracking tools can’t help us combat the chaos of ‘work from home’. We need to start measuring what matters: where we spend our time, and how our daily habits and routines affect our day-to-day work schedule. 

Our minds and careers depend on it.


We built eno to help us improve our productivity by measuring what matters most: our brains.  

Eno helps you understand when your brain is most focused, so you can plan your day around your best hours for deep work. Learn to prioritize deep work over meetings and emails, and fight against the endless distractions of the home office. ( Did we mention that data is private and secure, unlike intrusive  time tracking apps?) 

REFERENCES

Increased work day length: https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/30/coronavirus-lockdowns-are-making-the-working-day-longer-for-many.html

Increase number of meetings: https://en.blog.doodle.com/2020/03/24/virtual-meetings-surge-amidst-coronavirus-by-the-numbers/

Decrease productivity per hour: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/business/careers/article-remote-working-has-increased-hours-but-reduced-productivity/

Increase in stress: http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—dgreports/—dcomm/—publ/documents/publication/wcms_544138.pdf

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