When you feel like you haven't achieved anything

Productivity is a state of being, not a destination


One of my favourite things about what I do is actually getting to make stuff. Be it a story, a podcast or talk, there’s a tangible output to my work. There’s nothing quite like the amped-up feeling I get when a story gets published or a podcast episode goes lives.

Unfortunately, however, I don’t get published every single day. In fact, I don’t even file a story every day. And something I’ve struggled with ever since I first went freelance is dealing with the days when it feels like I’ve not achieved anything.

Days spent sending emails, taking meetings or doing admin are never as fulfilling as the days when either a newsletter goes out or a story runs online. Even if the work I’m doing is in service of completing what will become a finished product, I can’t always see the light at the end of the tunnel at that moment.

I can’t help but feel frustrated on those days because unlike when you work in an office where every day is made equal, if you don’t have a big win as a freelancer it feels like a dud. There’s no big-ticket item to tick off the to-do list.

But that’s not a great way to look at things. It’s unrealistic to expect big wins every single day. That’s just not how business, or indeed life, works. I think a lot of this is to do with a misaligned belief many of us have about productivity. We chase productivity in the hopes it will bring with it a sense of fulfilment. But the thing about productivity is that it’s not a destination, it’s a state of being. And real productivity has to be sustainable.

A practical way I get around all this is by looking for the small wins – I might not have landed a pitch on a given day, but maybe I made a new and important contact. As long as something has come out of my day that’s a step, however small, in the right direction I chalk that up as a productive outcome.

Not to mention, for sustainable long-term success it’s inevitable that you have to do work where the payoff isn’t immediate. For example, I have a few projects in the pipeline which are calling for a lot of upfront work for which not only am I not getting paid yet, but I don’t have anything to show for at the moment.

And that's something I try to remind myself – I'm not just a freelancer flinging random articles out into the ether, I’m also a small business owner. As tempting as it is to measure my success just by the finished product, a lot more goes into the process that’s worth celebrating.