Feeling Productive Means Learning

If we want to feel productive, we can help each other progress on clear paths of learning.

“A productive day”

The other day, as we were wrapping up the day, my teammate said to me, “that was a really productive day.” It was an interesting statement to me. From my perspective, the day had been good, but nothing noteworthy in terms of productivity. This comment could have merely been my teammate’s usual positive attitude, sharing a comment to wrap up a good day. But perhaps it was a comment about another feeling.

What might be noteworthy about the day was possibly captured in another comment earlier in the day: “Several things are really coming together for me today.” He had indicated that he was learning how a couple of the subsystems we were working on fit together and functioned. It was a productive feeling.

Escaping the Hamster Wheel

Some days can feel like a hamster wheel. We get to work, and we’re busy all day. We get to the end, and we’re exhausted. What did we do that day? It’s not super clear, but there was a lot of it. This is a busyness that lacks clarity and improvement. This is the opposite of feeling productive.

Sometimes it can feel like we’re stagnant in our learning as well. Perhaps we’re just getting by in the codebase we’re working on. We can do the work that needs to be done, but we have no increasing clarity in how the system works. We have no perceivable increase in our competency in core tech. At these times, it’s hard to feel productive.

Learning Leads to Mastery

In contrast, when we have large leaps in learning, we can feel great satisfaction. The feeling, to us, is productivity. It’s not that the thing we’re working on shipping got all that much closer to shipping. But we have a feeling of increasing mastery. We have more capacity to ship our product in the future. This can feel very productive.

Realizing this, it becomes more clear how spending time investing in learning activities can help increase developer morale, confidence, and eventual productivity. The feeling of productivity begets more productivity.

Of course we don’t start a project just to learn. We want to ship value, and we will as we take time to increase our mastery through learning.

Does this hold true for you? When you learn a lot, do you feel productive? How might you make greater investment in learning for the sake of your productivity?