You probably have someone in your department or workplace who works very, very hard. Their productivity is through the roof. You know who I’m talking about. Your colleague down the hall who is ALWAYS in their office. When you arrive in the morning, they are already there. When you leave in the evening, they’re still plugging away. Even when you left your wallet in your office and dropped in on a Saturday to retrieve it, there they were.
Or maybe you don’t see them, but you just know they’re working. You overhear them discussing how they were up all night working on a manuscript, or how they planted themselves in their home office over the weekend to finish their grading. Even if you don’t hear them saying this, you just know they’re doing it, right?
At some point, you move from casually observing that a colleague is in their office a lot to constantly worrying that you’re not in your office enough. Your colleague is more productive, more organized, more committed. And you? Well, you’re less.
You will never, ever win this game of comparison.
The reason you’ll never win is because this isn’t about your colleague. Instead, you’re competing with your own unrealistic expectations about what makes for a “productive” academic. We use our colleagues supposed achievements to catalogue what we believe to be our failures. In short: it’s not them, it’s you.
Let’s start with the most obvious – you don’t really know what your colleague is doing in their office. It may be “productive” activity or it may not. Second, you have no idea what resources your colleague has to facilitate their work. Third, you’re more productive than you think. When I work with my clients to track their time and document their achievements, we make two discoveries. They underestimate how much time they need to complete a task; thus not giving themselves enough time and then berating themselves for not finishing quickly enough. Also, they dramatically underestimate their accomplishments or discount them altogether.
Here’s a question I ask my clients: Will knowing what your colleague is doing make you write faster? I mean that in a very literal way. Will you generate more words on a page in a given period of time if you know what your colleague is up to? Will you somehow turbo-charge your own productivity by obsessing over your colleague’s productivity? The answer to that question is always no. If for you the answer is also no, then why do you care?
The only way to improve your productivity or the content of your writing is to focus on your writing. That means thinking seriously about how you write, when you write, where you write, etc. It means being mindful of what distracts you and how to eliminate those distractions. As for the content of your writing, it means writing, soliciting feedback, and revising. These things are hard – harder than imaging the success of your colleague. But, they’re worth it, and they’ll take you a lot further in your career and your life than playing self-defeating games of comparison.
Run your own race.