In software development there's this thing called TDD. What it is, is actually not all that relevant to what I'm trying to tell you about today.
When you talk about TDD with other people, some of them, might tell you, that one should listen to the software, while you're developing it. Figuratively speaking, of course.
That is, if some feature or aspect is hard to develop, hard to get right, then the software is trying to tell yell "You're doing it wrong. Take a different approach". And if something simply flows out of your brain into code, then you're on the right track to achieve what you're trying to do.
So? After a while, actually a time I spent not directly working on code all that much, I realized that this advice to listen can be applied to lots more things (some might say "obviously", because to listen to your surroundings is always good advice, but I'm trying not to be that guy).
At that time, I was Engineering Manager for a medium-sized team, which in my world and set of beliefs means that my job is to listen a lot. One of the most useful ways to listen was, to hear how people answer questions like "Do you feel you're working on the right things? What makes you feel productive?". Powerful, because it always helped the conversation head into a direction where afterwards people had a better understanding of what would not only make them happier (because more productivity means more happiness for most people) but also move their work closer towards a meaningful outcome.
Connecting this to what I said about TDD earlier, makes it easy to find similarities, in that taking the time to listen to what you're working on, helps to have a better result.
But as so often, with questions that I ask other people, it takes a while until I realize that it might be helpful to actually ask myself those questions. Asking myself "Do I feel productive? Why is that? What makes me feel unproductive?" turned out to be a very powerful thing to do. Powerful in a way, that it came easy to me, to turn it into a habit.
So today, I ask myself multiple times a day "Do I feel productive?". To find out if I'm still on the right track towards my desired outcome. I especially look out for the following feelings:
Do I feel bored? It might mean, that I'm working on something that I don't fully understand yet, and it might help to try to approach it from a different angle. Or in other cases, take a break from the current work, in order to give my brain the time to understand the work better. Sometimes it even means, that I feel like I'm not good at the work I'm doing, and it might help to change something more drastic, such as dropping the work fully or postponing it for longer.
Do I feel slow? Like I'm not getting done enough? If yes, sometimes that's just the way it is. Especially when you're working in an area that's new and you're learning lots, things are slow. Still, if I feel slow, sometimes it might be the right time to ask for others for help. Or to think about if I'm still doing the right thing.
Actually, asking those questions doesn't really make me more productive. But they make me feel more productive.