Productivity Tip: Lessons from Fruit Salad

Do you feel like you’re not being as productive as you could be?

Even if you’re successful, busy, and hard-working you may be feeling like you’re not getting things done.

The fact is, with the nature of work these days, it’s futile to think that work will ever be “done”. The never-ending 24/7 work cycle and the constant flow of information means that there will always be more emails to answer, more interesting articles to read, more potential projects to be evaluated, and more people to follow up with.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this issue: how can people feel productive in this information-based economy and world of electronic work? Then, after a morning spent staring at the pixels on my monitor and clacking at my keyboard, I had an epiphany when I stepped away from the computer to get some lunch.

I went into the kitchen and noticed that I had a banana, a pear, a nectarine and some strawberries, so I decided to make fruit salad. (For me, this practically counts as cooking. Usually I just zap some leftovers in the microwave.)

Since I had a sharp knife in my hand, I had to really focus on what I was doing. It was surprisingly satisfying to carefully cut each piece of fruit, slicing the banana, dicing the nectarine. When I tossed everything together in a bowl, I actually felt proud of what I had made. I even took out my camera to document my creation. (Yes, that’s it above.)

Clearly something was going on here that was more profound than just lunch.

Why did I feel a greater sense of accomplishment after 5 minutes making fruit salad than I did after hours of working at my desk?

So much of the work that we do is intangible and subject to endless revisions. We send emails, leave voicemails, create PowerPoint presentations and edit Word documents. Contracts can be signed electronically, without the dramatic flourish of using your good pen. We rarely even experience the simple satisfaction of printing a final document and sealing it in an envelope. “Done” consists of clicking “save” one more time and hitting “send”. When we finish a task or a project, we go right on to the next, similar, electronic activity. Not particularly satisfying.

If you don’t feel a sense of completion or satisfaction with the work you’re doing, at the end of the day you won’t feel productive. So, what can you do? You can change your perspective. You can decide what it means to be productive, moment by moment, day by day. You can declare something “complete” and let yourself feel proud of getting it done.

Right now, for me, it’s finishing this blog post. Whatever else happens today, whatever I do or don’t do, I’ll be glad that this is done. Is it perfect? No. Is it too long? Probably. Did I get it done as quickly as I would have liked? No. But it’s done and posted and hopefully some people will find it useful. (Please leave a comment and let me know what you thought; I really appreciate feedback!)

I’m not recommending that you toss your To Do list and blow off your responsibilities. There are still things you have to do each day. But I am suggesting that you put as much attention on the things you want to get done today. When you do complete one of those things, really let yourself feel it. Pause and let the feeling sink in. Celebrate all victories, no matter how small.

Think of the fruit salad!

GO Try It!

Take a moment to think of a few things that you would like to get done today — things that will make you feel like you’ve had a productive day. Really think: deep down, what would make the most difference for you? Maybe it’s clearing off the piles on your desk. Or making that phone call you keep putting off. Or playing catch with your kid after dinner.

Write these things down (this makes the intangible, tangible), and keep your list where you’ll see it all day. Make it a priority to do the things on your list. Notice the difference it makes to get them done. Let yourself feel a sense of accomplishment.

Have a productive day!

P.S. If problems with paper are keeping you from being productive, email me for information on my e-book, “Can’t I Just Shred It All? 101 Quick Tips to File – and Find – Your Important Papers”

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