Fruitlessness. We probably don’t use this word as often as we feel the feeling it represents. Oxford Languages defines it as “failing to achieve the desired results; unproductive or useless”. Translating to (even) simpler words, it’d be the feeling of spending a whole hour (or day, or week, or month, ….) trying to execute a task, and not being able to have progressed with it, or to get it done (or perhaps doing it, but taking a lot more time than expected).
Although hardly discussed, especially in work environments, feeling fruitless, unfocused, unproductive, or even languishing is completely normal. And after several rounds of conversations across different groups of people in different backgrounds, it made me realize that, at some point, I felt fruitless for a while, and barely realized it.
The current scenario (as of May/2021) carries the perfect storm for it. An uncertain economic landscape lies before people’s eyes, where the majority of global companies’ workforces were abruptly submitted to working from home (or not working at all), with lots of interruptions, political turmoil, social unrest on Instagram, and the likes, you name it… Reasons for feeling fruitless are an abundant resource during modern life.
Being unable to focus sometimes is much more of a consequence than an individual choice. Considering that the amount of events and information one’s constantly absorbing, the number of accountabilities and expectations one has within its surroundings, and the amount of distractions people face, keeping a hard focus on a single task doesn’t sound that simple anymore. Working your creativity, though, can be the answer we’re looking for.
I personally used to be one of those who believed that one’s either a super creative person, or not creative at all. That you were to be either a Picasso or not creative at all. Either Shakespeare or not creative at all. Either Ronaldo or not creative at all (that’s right, football’s an art).
But the experience of temporarily feeling fruitless at work led me to take some time to be mindful and empathetic about the reasons why it was happening. With the help of some hardcore reading about productivity, the outcomes I had made me realize that repetitively doing a lot of the same, and constantly being interrupted while doing it, were 2 macro drivers that needed to be addressed. Somehow, creativity came to the scene as a superhero for surpassing this lack of focus and productivity.
Below I’ll share 5 methods that I’ve recently (and still do) used to exercise my creative muscle and come back to the extreme focus mindset where productive execution is not an issue (well, at least not a major one).
1.) Out of the Box Books (and content) Reading
Although every modern millennial loves the likes of Adam Grant’s “Originals”, or Eric Ries’ “The Lean Startup”, or even Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, reading more about your industry isn’t really the best creativity booster.
Reading unexpected books, on topics ranging from Afghanistan’s history, moving to Chakras theories, made me open my mind to completely new information and drove me to think with different perspectives on brand new topics. Open your minds for new information, no matter what format (blog, youtube, Netflix, book), let that creativity, and perhaps inspiration juice come out!
2.) Learning a skill (completely) out of your comfort zone
Quoting Leonardo da Vinci: “Learning never exhausts the mind“. If I may humbly add to this quote, learning a new skill would just enrich the mind, give you micro-challenges to be achieved (as the early steps tend to be smaller and easier ones), and nurture your inner artist.
I myself tried a bunch of new skills, some of them quite easy and, in fact, very fun and fulfilling as well. When feeling fruitless at work, with way fewer daily achievements than before, finding new skills to be learned can (and will) be the provider for more achievements in your day!
During the past year, I’ve personally endeavored myself on Acrylic Painting, Gardening, and learning to play the Ukulele – for those, lots of free content can be found online, lots of micro milestones can be set and lots of fun will definitely come out of it!
3.) Language Learning
As beautifully described in the 2013 British Council’s Language for Future report:
“Languages are the bedrock of the world’s cultural heritage.
Every language offers a rich and unique insight into different
ways of thinking and living as well as into the history of the
myriad of cultures and peoples across the globe.”
Learning a language not only has its corporate benefits (learn Mandarin and you’re able to talk to over 1 billion people). In addition to it, science points to findings that start from better productivity/ perceptive results to better decision making and even improvements on multi-tasking skills. (not to mention how cool it is to speak in a different language)
From the beginning of the pandemic, I’ve adventured myself into Arabic and French learnings. Although I’m not even close to mastering it, I’ve learned how to read the Arabic alphabet, which although it’s a small accomplishment, was a complete mind challenge for me, a Latin language native speaker. And, of course, its achievement provided me with a legit dopamine dosage!
4.) Physical Exercises: Shaping up the body
Important disclaimer: Working out doesn’t mean that, if you’re starting it, you have to focus on becoming the next Arnold Schwarzenegger. Lots of people, when it comes to physical exercising, use the argument that it’s way too tiring, way too expensive, or even that they don’t have the time for it.
I’d risk assuming that this Physical Exercising is one of the few topics out there that have no need for defense or explanation of its benefits. Exercising your body is good for you, period.
But in addition to the physical health improvements, it can provide, another (scientifically proven) effect comes to mind. As mentioned by CDC’s website, physical activity can support anxiety control, help on better thinking, support learning, and decision-making processes, not to mention that it’s also directly correlated to better sleep quality and reducing risks of depression.
Again: having a Physical Exercising routine doesn’t mean we’re gonna become bodybuilders. But by dedicating 40 minutes (or 30, or 20, …) a day for your body, that’ll give you daily feelings of achievements, improve your health on all senses AND, as a side effect, help you with your fruitlessness feelings.
5.) Have a routine! A well thought routine!
The word “routine” always comes with the bias and perception that, whoever lives one (routine), lives a repetitive and boring life.
Let’s think it this way: if you’re an average person, you’ll need to rest, eat, work, have some fun, sleep and repeat. That by itself is no different from a routine per se.
In its raw definition, a routine is partially defined as “a sequence of actions regularly followed”. Whoever sets a goal, breaking it down into milestones, defining sets of tasks to be executed, timelines for those tasks, and an agenda for its development, is naturally, to a certain extent, throwing itself into a routine.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a person that supports the concept of seizing the day, living mindfully and adventurously. But the reality is that I’m also a person that has goals and tries to be aware that, to accomplish anything worthwhile, I’ll have to work my ass off. The only way is the hard way (shortcuts are not an option).
With that in mind, and also being aware of the distractions, interruptions, and all other factors that easily lead a person into fruitfulness, finding a relevant routine came as a method to tackling both professional and personal goals with extremely high focus and productivity.
Gift yourself a routine that covers all your expectations from a very productive day, and add to this routine some solid creativity stimulus activities! Every completed task in your day is an achievement, from cooking breakfast, to working out, to reading an article, to walking your dog on the street. As Jeff Haden mentions in his book “The Motivation Myth”:
“Accomplishing something, no matter how small the task, makes us feel better about ourselves. That’s why to-do lists are so popular.”Jeff Hayden, the Motivation Myth.
Fruitlessness can be tackled, but it demands some stepping out of the comfort zone. Creativity, that rarely discussed forgotten “skill”, can be of good help in raising one’s levels of performance, productivity and focus.
Needless to say, every single human is unique, and this is not a topic to be simplified into 5 steps. But challenging our minds with new skills, activities, or hobbies, and constantly reaching new (and micro) achievements, could provide that missing dopamine shot our days needed to surpass that fruitless feeling at work. What will be your new learning of the day?