Highly Productive?

Two days in a row I had lunch with very talented people who struggled with their need to feel highly productive? Both were evaluating options for their future, neither felt that what they were considering would satisfy their need to feel productive. These experiences left me wondering “What does it mean to be productive?”


Both individuals are committed to bettering the lives of others. I’m confident that, to them, they feel most productive when they are helping others. Yet, they view being productive through the lens of what they had previously done to enrich the lives of others.

Neither feel that the options they’re considering will afford them the sense of being productive they previously enjoyed. That’s very likely true…if they quantify productivity in terms of the number of people served directly by their efforts.

Productive: expanded view

I have not wrestled with this issue personally so what I’m about to say may not resonate with those of you who define productivity the way that it is defined in the previous section.

My perspective is different in that I feel productive even when I directly help just one person. What enables me to feel productive, even when I’m directly aiding one person, is that I know that I never help just one person.

The reality is that when you help one person whether it’s by:

  • Offering encouraging words.
  • Recognizing talents they aren’t aware they possess.
  • Helping them solve a dilemma.
  • Opening a door of opportunity for them.
  • Providing them with a reason to smile.

you help an unknown number of people. The person you help is going to share what they learned with all whom they meet.

Your efforts to help them, regardless of how small it may seem to you, will be so helpful and so memorable that they’ll share their experience with others so that they too can benefit from your efforts.

If that isn’t being productive, then I don’t know what is. So, what’s the takeaway for you and the kids in your life?

For you

If your natural wiring is like the two individuals I’ve mentioned, the ones who don’t feel sated or complete unless they’re being as productive as they once were, you can retrain your brain away from this natural tendency.

Each morning, shortly after rising, remind yourself that you’re going to leave everyone you meet better off than before you met. That can be as simple as giving the person a reason to smile, recognizing a skill or ability they possess (that they may not be aware they possess), or letting them know that you believe in them when they’re experiencing doubt.

What you’ll find is that you can be successful multiple times a day, every day of your life. In other words, you’ll realize that you are being productive…just not on a scale you previously experienced.

Also remind yourself that your effort never helps just one person. Beneficiaries of your kindness will share that kindness with others who will, in turn, help others. You will never know the full extent of your productivity, which is probably a good thing. If we knew the full impact we are having, it would probably go to our heads and we’d care more about how others view us than about helping others.

In addition to the morning exercise, every evening, shortly before retiring, review the day noting the success you had in leaving everyone you met better off than before you met. Recall the joy you experienced in making someone’s day better than it had been. These two elements, the successes you enjoyed and the joy of helping others will motivate you to continue your efforts the next day, and the next, throughout your life.

You will regain the sense of being productive that you previously enjoyed, but with less effort and, possibly, more consistent results.

For our kids

First and foremost, live this message. The kids in your life will see the joy you experience from consistently helping others while still achieving what you want in life. They’ll adopt similar behaviors because kids tend to mimic behaviors of the adults in their lives…especially when those behaviors bring joy and happiness to them.

If a child laments that they aren’t as productive as they feel they should be, share with them the fact that they can be productive multiple times a day by simply committing to leaving others better off than before they met. Share with them the simple ways in which they can achieve this goal…and the fact that they never help just one person.

Finally, share with them the exercises described above. Better yet, perform the morning and evening exercises with them. As each of you shares your successes, you’ll encourage one another to continue your practices. In doing so, the bond you both experience will grow to become one of the great treasures in your lives.

If this message helps you develop stronger, more loving bonds with the children in your life, I will have been productive.

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