Find your Why

I’m a hater of the “productivity” trend and this constant feed of how to be more efficient or do more stuff. I think humans are pretty great at doing stuff already and the need to eke out a bit more performance is just a symptom of a collapse of humanity in our lives. I don’t wish to push anyone to be more efficient at what they do. If you feel you’re too busy, step back and do less… say no.  I say all of that to throw my version of a “productivity hack” into the ring. That sounds backwards, so I’ll explain.


Everyone who does something awesome does so with a purpose. It isn’t on their to-do list as a line item. They don’t need to be reminded of what they’re working on. They don’t need to start the day with 20 minutes of yoga, 20 minutes of journaling and a cup of bulletproof coffee to do it. The awesome things have a “Why” driving them. Maybe it’s cure world hunger, maybe it’s to bring peace to humanity. Unfortunately, it might also just be that they love money. The big part is the WHY. If you have a capital letter why in your list of motivations, you’ll be more likely to push onward. I think most people can come up with a why; they have bills to pay, mouths to feed, it’s what they were hired to do or its what is expected of them. But that is a lower case why. That’s the type of why that lets you live a life of complacent drudgery which will likely make most people bitter, resentful or frustrated periodically, if not constantly. You don’t see people getting awards for living a life in pursuit of those “whys.”


A lower-case “why” is something we all deal with, it is the passionless reason that we do things each day. I eat food… why? because my body needs energy. If I’m not a food critic then my eating is a lower-case why. If I’m a food critic and I travel around eating at the best restaurants then it might be a Why instead. If I work in a cubicle updating a spreadsheet 5 days a week then my work is probably still a lower-case “why” to pay the bills. I think we all need to do some lower-case work in our lives, you can’t be passionate about everything you do, but maybe if you were a capital letter “why” then you might be less interested in updating 120 rows more today than yesterday. You might be more interested in finding a way for those rows to fill themselves, or to eliminate the need for rows. Maybe your lower-case “why” is the fuel to create an upper-case “why.”


Now, think of those folks that inspire you. Watching them might give you a Why. Seeing their success might be a little oomph in your capitalization. I’ll bet if they make your “why” into a “Why” then THEY are living with a “WHY” or maybe even a “WHY!” The distinction I’m making might be a bit too subtle so I’ll ease up on that rhetoric. My point is that we each have a very basic, unexciting reason for some things. This lack of enthusiasm is why we want to be more productive… we hope to be done faster so we can move on, or maybe we’re just gamifying our boring work. The people getting awards, the people getting recognition have decided that something needs to be done and they have a more exciting reason to do it. The guy that founded the company you work at probably had a bigger vision so he was more excited. As you trickle down through the ranks, the excitement for that original founder’s vision has become more diluted. That found probably gladly works more than 40 hours a week trying to make his vision happen, but at some point, someone in his employment isn’t seeing the bigger vision or isn’t included in it and their 40 hours is burning up their soul.  


If you want to be more productive, have a more compelling reason to do what you do or change the things you’re doing. If you feel run down in your current job, it’s because your reason for doing it isn’t great enough, it’s because your “why” is just a maintaining your life type of “why.” This works with procrastination and with dreams. When you’re excited to do a thing, you don’t need to find a good reason to start, you actively WANT to work on it. If you find that you can’t get excited about your work it might not be that you need to meditate more or take anti-depressants, it might be that you need to work past your fears and take steps towards following a dream.

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