The Key to Working Productively is Understanding Yourself and Finding Out What Motivates You

Note: This is an excerpt from Growth & Productivity: 14 Principles to Achieve More, a free e-book from Grove Ave, a new startup that helps individuals focus on their growth. Click here to get your free download of the 70+ page e-book.

Have you ever found yourself struggling with some assignment or task? Have you struggled to figure out why? Do you procrastinate a lot? Even after you tell yourself you’ll get something done, do you wind up wasting your time reorganizing your DVD collection or cleaning your apartment (or on Facebook)?

Restoring our natural sense of exploration and wonder in discovering is essential to helping us push the productivity boundary through the intrinsic motivation that lies in each of us.

Dan Pink’s book Drive, about intrinsic motivation, summarizes the last fifty years or so of psychological research into motivation. In it, Pink focuses on three principles that keep people motivated (beyond money and extrinsic factors):

  1. Autonomy — being able to set your own priorities and path
  2. Mastery — working on a task where you can get demonstrably better at it over time
  3. Purpose — doing something for more than just yourself or monetary gain

Finding a job or creating one (why do some people always think they have to work for someone else?) that gives you the freedom to explore, where you feel like you’re making progress each day, and which serves a greater good, is a really great way to supercharge your productivity. Why? Because you’ll WANT to be productive. That drive will come from inside you.

Did you ever just sit down and unexpectedly spend hours or days on a task or assignment? Did you get up from the computer wondering where the hours went, but feeling satisfied and refreshed? Where did that internal energy come from? And how can we, if we can, recapture that seemingly boundless internal energy? The research shows that it likely came from these intrinsic factors, such as seeking fulfillment or accomplishing some larger societal goal. Restoring our natural sense of exploration and wonder in discovering is essential to helping us push the productivity boundary through the intrinsic motivation that lies in each of us. Replicating those factors is the best way to get you and keep you at your productivity peak.

Extrinsic motivation, like a new car or a pair of new shoes or some kind of award at work or a big raise, can only keep you happy for so long. Eventually those external rewards wear off. Have you ever bought something, like a new jacket or a new gadget, thinking that it would make you really really happy, only to discover later on that you don’t even notice this thing anymore? You got used to it and the novelty doesn’t excite you — you don’t notice the gadget’s neat features anymore, they’re just sort of there now. You’ve become habituated to this new thing, which is a common occurrence that happens with every material thing! You can’t just keep trying to fuel your work with these artificial aids, ultimately you have to find that inner drive to keep you going.

The corollary to the intrinsic motivation principle is figuring out what you’re good at and doing that. For some people, what they are good at may not be what they think they enjoy. But why do we insist on everyone doing what they love? Cal Newport calls this the “passion trap,” the idea that everyone has to find their passion when things are a tad more complicated than that. Cal highlights how this idea might be making lots of people even more unhappy than they otherwise would be. What the search for passion ignores is that passion and ability go hand in hand with each other — the better you are at something, the more likely it is that you’ll be passionate about it.

Let’s say you’re a great programmer. Or a great human resources representative. If you can make a great living doing those things, why not continue doing them in order to build up capital for other endeavors? For all of the recent talk about “do what you love,” I think that perhaps the conversation has gone a little too far in that direction. Maybe you don’t “love” what you do — but you’re good at it and the job provides major societal and personal benefits, or opportunities to develop a new ability. The great thing about this situation is that you can take what you earn at your job and trade it for the time and space to find what you think you could truly love.

What the search for passion ignores is that passion and ability go hand in hand with each other — the better you are at something, the more likely it is that you’ll be passionate about it.

Motivation is hard to come by. Being great at something is hard to come by. Don’t throw either down the drain and seek to maximize both.

Summary

  • Be intrinsically motivated — because those extrinsic factors are fleeting and won’t always be there
  • If you can’t figure out what motivates you, do what you’re good at, and then trade the time and money saved to find yourself

Did you find this helpful? I just published an e-book with 13 more productivity principles to help you achieve more.

Check it out at www.groveave.co