Earlier this morning, I was sipping a delicious cup of coffee and reading one of my favorite weekly newsletter from Austin Kleon.

He linked to a wonderful little blog post of his called 15 years of blogging (and 3 reasons I keep going). And as someone who’s been blogging for three years (and aspiring to many more than 15), I was understandably intrigued…

His first two reasons for blogging were very good, but it was his third reason that struck me:

Because I like it.

He went on to say something more profound than it might appear:

It is very easy to be disciplined when you like what you’re doing.

This kindled a thought of my own:

Every question about personal productivity is just a self-discovery question in disguise.

The more I think about what it means to be productive, the less I find myself interested in techniques, systems, hacks, or even habits, and the more I’m drawn to self-discovery.

The meaning of self-discovery

For me, self-discovery is the ongoing journey to learn more about yourself — your genuine interests, desires, dislikes, needs, preferences, aspirations, and values.

But it’s a surprisingly hard journey. And it’s hard, I think, because it’s so easy to end up unconsciously inheriting preferences and values from other people — family, friends, culture, society, etc.

Of course, who we are and what we value are always social or inherited to some extent. But the real question is one of intentionality:

Do we passively absorb these values and preferences or consciously and intentionally seek to discover them?

The meaning of productivity (and procrastination)

If you struggle with productivity, maybe the problem isn’t how so much as what…

Maybe it’s not your productivity system or anti-procrastination app or even your mindset that’s the problem. Maybe it’s that you’re not working on the right things?

Maybe — just maybe! — you don’t actually know what you want. You think you do because you’re paying attention to what the people you admire want and — with less than full consciousness — you’re copying that.

Maybe you’re absorbing other people’s values instead of discovering your own?

If this was true, what might we expect your work to be like?

I’d guess you wouldn’t feel especially motivated or interested in what you were working on.

You’d start procrastinating quite a bit.

Then you’d start second-guessing yourself and beating yourself up for not being as passionate or motivated or focused as you “should” be.

And of course, all this self-flagellation would lead to even less motivation and more procrastination in the long run — and perhaps eventually, despair.

The virtues of following your nose

Whenever I really get to know someone whom I admire for being prolific, creative, and productive, the same theme keeps popping up: They just really like what they do.

And when I look even more closely, they have this wonderful tendency to follow their nose.

Like a floppy-eared hound dog, they stick their nose to the ground and doggedly follow the scent — blissfully unaware of what the maddening crowd of productivity gurus and creative consultants are whooping and hollering about.

Let me be a little less metaphorical and more direct:

The most productive people seem to practice self-discovery as a way of life.

It’s not even a skill or a habit—though perhaps it started that way. It’s just who they are. It’s what they do. They follow their nose and productivity seems to follow.

Which gets me back to the original idea:

What if every question about personal productivity is just a self-discovery question in disguise?

Nick Wignall is a clinical psychologist and writer interested in practical psychology for meaningful personal growth. You can find more of his writing at NickWignall.com.



Image courtesy of Aziz Acharki.