The real reason you’re not motivated

A friend once came to me and said he was struggling to be productive at work. I asked him what he was currently doing to try to solve this problem.

He plopped his laptop on the table and spent the next 20 minutes showing me his «new system» that was supposed to streamline his workflow and keep him on task.

Ironically, he spent almost an entire week building this productivity system and hadn’t gotten anything else done.

When I pointed this out to him, he nodded his head and said, «Yeah, I know, but it’s worth it because once I get this system perfected, things will be so much easier.»

I cringed because I knew my friend had stumbled into a productivity hacker trap. Pulling him out was going to take some work.

This is the promise peddled by productivity «experts» these days: If you just have the right systems in place, everything will be so frictionless that your to-do list will almost take care of itself.

The problem, of course, is that it’s a bunch of bullshit.

All of these systems and apps and productivity hacks are really just distractions for people who can’t figure out a simple, but very important question: What should I be doing with my time?

All the planning and tweaking and optimizing makes it feel like they’re doing something productive… without actually doing the thing that’s productive.

Out of all the hardest working, most productive, most creative people I know, none of them use the same system for getting shit done.

Some use apps and calendars and lists that are all connected with one another. They can pull up their entire lives in 0.73 seconds on their phones and tell you exactly what they’re doing next Tuesday at 12:37 PM.

Others just keep a running to-do list or block out time in their calendar to work on certain things.

And I know a few insanely productive people who keep track of everything in their heads—and they’re just fine that way.

Each of these people uses the system that works best for them. Some are simple. Some are much more complex.

But what all highly productive people have in common is a strong sense of purpose in their lives.

By contrast, a lot of people who get obsessed with «optimizing» everything are doing so because they lack purpose in their lives. In fact, all these systems and processes they’re creating are actually intended to cover up the fact that they have nothing else to care about.

The cold hard truth is that motivation to get shit done isn’t really an issue if your life is properly aligned with your purpose and values.

When you know your purpose and you shamelessly pursue it, you no longer struggle to figure out:

  • What to do next.You just know what the most important thing is in this moment, and so that’s what you do.
  • How to stay focused.Distractions become glaringly obvious and the superfluous bullshit just drops off your radar entirely.
  • How to plow through setbacks. Roadblocks turn into just another problem you have to solve on your journey to your dreams. And you gladly just do it.

Yes, there will still be days when you don’t feel very inspired to work on even your most cherished goals. But most days, you’ll be excited to face the world. You’ll have a reason to get out of bed, a reason to work hard and get shit done.

Doesn’t that sound a hell of a lot better than drowning yourself in productivity apps for hours on end each day—and still not getting anything done?

Now, I’m not saying that you have to find your life’s purpose today or you’re just wasting your time on this planet. In fact, the whole idea around «finding» your purpose can be horribly misleading.

The beauty of life is that your purpose isn’t found, it’s created. But that means it takes some time, too.

I’ll get into that idea a little more in the next email, but for now, I have a task for you:

I want you to think about all the ways you’re distracting yourself from pursuing what you really want out of life.

  • Are you the type who’s always trying to squeeze out more—more productivity, more money, more relationships, etc.—but you don’t really know why?
  • Do you numb yourself from existential anxiety with unhealthy habits, like Netflix binges, compulsive online shopping, drugs/alcohol, etc.?
  • Do you live in the shadows of your dreams? For example, do you want to write novels, but you have a «shadow career» writing the warning labels for pharmaceutical companies?

We all engage in this kind of distraction from time to time. That’s normal, and really, it can even keep us sane when life gets overwhelming. But the key is to be aware of it and to know when you’ve distracted yourself enough. To know when it’s time to take action.

Mark Manson

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