Without Purpose, It’s Just Effort

Knowing the “why” is just as important as knowing the “what” and the “how”.

No matter what we are working on, we usually know what we are doing. The what is the actual effort: mowing the lawn, writing a blog post, developing a component.

Hopefully we also know the how. How we will actually perform the work, solve the problem or develop the opportunity.

But how often do we know the why?

What’s the purpose, the reason, vision, or goal of our work?

Without understanding the purpose of our work, it’s just effort.

Work without purpose might have good intentions, but without a purpose, good intentions may not count for much.

Being Busy Versus Being Productive

In my own life, personal and professional, I have experienced what it feels like to work without purpose. When the day ends and I’m tired, but if I can’t see that I’ve moved anything forward, I know I’ve been busy, not productive.

That’s frustrating for me.

The good days end with a sense of being tired, but productive.

I can look back on those days and know I got something done. I can see how I was part of something bigger and that’s supremely gratifying.

The good days start with a purpose, a vision or a plan. The other days, it’s like I’m a pinball in a pinball machine. I bounce around from interruption to interruption and I spend as much of my day switching context as I do actually working.

It’s bad enough for a person to feel busy but not productive, yet imagine how damaging this feeling can be for a team or an entire organization. To be busy every day, but to realize that little is getting done – that can’t be good for team morale.

How can we shift our days, our work from being just being busy to being productive?

We need a “burning yes.”

The Burning Yes

In his book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” Stephen Covey described the burning yes as a “purpose, mission, … a clear sense of direction and value … that makes it possible to say ‘no’ to other things.”

When we don’t have that burning yes inside of us, it is difficult to say no to other things: the emails, the requests, the interruptions, that keep us from our purpose and our mission. It also keeps us from being productive.

When we have a purpose for our work, when those interruptions arrive – and they will – we ask ourselves “Does this help us achieve our purpose?” If it doesn’t and it’s not an emergency, we can say “no” for now and keep moving forward towards our purpose.

A Real Life Example

Think about “without a purpose, it’s just effort” when it comes to exercise and diet. We know we should exercise regularly and eat healthily, but that isn’t reason enough for most of us.

We need a purpose, a purpose that is at least as strong as the temptation, and hopefully stronger. Without purpose, it will always be easier to just have that bag of Peanut M&M’s versus walking another 3,000 steps or completing another 40 pushups. Yes, Peanut M&M’s are one weakness, but a strong purpose helps me to avoid that temptation.

What’s the purpose in this example? It’s all about living a healthier life.

Purpose Is Our “Burning Yes”

Purpose makes our work more than just labor, it makes the labor the actual steps to accomplishing our goals.

If we have no purpose, work is just labor or wasted effort. Our heart, our soul, our mind is not in the work unless we see the purpose of our work.

With purpose, we move forward with our work and we have the courage and the strength to say no to the things that do not move us forward.

Individual purpose can take work from being drudgery to something far more satisfying, but what happens when we have group or organizational purpose?

This is when true synergy, when the results of the team is greater than simply the sum of the individual team members, can occur.

This is when things click and work becomes something greater than just effort, it becomes meaningful.

So, find your purpose, your own burning yes.

Whether personal or professional, it should be associated with your current endeavor.

Talk and listen to others to find the binding purpose that makes a group a true team.

Make sure your work has purpose.

Say “no” to the things that keep you from achieving your purpose. Shift from being busy to being productive. As your effort evolves into your purpose, your outcomes (personal and professional) will thrive.

How about you? Are you driven more by your “why” than the “how” and “what”? Have you seen the difference when you do purpose-driven work?

Tony Akins
I've found the best way to get a point across is to tell a story.…


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