How knowing yourself helps you be more productive

When one experiences truth, the madness of finding fault with others disappears.S.N. Goenka

Understanding yourself and your why

On the 16th of September 2015, I took the first step of an 800 kilometre pilgrimage called the Camino de Santiago Compostela

My husband Michael and I had planned the trip for three years, including:
            Walking between 20 and 45 kilometres every weekend for three months prior…
            Watching Martin Sheen in “The Way” about 100 times…
            Researching everything we could possibly think of…

Taking Spanish lessons…  

By the first day we were pumped – and very nervous. After eating chocolate croissants for breakfast – because that’s what you do in France – we headed off for the first day of our journey.

Thankful for all the training we’d completed, we passed quite a few pilgrims on our way out of St. Jean Pied de Port. My husband worried about this and asked, “shouldn’t we pace ourselves?”

I replied, “I’d be uncomfortable if I slowed down.”

At the 13 kilometre mark, we stopped in a small village to have lunch with a lovely German couple we’d just met. This is how we explain our poor judgment when we only ended up drinking beer for lunch.

And why? Because that’s what you do with your new German friends…drink beer!

I looked at my watch, which was tracking our distance, and realised we only had 12 kilometres to go. Given our training I estimated it would take a couple of hours to get there. “This is a breeze,” I thought to myself arrogantly.

It took us eight hours to walk the remaining 12 kilometres. Eight hours of uphill climbing in wind and rain. It was an unmitigated disaster. We ran out of food, and worse still, we ran out of water.

The final eight hours involved altitude sickness – my husband threw up multiple times – breathing difficulties, severe cramping, lots of pain and uphill climb, after uphill climb, after uphill climb.

Everyone we’d overtaken during the morning passed us over the afternoon. We reached the point where we had to stop every few minutes for a break.

My mind kept alternating between real fear one of us would die, and trying to work out what I would do if my husband collapsed. I had no idea how to call for help as there was no mobile coverage. 

Finally, 12 hours after we left St. Jean Pied De Port we arrived at our destination, Roncesvalles.  There were more challenges to face that night. Our accommodation had been given away. In my exhaustion I’d misplaced my purse and passport while I was procuring dinner from a vending machine.

It was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done, childbirth included. We kept moving forward.

We reached Santiago 33 days and 800 kilometres later, with many lessons under our belts. the key lesson: if we were kind to ourselves; paced ourselves and kept moving forward, we were bound to be successful.   

And so can you.

There are many articles and books out there offering hacks, a word that suggests there are shortcuts to success. I’ve found it more to be a case of success won by a series of good actions repeated over and over again.  

Time and again I’ve seen how changing just a few key habits leads to success.  

The first step is having clarity on where you’re heading. Add to this an understanding of your strengths and weaknesses. Then you require the grit to keep moving forward as you push through challenges and obstacles.

During our pilgrimage, Michael and I realised we work in different ways. He’s intense, walks with a sense of urgency and always wants to be first or early. I’m slow, more methodical and deliberate. I’d prefer to keep walking for long periods of time, rather than taking short bursts with lots of stops the way he does.

Realising this, we agreed Michael would walk ahead and we’d keep in each other’s vision. We had a sign we’d give each other to say ‘all is well’ or ‘stop and wait for me’. 

If, like me, you’re slow and deliberate, but report to someone who is fast and intense, you run to keep up and constantly feel anxious, or opt out altogether.  

We need to understand ourselves to be productive so we can establish the operating rhythm that best works for us. Most of all, we need to be honest with ourselves.  

And before all of that, we need to understand our why.  

When you compete against everyone else no one wants to help you but when you compete against yourself everyone wants to help you.

…What if we showed up to work every day simply to be better than ourselves?

What if the goal was to do better this week than the week before?

To make this month better than last month?

For no other reason than we want to leave the organisation in a better state than we found it…

What if the next time someone asks, “Why should I do business with you then?”

We answer with confidence “because the work we’re doing now, is better than the work we were doing six months ago, and the work we will be doing six months from this point will be better than the work we are doing today because we come to work every day with a sense of why we come to work, we come to work to inspire people to do the things that inspire them.

Simon Sinek

High performers are consistent  

Our motivation can wax and wane for so many reasons. Sinek’s book reminds us that if we’re focused on our purpose, competing with ourselves by striving to be better today than we were yesterday, we’ll continue to improve our results, our relationships, our outcomes and ourselves.

Three ways to apply this thinking in your role

Clarify your why

Why do you do what you do?  It seems a simple question, but takes a little while to identify your true ‘why’.  That’s because the answer probably comes from your heart and your gut.  

For me, it’s all about the warm and fuzzy feeling I get when I see lives change.

I do what I do because I want to help as many people as possible be productive and happy at work. I’ve seen how my work changes lives, and it excites me to take someone from a place of anxiety to a place of control over their work and personal lives. 

Why this works  

When you’re clear on why you do what you do and why you want what you want, you tap into intrinsic motivation. When the chips are down you can tap into this and keep going. You’ll find it easier to make decisions and maintain your focus on the right things.  

For instance, one year I did about 20 radio interviews when we released our Productivity Research to the market. I’d get really nervous, and then remind myself my purpose is to help as many people as possible learn how to be happy and productive at work. 

This approach took my focus off me and my ego, and placed it on the reason we did the research in the first place. To change lives. 

As a leader of an organisation, being clear on why the company exists allows everyone to rally around a singular purpose.  

Constantly ask:

  • Will this service, activity or project help you achieve your “why”?   

We measure success not just in revenue, but by how many peoples’ lives we help change for the better. 

When we talk about habits, we’re working on the “what we want to achieve and then the “how” we will achieve these goals. Before we get into the “what” and the “how” though, I want to ask you some important questions starting with “why”.

Calls to action 


  • Why is your work important?
  • Why do you do what you do?
  • Why do you want to achieve what you want to achieve?
  • Why have you chosen your role, your employer, your career? 
  • Why does your company exist? 

Let the answers to these questions inspire and guide you.

We all want to be authentic. There’s no better way to achieve authenticity than by being clear on your purpose and why you do what you do. This knowledge guides us to make better decisions.

Habits to work on

  • Set your focus on your “why”. On a daily basis that could look like this:

Upon waking each morning, ask yourself what you’re going to achieve, who you’re going to communicate with, and where you’re going to go that day.

When you go to bed, take a moment to reflect on what you achieved?  Who did you help? What are you grateful for? 

Let us know how you go!


Cholena xoxo

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