On productivity, the power of purpose and passion in life and in work

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“I am very, very busy.

From 6.30 when I rise to 11.30 when I seek my bed. You can imagine how much is to be done – new ship, new officers, new men…”

Captain Robert Falcon Scott

There are times when the need to exert extraordinary powers of effort, will and perseverence fall upon us, though circumstance or design, yet how many of us truly rate and believe in our capacity to be productive, to be purposeful with every moment of our time, to achieve the success we desire?

I am reading Ranulph Fiennes’ ‘Captain Scott’ (2003) and the quote above by Scott most impressed me. There seems hardly a time in Scott’s life when he was not endlessly busy, borne of great ambition but also of habit, purpose and studied decision making. Scott guarded himself constantly against indolence, fearful that he would live a life plagued by the financial insecurities that had haunted his father and left his mother and two sisters dependent on Scott’s modest naval wages whilst still a young man.

I am enamoured of Scott, having read his collected diary accounts, Scott’s Last Expedition in a year that marks the centenary of his death in 1912. In this year of rememberance, and of great interest in Scott’s work and legacy, it is easy to be drawn to believing that such feats of endurance, of incredible achievement and sacrifice, have died with that golden age of exploration.

Yet Scott was born neither wealthy, nor physically fit, nor exceptional. He worked relentlessly hard over many years to achieve the right to lead his first British Antartic Expedition on HMS Discovery, 1901 – 1904. Even after his first successful polar exploration, his endeavours did not let up, but were multiplied.

How many of us can say that when a degree of success is achieved we maintain the motivation, the productivity of earlier effort, to achieve still more? I fall far short on that and have an endless range of distractions that serve to ensure the rewards of hard work remain on some distant shore.

In Stephen Covey’s most celebrated and enduring ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, Covey asserts that there is a need to define success not through independence, but through interdependence, people working together to achieve something that is greater than might be possible alone. Covey sets out to show that –

“Our character is a collection of our habits, and habits have a powerful role in our lives.”

Scott also recognized that need for good, productive habits to be formed early in life if they are to endure, having witnessed at first hand through his father’s penurious state the consequence of poor habit and discipline.

So, I return to Covey’s 7 habits which in outline are –

  1. Be Proactive
  2. Begin with the end in mind
  3. Put first things first
  4. Think win/win
  5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood
  6. Synergize
  7. Sharpen the saw

I love the progression of ideas and transformative power of Covey’s principles and strive to bear in mind, if not all, but at least some of those habits as I go about my daily business. But, oh, the temptations that exist.

At various times when I have been most busy, I have found excuse to be away, playing tennis when a report most prudently could be written. I have the most ardent need to wander the streets of Oxford, to indulge my love of Stratford upon Avon, or my weakness for quiet coffee shop moments, at times that most merit my full attention.

The moment slips by and those great and good intentions are lost to the passage of time.

I do not have an Arts and Crafts clock as beautiful as this from a collection at The Victoria & Albert Museum, London, but I do have a stone hand-crafted clock in my kitchen, bearing the same timely message –

“Time and tide wait for no man”

But all this quest for productivity, for good time management, for the power of purpose, is for nothing if there is not, somewhere behind the scenes, a passion driving forward our best endeavours.

What is your passion?

What inspires you to achieve the best you can possibly achieve?

As always, there is soul-searching to be done if we are to understand not just our own nature, but our habits, what it is that prevents or brings us closer to the life we would wish to lead.

Life is made infinitely richer once we find our passion. Only then can we work tirelessly towards our self-made goals and become productive in our daily habits. 

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