Series: Basic Concepts
- Do You Understand Personal Productivity?
- Your Values Ruin Personal Productivity Deciding your values is not the same as changing your values
Personal productivity conventional wisdom states that your values should determine your goals. You don’t need a psychology degree to realize that your values end up having nothing to do with your goals or your actions. Is one of your values a fit and healthy life? If so, have you successfully tried to live by those values? Perhaps one of your values is not physical health but financial health. In that case, have you been able to improve your financial situation? No matter who you are, you will have values that are important to you but which you simply cannot act on. The step from values to goals, a core pillar of personal productivity, is simply not that easy. You can take as many value clarification tests as you want, it will not solve your problem.
Worse, you probably act in ways that are consistent with values that you detest. You procrastinate. Does this mean that you value laziness? You eat too much of the wrong things. Does this mean that you value obesity? You don’t stand up for yourself. Does this mean that you value submissiveness? The answer to all three questions is a resounding no!
Why values are important to personal productivity
Personal productivity is not a goal, it is a means to an end. It is a way for you to reach your goals in a more efficient manner. The tools you use will depend on many variables. A simple example is the idea of touching every email once only, i.e. if you read an email then you decide what to do with it, even if that means consciously deferring it, rather than leaving it in your inbox and coming back to it again, possibly several times. This is great advice, unless you have a tendency to procrastinate. If you are a procrastinator then being told to just do something is pretty useless. Another example is the advice to do work in 25 minute blocks called pomodoros. This might make sense in certain situations, such as reorganizing an office. It doesn’t make sense for creative work such as writing or programming.
Selecting the most effective productivity tools for you therefore requires looking first at who you are and at your environment. Your essence is your values. How you think, how you act are rooted in your values. This is why many personal productivity gurus begin with values clarification as a first step towards productive and effective lives. There is a problem though and it’s a big one.
Your authentic values – aspirational values personal productivity trap
“Your values” can mean one of two things. It can mean the actual values that you have now – your authentic values. Or it can mean the values that you would like – your aspirational values. The problem is that you cannot turn your authentic values into your aspirational values simply by wishing it. Your authentic values began developing since you were a young child, possibly as soon as you were born. Undoing those original values means undoing decades of reinforcement. This is not easy.
The trap here is that if personal productivity begins with values then your first step towards successful productivity is transforming your authentic values to your aspirational values. If you do not do that then you will fail in every subsequent step. You will fail in building a successful productivity system. The trap is sprung when you try to change your values without having a personal productivity system. It is the classical problem of the chicken and the egg.
The importance of temporary productivity frameworks
The solution to the authentic values – aspirational values personal productivity trap is to accept that there is no single productivity system. There are an uncountable number of such systems. There are also what I call productivity frameworks. These are simple, short-term productivity systems that are meant to help you get to a more stable or permanent place. Think of them as training wheels.
In the case of the values productivity trap there are several potential solutions. The tools used to change values are many, and people have used cognitive behavioral therapy, rational emotive behavioral therapy, meditation, mindfulness, and so on. If you have the money or the insurance your framework could be using a therapist, coach or other type of trainer to help you work through your values.
If you are not able to find an expert to help with your productivity framework then you will have to work on your own or with groups of other like-minded people using resources such as books, internet posts and podcasts. Unfortunately I am not an expert but I do know that it is an essential first step. However there are other things that you can do in parallel.
In the first two basic concept posts it is clear that your overall productivity is meaningless unless it is driven by your aspirational values. It is also clear that changing your authentic values into your aspirational values will take time and effort. This does not mean that the process of improving your productivity has to be put on hold. There are skills that are central to any value system and this is the topic of my next post.