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The "Values" Thing

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  • The "Values" Thing

    Havne't posted here much lately, though I do use GTD principles.

    A couple of months ago I read an essay by blogger and prolific entrepreneur named Paul Graham excoriating the notion of lists and next actions -- basically he said, just ask yourself what is the most important thing you need to do, and everything will flow from there. (I simplify greatly... here is the link http://www.paulgraham.com/procrastination.html. You will note that he specifically alludes to "getting things done."

    What he wrote has stayed with me.

    But this isn't specifically about that.

    Rather it's about the issue of why some people seem to NEED (or, less stridently, benefit from) GTD and others coast by without nary a list in the world.

    I think it comes back to what I consider for myself anyway the hardest thing to define in charting one's course through life: Values. The best self-help books, including those by Robbins and Tracy (say what you will about either, I think their systems are well-developed if nothing else) insist that defining one's values is the most essential step of the journey.

    For myself, I can say it is the most difficult step. I don't think values were clearly communicated to me as a child or youth (indeed, values were POORLY communicated and when they were communicated, seemed contradictory and flimsy) and as I look at the areas of my life which now require inordinate FIXING, the values issue comes up -- I can see for the first time how values have led to problems and how values can point the way out of the problems (though solving them is more complex than just that).

    Looking around me, I can say that those who seem to struggle the most either haven't defined values or have defined them poorly.

    Incidentally, there is a parallel to this in the arts. As a writer, I have noticed that the best novels and films have clear themes -- and there are writing gurus who insist that their students first identify the THEME of their work BEFORE writing it out. That is a HARD thing to do -- everyone wants to begin writing about the cop chasing the bad guy and the cop wins and then the cop's estranged wife comes back to him. But the stories which actually work have a theme that can be discerned beneath the fabric of every scene -- love is more important than money, hard work trumps innate talent, big government is evil, true art takes great sacrifice -- whatever. If the theme is true in every element of the story, the story, no matter how many times it has been told, resonates.

    I believe that "values" are the themes of life. If every action we do is consistent with our truest values, then you can coast, like Paul Graham.

    If not, you need tools. GTD is a good one.

    Graham writes:

    "In his famous essay You and Your Research (which I recommend to anyone ambitious, no matter what they're working on), Richard Hamming suggests that you ask yourself three questions:

    1. What are the most important problems in your field?

    2. Are you working on one of them?

    3. Why not?"

    As I read the Graham piece again it occurs to me how really, really, really hard it is for me to identify, claim and be true to values. Because if my value is simply "BE RESPONSIBLE" than the answers to Graham's/Hamming's questions become very easy to answer indeed.

  • #2
    The "Values" Thing

    Nice post.

    The problem is that most of us have lives that require us to do things that are not high on our "Values" lists both personally and professionally. They must be done anyway or we get in trouble (or worse). GTD works well on these things but also keeps the tasks of value visible in the mist of those that we have to do whether we "value" them or not.

    Just my two cents worth.

    Mike

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    • #3
      When you're independently wealthy, it's pretty easy to coast. The rest of us don't have the luxury of delegating everything that we personally don't want to do.

      Katherine

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      • #4
        Help with finding/defining values?

        Originally posted by Vilmosz
        Looking around me, I can say that those who seem to struggle the most either haven't defined values or have defined them poorly.
        Yes, that's me. I spent a lot of years looking at my feet, thinking about the next step, instead of looking at the horizon trying to figure out where I wanted to go.

        Can someone offer suggestions about way to help me discover or define my values? Preferably a book or something I can refer to later, to refresh my mind about why I'm supposed to be doing these things? I think that having a clear set of values and understanding how our daily tasks feed those values will help me stay motivated.

        And yes, even though we are asked to do lots of things we don't value in themselves, those things are usually parts of jobs we took because we valued them somehow or because the income helps us meet other values.

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        • #5
          Of course values are important, but we need other things too. GTD is for me just a memory system. However clear and good my values are I know from my experience that I will forget to do things that I need to do. It doesn't matter if they are closely related to my values - I still forget them! The knitty kritty of life is complex and if we can cope with it more easily, then we have more time and energy to reevaluate our lifes on a periodic basis - whiich seems to be what you are suggesting.

          I think focussing on the GTD system can get a bit obsessive, as many of the posts demostrate - but I think most of realise its just a tool and not that important in itself.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by flexiblefine

            Can someone offer suggestions about way to help me discover or define my values? Preferably a book or something I can refer to later, to refresh my mind about why I'm supposed to be doing these things? I think that having a clear set of values and understanding how our daily tasks feed those values will help me stay motivated.
            Your Best Year Yet, by Jenny Ditzler

            Comment


            • #7
              Must Be Nice

              Originally posted by kewms
              When you're independently wealthy, it's pretty easy to coast. The rest of us don't have the luxury of delegating everything that we personally don't want to do.

              Katherine
              BINGO! I'll bet the people who work for him need GTD.
              Last edited by Scott_L_Lewis; 03-03-2006, 10:09 AM.

              Comment


              • #8
                Themes

                Originally posted by Vilmosz
                As a writer, I have noticed that the best novels and films have clear themes -- and there are writing gurus who insist that their students first identify the THEME of their work BEFORE writing it out. That is a HARD thing to do...
                Sometimes you have to start writing and allow the theme to emerge. You can see this happening by looking at the notebooks of composers or the studies done by painters and sculptors. They start out by playing around, trying different things, but after a while the work starts to crystallize.

                On a similar vein, it is sometimes useful to take a look at what you are doing and how you are living your life and determine what values you are actually living. Once you become aware of that, you face a decision as to whether you will start living in accordance with the values you actually have or the values you think you ought to have.

                I have tried "values clarification" exercises, and they have not worked for me. The reason is that I made the mistake of thinking it was a one-shot deal instead of an ongoing process where values are clarified, lived, and then evolve.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by flexiblefine
                  Can someone offer suggestions about way to help me discover or define my values? Preferably a book or something I can refer to later, to refresh my mind about why I'm supposed to be doing these things?
                  Try the I-beam test. It’s either in Covey’s “7 Habits” or Hyrum W Smith’s “10 Natural Laws of Successful Time and Life Management”.

                  Dave

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by flexiblefine
                    Can someone offer suggestions about way to help me discover or define my values? Preferably a book or something I can refer to later, to refresh my mind about why I'm supposed to be doing these things?
                    One good book that covers this is Gelb's How to Think like Leonardo Da Vinci.

                    One good method is to journal every day, on the topic of what ticks you off. What are the things other people do that "get to you?" Usually, it's because they're violating values that are important to you.

                    Defining your values can take a long time. Months of thinking and writing. In my opinion, it should take a while.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Vilmosz
                      Rather it's about the issue of why some people seem to NEED (or, less stridently, benefit from) GTD and others coast by without nary a list in the world.
                      Well, it seems to me that it's not really a question of values, rather, a question of how hard the edges are around the stuff that you need to get done.

                      Using an example from my own experience, I'll illustrate with two scenarios:

                      1) In my line of work, I need to define my actual work on a daily basis. I basically make up much of what I do. There are very few "hard edges" around my work, so every day I'm challenged with figuring out what to do next toward the completion of my projects. I use GTD religiously, and have found it to be tremendously beneficial in tracking all of the open loops in my life. If I were to forgo the use of GTD, stuff would still get done, but many balls would invariably drop in the process.

                      2) In contrast, I have a friend who is a locksmith. Every day, when he comes into work he's given a job and a set number of tasks to complete. The edges in his work are very hard, and he has little input into what he does on a daily basis. In his case, I think that a "system" (GTD or otherwise) would simply bog him down. To use David's metaphor, he basically walks in the door, is given a bunch of widgets to punch, and begins punching. At the end of the day, the number of widgets he punched is the number of widgets he punched. He'll get a new batch the next day when he comes to work.

                      Less to do with value clarification, more to do w/necessity defined by the nature of the work that you do IMHO.

                      I've found it to be relatively difficult to realize values without actually putting them to the test. It's rather easy to conceptualize ones values, but how is one to know unless it is challenged?

                      It seems to me that Graham's thinking about the subject is very high-level.

                      If all one had to do in a given day is work on the most pressing problems (i.e. push back all of the runway level stuff that goes on in the rest of your work), then yes, I think Graham's ideas have merit. However, most of us don't have that luxury, and that's the preeminent reason for the need of a system such as GTD.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by CosmoGTD
                        For me at this point, I just trust my gut, trust my intution, trust my own thinking. If I don't want to do it, then I don't do it. If I have to do it, then I want to do it, so I do it. If i want to do it, then go for it, give it a shot.
                        I suggest that you have already determined your own values internally and are guided by them.

                        Not everyone is so blessed.

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                        • #13
                          Everyone has values. Everyone acts in accordance with those values. The question is whether the values you demonstrate by your actions are the ones that you would like to show to whatever higher powers you believe in. (Noting that higher powers in this context include employers, family, community, etc.)

                          For example, just about everyone says that they value their spouse, children, or other family. But when push comes to shove, plenty of people actually put their job first. As they say, actions speak louder than words.

                          So I agree with Cosmo. Throw the trendy self-help books away and read some of humanity's vast store of wisdom literature instead. Create space to listen to what your heart/conscience/better angels/whatever you call it is telling you, and find the courage to act accordingly.

                          It's that simple, and that difficult.

                          Katherine

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by CosmoGTD
                            I suppose I could be deluding myself, and that all those Values books-exercises I did in the past did actually help me to clarify my values, which I now take for granted.
                            But I really don't think so.
                            No, no, that's not what I'm saying! I think you're (thankfully) very healthy, but that your experience does not necessarily track with others'.

                            It seems to me that you never needed to sit down and explicitly define your real values. It seems that you've internally figured out your values and how to live by them. Great!

                            However, many people have not figured out their real values and do need to do conscious, "sit down with a piece of paper" work to define them.

                            By "real values" I mean the sorts of things that kewms describes. Yes, we're all guided by values, but not necessarily by the values that feed our hearts.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Brent
                              However, many people have not figured out their real values and do need to do conscious, "sit down with a piece of paper" work to define them.

                              By "real values" I mean the sorts of things that kewms describes. Yes, we're all guided by values, but not necessarily by the values that feed our hearts.
                              My wife and I have practiced in the past a well-known decision-making technique where we make a table with decision factors, with weights, along the top, and alternatives along the left-hand side. Most people have some familiarity with this sort of thing. In almost every case, this technique came up with the wrong answer for us, and we both knew it intuitively. When confronted with the clear superiority of something we didn't want, we either chose otherwise, or found new options. After many years of marriage, we don't even need to make the table anymore. We're able to say "I'm not comfortable with this alternative at this time" and go from there. Most people come up with a rather banal list of "things that feed our hearts" if they try to force the list out. Religions have always known this: values can be clarified in a moment if it's the right moment, or clarified over time, but rarely by conscious will. Pascal may have been a notable exception.

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