Understanding your true values can take a lifetime. Start now.
You intuitively understand that productivity is about your values.
Sometimes it's hard to pinpoint it. You get lost in the shuffle of modern life and don't know if you even had the chance to ask yourself.
In Rachel O'Meara's Pause, the concept of values is explored in the midst of a breakdown.
In an effort to help you better identify your values, let's first start with where you are right now.
The Japanese concept of Ikigai translates into you inner motivations for living life. It is the reason you get out of bed, akin to your purpose in life.
Ikigai is at the intersection of doing what you love, what you're good at, something you can be paid for, and doing what the world needs.
If your work is not completely at the intersection here, what about a hobby you do? Does the combination get you there?
If you are not able to get even close to the center with your current work or with the combination of all the things you do, it may be time to consider an ultra-hobby.
When you have truly achieved ikigai, you are able to tap into what psychologist Mihaly Csikzentimihalyi terms as flow, a state of joy and concentration so acute that it makes all of your other concerns obsolete - and even has the ability to stop time.
How much of this do you experience?
You likely have some bad habits. Since you are interested in productivity, you are already working on getting rid of them.
But what about your good habits? Do you have anything that you do consistently that makes you feel great?
Good habits tend to beat out other forms of perceived self-indulgence we engage in, because they condition us closer to a state of flow as opposed to doing something because we're bored.
The case for the life-changing power of good habit formation as well as practical execution is well documented in James Clear's Atomic Habits.
Learning for learning's sake is a hard sell for a busy person. I would rather double down on self-care than be burdened by more mental demand.
But learning something new does something for us that is greater than the learned skill. If is it not too difficult, but at the right level of challenge, you will be tapping into a flow state.
As you make mistakes and incrementally improve, you don't learn just the skill, but you learn about yourself. The entire exercise is meant to allow you to reflect on what you truly like, will tolerate, and how you are capable of almost anything.
Much like time tracking or habit tracking, you will need to data collect on yourself in some manner.
If you are cringing at the thought, then I would recommend just a loose set of tracking.
Anything to get started. The purpose is primarily to data collect on yourself.
You think you have a general idea of what is going on. Why bother. But people who track know that they can't trust an overburdened, overwhelmed brain to accurately recall everything. In fact, this concept resonates throughout the productivity world and has birthed the concept of building a second brain.
Tracking helps with accuracy and also allows you to visualize it in a way to make sense of how you spend your time.
Once you have that done, it Is worth adding a second layer of awareness to the tasks you do.
That is your feelings.
When you map out tasks to your feelings, a more powerful understanding of what you enjoy is apparent.
At times there will be no feelings. It may be that you are neutral even for days. It's especially in this space of patience that something will emerge. Eventually there will be something - your boredom or lack thereof will birth.
As a practice, I like to check in with my feelings before the day has even begun. Sometimes there is something lingering over. From there, I like to see how the feeling changes as the events of the day occur.
This is helpful because pleasure from a superficial activity generally cannot move the needle on a day that starts off poorly or with sadness. You can start to see a pattern in the things that you truly enjoy especially it is washes over original feelings.
Even if you are able to peel off your superficial tendencies and identify your true desires, you still probably have some egotistical drive in you. In The Elephant in the Brain, authors explore hidden motives in nearly all of our pursuits. We don't consciously acknowledge them, because they are socially unacceptable. For example, I think I want to help people, but I really want to just increase my status.
I think it is utterly human to have some egotistical slant within our desires. One way we tap into our ego and not deny the elephant is to think about our values as nouns.
I am a financial engineer.
I am a ceramist.
I am an activist.
The idea of being something is very powerful as a motivational driver in achieving goals that require incremental work and quietly hacking away for years.
"Each time you write a page, you are a writer. Each time you practice the violin, you are a musician. Each time you start a workout, you are an athlete. - James Clear, Atomic Habits
The embodiment of what we do with what we are is useful in getting things done. But even this has a limit.
The ego forces us to identify with the things we are pursuing.
I am a writer.
This is precisely what Austin Kleon believes is a problem when it comes to figuring out what to do with one's life vocationally. Instead of becoming bogged down in the identity of being a writer, why can't you become a HR executive who also writes?
If you get caught up in the idea of being a [insert any profession], then you rob yourself of experiencing joy in the various activities that the profession never allows for.
It's much better to think about things in terms of verbs.
I enjoy writing.
I enjoy making music.
I enjoy organizing items, both digital and analog.
Ideally, you will find the mix of things you enjoy doing. You will not work on getting your dream career, but you will be able to assemble a dream life.
You have now data collected on some of your movements and quirks. You now have to see if any of your patterns, which likely you might have felt neutral about, can be linked to any moments you feel great.
For example, when you are at your best, you find it rewarding to be with your children. As a pattern, you've noticed you tend to be able to scroll through a lot of data quickly and regularly. Why not combine this tendency of yours toward something that is more rewarding to you - like being able to scroll through a bunch of activities in a children's activity site and select out something to do with the kids that would be different or counterintuitive to your standard tastes.
Or the absolute opposite. You love being with your children when there is nothing planned. Block out time for that. You get to have that time - instead of you have to do childcare at that time.
Or maybe you are at your best without the kids. When you get to leave the societal expectations of being a mother.
This act allows you to refine what you find valuable. You might end up doing an activity with the kids that actually wasn't that fun. You will keep experimenting until you find something that makes you feel great. What you value will be buried in this activity, even if you can't quite articulate what it is at the moment.