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How to Bring Your Life into Line with Your Values

How to Bring Your Life into Line with Your Values

How to Bring Your Life into Line with Your Values

    The world, it seems, is going downhill fast. Everyone has a take on what’s wrong: liberals over-regulating everything, conservatives decimating the principles of governance, immigrants refusing to blend in, racists bashing immigrants, poor parenting, non-family-friendly policies, corporations bound to short-term profits instead of long-term social responsibilities, activists hampering corporate innovation, and of course the Jews, always the Jews. You name it, someone’s upset by it and the negative effect it causes in the world, by the sheer affront to decent people’s values that the world poses.

    The problem is, the problems facing the world today are so huge, so global in their reach, that most of us are simply overwhelmed by them. We feel we should do something, but what? On top of that, we’re so busy just trying to stay afloat in the roiling seas of modern life that even if we did know what to do, we don’t know how we’d find time to actually do it.

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    Bummer, huh? Well, it seems to me that the same principles we apply to our own personal productivity can be applied to the problems of the world. In short, we can “GTD” the world’s problems.

    How? The same way we approach our own problems — set a goal and then figure out what the very next action is that we’d have to take to get there.

    Just like you can’t “install cable” (to use one of David Allen’s examples), you can’t “end racism” or “fix the environment”. What you can do is figure out what one thing you could do to bring you — and the world — closer to that goal.

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    Here are some things you might put on your @world next actions list:

    • Look up Senator’s office phone number/email address
    • Get voter registration form online
    • Research local organizations that need volunteers
    • Buy 6 compact fluorescent light bulbs
    • Put three canvas bags in car trunk for next shopping trip
    • Talk to kids about global warming
    • Call Reverend Hassan about starting a church auxiliary group
    • Knit blanket for homeless shelter
    • Look up regulations for running for local office
    • Join school parents association
    • Research organizations to donate money to
    • Check local library’s website for upcoming meetings

    These are just examples; none of them might apply to whatever your own personal values are. The point is, just as with any other project, if you want results you have to be prepared to act — and you can’t act on big, grandiose, world-changing goals. You can only act on concrete next actions.

    Now, first steps are hardly enough to fix the world’s problems. Still if everyone took just one baby step, that’d be something, at least. But I’m not advocating you find one little thing to do, do it, and spend the rest of your days feeling smug about the great thing you did that one time.

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    The goal here isn’t to take a step, it’s to take the first step. As I mentioned recently, we humans tend to be strongly guided by inertia. Once we set on a path, it’s often easier to just stay on it than to change it. That first step, that very next action, is meant to do two things:

    1. Disrupt the current inertia of your life, and
    2. Set you on a new path that, with time, will be harder to stop than to stay on.

    Which means that, once you buy that energy-saving light bulb or find out about a group worth joining, it’s time to cross that off your list and think of what the next next action is. And then the next one, and the next one again after that.

    You may not change the world. In fact, you probably won’t change the world — although, imagine the influence you just might have on the people around you, the opportunity you’ll have to share your own values not just by talking about them but by demonstrating them on a day-to-day basis.

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    But changing the world isn’t the immediate point here. The point is changing your relationship with the world. Here’s the thing: I look around, and I see people who are profoundly unhappy, and they don’t know why. They look at, say, the rampant consumerism in society, they’re depressed by it, they feel powerless and overwhelmed by it, and maybe they think “Oh, this world is messed up, that’s why I’m unhappy. Well, there’s nothing I can do about it, best to just worry about myself and try to make it as best as I can.”

    But that’s wrong — you can’t make yourself happy by making room in your life for whatever’s making you unhappy! In my interview with Liz Strauss on Lifehack Live in January, she talked about bringing our heads, hearts, and purposes in line as the key to a successful life, and I agree — when you live your life at cross-purposes from your values, you’re bound to be unhappy.

    I’d like to see you, me, and everyone else living their values, whatever those values are. Sure, there are bound to be contradictions, conflicts, disagreements — but we have those already. What we don’t have is a society filled with people whose lives clearly express the values they espouse, not because they’re hypocrites but because they haven’t figure out the need to turn abstract values into concrete actions — just like many of us struggle to turn the various projects in our lives into doable next actions. 

    The idea of a society filled with people who have figured that out makes me incredibly optimistic. Because that’s a society that, with all it’s disagreements, can get things done. And maybe, just maybe, in the long run, that’s exactly what it might take to start fixing the big problems — people who feel truly led by the values they choose to live by.

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    Last Updated on March 31, 2020

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Procrastination is very literally the opposite of productivity. To produce something is to pull it forward, while to procrastinate is to push it forward — to tomorrow, to next week, or ultimately to never.

    Procrastination fills us with shame — we curse ourselves for our laziness, our inability to focus on the task at hand, our tendency to be easily led into easier and more immediate gratifications. And with good reason: for the most part, time spent procrastinating is time spent not doing things that are, in some way or other, important to us.

    There is a positive side to procrastination, but it’s important not to confuse procrastination at its best with everyday garden-variety procrastination.

    Sometimes — sometimes! — procrastination gives us the time we need to sort through a thorny issue or to generate ideas. In those rare instances, we should embrace procrastination — even as we push it away the rest of the time.

    Why We Procrastinate After All?

    We procrastinate for a number of reasons, some better than others. One reason we procrastinate is that, while we know what we want to do, we need time to let the ideas “ferment” before we are ready to sit down and put them into action.

    Some might call this “creative faffing”; I call it, following copywriter Ray Del Savio’s lead, “concepting”.[1]

    Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the time spent dreaming up what you want to say or do, weighing ideas in your mind, following false leads and tearing off on mental wild goose chases, and generally thinking things through.

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    To the outside observer, concepting looks like… well, like nothing much at all. Maybe you’re leaning back in your chair, feet up, staring at the wall or ceiling, or laying in bed apparently dozing, or looking out over the skyline or feeding pigeons in the park or fiddling with the Japanese vinyl toys that stand watch over your desk.

    If ideas are the lifeblood of your work, you have to make time for concepting, and you have to overcome the sensation— often overpowering in our work-obsessed culture — that faffing, however creative, is not work.

    Is Procrastination Bad?

    Yes it is.

    Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re “concepting” when in fact you’re just not sure what you’re supposed to be doing.

    Spending an hour staring at the wall while thinking up the perfect tagline for a marketing campaign is creative faffing; staring at the wall for an hour because you don’t know how to come up with a tagline, or don’t know the product you’re marketing well enough to come up with one, is just wasting time.

    Lack of definition is perhaps the biggest friend of your procrastination demons. When we’re not sure what to do — whether because we haven’t planned thoroughly enough, we haven’t specified the scope of what we hope to accomplish in the immediate present, or we lack important information, skills, or resources to get the job done.

    It’s easy to get distracted or to trick ourselves into spinning our wheels doing nothing. It takes our mind off the uncomfortable sensation of failing to make progress on something important.

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    The answer to this is in planning and scheduling. Rather than giving yourself an unspecified length of time to perform an unspecified task (“Let’s see, I guess I’ll work on that spreadsheet for a while”) give yourself a limited amount of time to work on a clearly defined task (“Now I’ll enter the figures from last months sales report into the spreadsheet for an hour”).

    Giving yourself a deadline, even an artificial one, helps build a sense of urgency and also offers the promise of time to “screw around” later, once more important things are done.

    For larger projects, planning plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll spend too much time procrastinating to reach the end reasonably quickly.

    A good plan not only lists the steps you have to take to reach the end, but takes into account the resources, knowledge and inputs from other people you’re going to need to perform those steps.

    Instead of futzing around doing nothing because you don’t have last month’s sales report, getting the report should be a step in the project.

    Otherwise, you’ll spend time cooling your heels, justifying your lack of action as necessary: you aren’t wasting time because you want to, but because you have to.

    How Bad Procrastination Can Be

    Our mind can often trick us into procrastinating, often to the point that we don’t realize we’re procrastinating at all.

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    After all, we have lots and lots of things to do; if we’re working on something, aren’t we being productive – even if the one big thing we need to work on doesn’t get done?

    One way this plays out is that we scan our to-do list, skipping over the big challenging projects in favor of the short, easy projects. At the end of the day, we feel very productive: we’ve crossed twelve things off our list!

    That big project we didn’t work on gets put onto the next day’s list, and when the same thing happens, it gets moved forward again. And again.

    Big tasks often present us with the problem above – we aren’t sure what to do exactly, so we look for other ways to occupy ourselves.

    In many cases too, big tasks aren’t really tasks at all; they’re aggregates of many smaller tasks. If something’s sitting on your list for a long time, each day getting skipped over in favor of more immediately doable tasks, it’s probably not very well thought out.

    You’re actively resisting it because you don’t really know what it is. Try to break it down into a set of small tasks, something more like the tasks you are doing in place of the one big task you aren’t doing.

    More consequences of procrastination can be found in this article: 8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

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    Procrastination, a Technical Failure

    Procrastination is, more often than not, a sign of a technical failure, not a moral failure.

    It’s not because we’re bad people that we procrastinate. Most times, procrastination serves as a symptom of something more fundamentally wrong with the tasks we’ve set ourselves.

    It’s important to keep an eye on our procrastinating tendencies, to ask ourselves whenever we notice ourselves pushing things forward what it is about the task we’ve set ourselves that simply isn’t working for us.

    Learn more about how to fix your procrastination problem here: What Is Procrastination and How to Stop It (The Complete Guide)

    Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

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