Venn tattoo

Time ∩ Values

Venn tattoo
I like Venn diagrams. I like them so much I have one tattooed on my wrist, although the tattoo artist in question didn’t quite understand that it was meant to say ∩ [that’s maths for ‘intersection’] rather than ‘n’ [that’s alphabet for ‘no clue’]. Anyways. Symbols aside, Venn diagrams are phenomenally useful tools for understanding the relationships between things. Visual tagging. I love using them to elucidate the differences and similarities between ideas that are a bit slippery to grasp. I’ve done it for Spark+Mettle’s programmes. I’ll do it again.

Spark+Mettle venn diagram

I’ll come back to Venn diagrams in a bit.

Last week, at a social enterprise breakfast at the RSA, I made as if for a confessional and announced to a room of strangers quite how hopelessly disorganised I can be. It’s not that I’m not productive—boy do I get things done—but it’s just that the swirl of admin sometimes grows so large that it feels like a tsunami, and I tend to turn and run. I’ve done a lot of baking over the last few days.

But that breakfast was inspiring. It reminded me that other high-achieving and professional people also struggle to manage their time [or, as we learned, to manage themselves—time is an unmanageable quantity]. Knowing it’s a thing for others was a relief, for sure. And I also learned that we all work differently, we have different peaks and troughs during days and weeks and years, so it’s okay not to follow someone else’s schedule.

But the most interesting piece of all, for me, came as a throwaway comment at the end:

the way we choose to spend our time so often comes down to what we value in life.

For some reason, that had never occurred to me before. It makes me realise that sometimes it’s possible to review what we particularly value if we look at how we’ve been spending our time. For example, over this last month—after a very, very work-heavy January—I’ve spent a lot more time doing exercise and being with my son. Clearly health and family are high on my value agenda right now. These might die down next month, with more work stuff on the horizon. Which reminds me that values and the ways they impact on our daily lives can ebb and flow too. It’s possible, and in fact probably desirable, to have way more values on your shelf than you can use at any one time. I’m imagining them in jars, a bit like the ingredients for dreams in the BFG. It’s okay to move them around, discard old jumbled ones, or take them out, knead them a bit, and put them back.

BFG dreams

The relationship between time and what we value has its flipside. What about everything that you don’t value? How does that impact on what you do, or don’t do? When I look at my mounting to-do list, I see so many bits to do with bills and finances. Money, I’m reminded, is not something I value. It’s not a driver, for me. So I think. But, of course, it so is a driver.

Clearly lots of other thoughtful people have reflected on the relationship between our time and our values, so I appreciate that this thinking is not new, but it is new to me.

We can’t manage time, but we can choose how we spend it. Our values aren’t fixed, and there’s no reason why we can’t change them. In fact, we probably should. I’m looking mostly at me and my view of money. It’s so pathetically middle-class, third-sector clichéd and so deeply unhelpful in work and at home.

Happiness time and values venn diagramHere’s my answer to the secret to life (hello, Venn diagram): we feel happy, we feel in flow, when the intersection between our values and our time is full. That’s the space where we find our sense of self, our purpose, our good feelings. But all the other space, especially the bit outside what we value and how we spend our time, that’s the space where we languish and fade. But that intersection, those spaces, and what’s contained within them—they shift and switch and change. Daily, weekly, monthly or just very occasionally. Outside forces, such as love or deadlines, they have an impact on it all too.

So here are the questions I’m going to ask myself:

  • how do I spend my time?
  • what do I like doing most?
  • what are my values?
  • what are my values right now?
  • what, if anything, can I change? how I am spending my time? what I value?
  • when will I be able to read the BFG again?

Then again, as the BFG said himself: “Meanings is not important. I cannot be right all the time. Quite often I is left instead of right.”

Noah's ark

40 days and 40 nights

I have no idea what your own cultural connotation of the blog post title might be, but on the Noah—Josh Hartnett spectrum, I’m veering a bit closer to the ark. Just a little expectation-management, on my part, for yous.

Noah's ark

Hi! What’s up? How you doing? I’ve feeling pretty good. Yup. I’ve just had a brainwave. Not a momentous one. It’s more moment-ful. Oh man, I hate me. The point is: it’s pretty ordinary. It’s hard to unpick the order of events that led up to the ‘Ting!’ moment in my head, but I’m an historian‘s daughter so I still feel as though I should try.

I can’t do chronological, so I am just going to list various things that have happened in the last few days that all led into the Ting. I might ambitiously refer to it as a Causal List:

  1. William P. Teasley, III (aka Bud, aka my husband) does a lot of reading and thinking about what we should do with uncomfortable knowledge we acquire, and writes a brilliant and funny blog post about vegan shoes.
  2. I drum up a list of things in my head that I do that I probably shouldn’t and make excuses about why I do them. I also think about No Impact Man and how earnest he seemed and I worry that I won’t ever be allowed to buy a dress from Primark again.
  3. I read a Guardian article about the Sunday Assembly in London, and get totally inspired by the idea of an event that lifts all the good, community, uplifting bits of church and religion, and leaves out all of the dogma. A “godless congregation”. Awesome.
  4. I remember that next Tuesday is pancake day and I get excited. A while later I realise that pancake day is not just about batter, but also about Lent.
  5. I go to my first ever Zumba class at my gym. We warm up in silence. The instructor sips coffee in between fervently shaking his ass at a motley group of women. The group’s response is lacklustre, coordination abominable. I wonder if I have ever felt so depressed in my life. Then I remember the strip club I visited in Sydney on my 19th birthday, and I get some perspective. As I shuffle-shuffle-cha-cha-cha, I keep thinking about Good Gym, and the value of expending my energy in productive, life-affirming ways. I slip out of the class after 35 cold, dispassionate minutes.  I run a fast 5k on the treadmill, go to the front desk and cancel my gym subscription.
  6. At home, I leave my kid upstairs while I go downstairs to make a sandwich. He turns on the TV using the remote control and watches Cbeebies. He’s two.
  7. I speak to one of my best friends whom I haven’t spoken to in two months, and haven’t seen in three. I joke to her about only reading two books in the last twelve months and she jokes to me about books being more decorative than devoured. As we talk, I realise that I have read no novels since the summer of 2011, but I have colour-coded them on our bookshelves. And they really bring such brightness and pep into the living room.
  8. I buy a copy of Grazia. I hide it in the laundry room out of shame, but then decide to sod it and read it in full view at breakfast the following morning.
  9. I give some money to The Women’s Room on a crowdfunding platform, and it reminds me of what good can be done in a short, pre-determined amount of time.
  10. Someone asks me to define ‘flourishing’ and I talk, yet again, about the nine flourishing features or strengths at the core of Spark+Mettle’s work. And I say, again, that it’s about becoming the best version of you. I mention Plato’s horse theory, again, and Benjamin Franklin’s 13 virtues and self-improvement programme, again.
  11. The omnipresent Alain de Boton says goodbye to new bezzie mate Harry Styles and comes up with his own list of ten commandments for atheists.
  12. I remember that I once read somewhere that it’s meant to take six weeks to make or break a habit. I google it but to no avail, then I come across Charles Duhigg again, the habit maestro, and am happy.

So here’s the brainwave:

For 40 days and 40 nights, I’m going to greenhouse/road-test/hot-box a number of things with the aim of bringing out the best version of me, while also having a positive impact on the people and the world around me. The sorts of things that I might be terrified to say that I am going to do forever—such as not eat steak or watch any more television—but that for 40 days seem manageable. I’m going to come up with a manifesto that is based on the nine flourishing features we use within Spark+Mettle, and create opportunities both to act and reflect on them all. I’m hoping it might mean that I kick some bad habits and kickstart some good ones in the process. The only rule I have so far is: I don’t want to end up being earnest, or smug, or preachy, or boring—if that’s what the best version of me entails then I’ll be pegging it back to mediocre, quick sharp. 

I’ve got a week to get it all figured out. Bud is up for the experiment, and the kid will be a part of it too, whether he likes it or not. So now we’ve just got to figure out what it’s going to be, what it’s going to look like. I’m excited. It’s going to make me look at my values in a way that I haven’t done since my teenager years and all their D’n’M conversations. In between now and then, there’s a lot of meat in the fridge that needs to be eaten, and the end of Breaking Bad Series 5 to be watched.