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.
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.
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.
Here’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.”