Shifting our Focus from Task-Oriented to Values-Oriented Living
We live in a task-oriented society. Our days are guided, and decided, by our to-do lists. It is only when we can check off every single item that we are allowed to feel that we spent our day well. We have been taught that our value as human beings rests in our ability to get things done.
I have spent a lifetime using various charts, planners, lists and strategies that will keep me ‘on task’, reaching toward that golden ring of a perfectly executed list guaranteed to make me feel accomplished and worthy. None of them have ever worked. They have all left me with the feeling that I am not enough, and if experience proves itself out, according to these methods, I will never be enough.
I decided recently that I need a way to organize my days that feels good to me — that actually works. More importantly, I want a system that will honor who I am and affirms my value. I want a method that will gently lead me through my days, giving me the sense that I am fulfilling my purpose here on earth, and not just ‘getting things done’.
This is when I decided that the problem with all the methods I have tried before is they are all task oriented. Maybe the structure I need is value oriented, instead. After all, if we check our lists off, but have forgotten who we really are, what have we accomplished?
While we all have a vague sense of what matters to us, many times we get so occupied with pushing ourselves to get things done that our values get buried under the busyness. We lose our connection to our guiding principles. Or maybe we never were connected to those principles. We have been distracted, trying to affirm our value in our marked-through to-do lists.
Many of us have never spent time really thinking about what our “True North” values are. I know I hadn’t. So I got out my journal and began to compile a list. You can find lists of values online, but I decided to sit quietly with myself and dig deep to find what truly matters to me.
Here is my list:
Next, I wrote each value on a sticky note. I decided to put them around the perimeter of my kitchen door, the one that looks out on the garden and the mountain. I spend a lot of my day going in and out that door, and having my values where I can see them keeps me grounded in them.
But I didn’t just put them up there and leave them there. I use them to reinforce that I am actually living a meaningful life, even when I don’t seem to be getting much done. This is where the values-oriented system differs. Doing isn’t the focus. Several times a day, I pause at the door, look at all the values posted there and ask the question, “Which of these values have I already lived from today?”
Then I move those values onto the glass. This is akin to checking things off my list. I can very clearly see at the end of each day what I have accomplished. Some days, there are more sticky notes on the glass than other days. But even if there are only a few, I consider this a good day. I have lived from these values today.
Here are the values I have incorporated just in writing this article.
Here is a typical day with this method.
I get up in the morning and make my coffee and breakfast, and I read a really good book while I am eating. Here are the sticky notes that move to the glass: Joy, laughter(it’s a funny book), mental stimulation, nourishment, gratitude, margin and simplicity. All of these values have been at play and all I have done is eat my breakfast.
Next, I go out and take care of my chickens and check on the progress of the garden. Here are the sticky notes that move to the glass: Connection, beauty, home, caring, calm, sufficiency, order, nature.
When I call my mom or a friend, the sticky notes of joy, laughter, connection, caring, honoring and love all get moved to the window.
Maybe I spend some time writing in my journal about a personal growth issue I am working on. I am learning to honor where I am in my development as a human and this encompasses gentleness, honesty, courage, hope, forgiveness, honoring and healing.
And so on, throughout my day. Maybe some of the things on my actual to-do list get done, but even these can be accomplished through the guidance of my values.
In composing my list, I made sure that none of my values were really tasks in disguise. This is important because it’s those task oriented lists that always derailed me, making me feel like a failure.
For example, my old lists might have had things like yoga, gardening, meditation, and reading on them. These are things that are important to me, without a doubt. But when I failed to get to them, it was easy to beat myself up and feel like a miserable failure. I would put them on the next day’s list and when they sat there again without the check next to them, it would make me feel even worse. Thus, I would spiral into a pit of self-loathing, berating myself for being so lazy and undisciplined.
This has never worked to make me actually do the things on my list. But it has been a great method for living with a sense of shame. That is why, when I was making my list of values, I made sure I did not put anything on it that could be construed as a “task.”
Here’s why that works for me. While I value gardening for the health benefits and the sense of mental well-being it gives me, gardening itself is a task. One more thing to check off. But when I allow my values to be my guide, I see that one session of gardening encompasses so many of my values. Joy, movement, breathing, beauty, creativity, caring, vision, purpose, calm, sufficiency, thrift, nature and silence are all a part of my gardening.
When I move my sticky notes to the window, I can see how many of my values I have put into action through that one activity. If I don’t do one more thing, I have accomplished so much. I don’t have to beat myself up for not sitting on my cushion to meditate or rolling out my yoga mat. I moved mindfully in the garden. I experienced stillness, and I breathed. I found silence in the garden with the birds, and the wind in the trees. There are so many more ways to accomplish my values than the specific tasks I have held myself to in the past.
Now I can REST, which is one of my core values. I can rest from striving to prove my worth by accomplishing a list of tasks, because I can see that I have actually lived from a place of meaning and value, today.
This does not mean I do not make lists anymore. I could not keep my life in order without a list, and order is one of my values. But this does mean that my lists are shorter, and they are no longer measuring sticks of my worth. They are tools to help me live from my values.
Your values will be different from mine, and you may not have a kitchen door to stick them to. That’s ok. You can use a bulletin board, your bathroom mirror, or the wall behind the door in your bedroom. Maybe you use a marker on a white board instead of sticky notes. The way you do it isn’t important.
The key is to keep your values front and center, and move them to a designated spot when you have used them in your daily life. This way, you can see that you really are doing enough. Your life has meaning, and you have value, even if you are not crossing everything off your list every day.
If you try this method, I would love to hear from you about your experience.