Three Projects — AND Three Values

On of the challenges faced by most of us in our modern world is that of ‘Overload’. We have hundreds of cable channels, hundreds of news outlets, millions of blogs — all beckoning us to spend our time with them.

How to deal with “project overload”?

All these things are waiting to sap and drain our most valuable possession – Time.

That’s one of the reasons I enjoy reading blogs like Zen Habits and books like The Four Hour Work Week (4HWW) and Getting Things Done (GTD). They help me better manage my time and tasks so I can make the best use of my time and minimize the stress I deal with.

Practical Ways To Deal With Project Overload

A great example of better time management I’ve picked up are The Low Information Diet from 4HWW. Tim Ferris, author of the 4HWW describes the low information diet as essentially ignoring all news unless it finds its way to you.

He recommends watching no news programs and reading no news websites. None. If something is so important that you need to know about it, you’ll hear about it somehow.

Another interesting approach is the idea of Haiku Productivity from Zen Habits. The idea behind this is that you organize your work into projects, as recommended in GTD, but only work on 3 projects at a time. If you work on more, then you can struggle getting things completed.

By limiting your projects to three at a time and focusing on project completion, you can rapidly get things accomplished — rather than spend all your time on tasks while not actually completing things.

But there’s something missing — Values

I like both these ideas, but I believe there’s something missing in them both. Something important — and that’s Values. If we all simply stuck our heads in three projects and ignored the world around us, then important changes in our world might not get off the ground.

How can we expect people to learn to conserve energy, or reduce consumption if all they think about is the three projects they have going right then?

We can do anything — if we can put our minds to it

I believe that if our society were to set its mind to it, we could tackle many of these challenges. We could develop less better transportation systems. We could reduce what we consume and focus on making more of our consumption sustainable. But in order to do that, the Values of society will have to change.

As a society we’ll have to change our Values to make these things more important to us all. Once society adopts the Values of reduced consumption and sustainable living, I believe we’ll be amazed at how quickly things change. If you look around, in fact, you can see the beginnings of this already.

Add “Three Values” to your “Three Projects”

So while I agree with the ideas behind Haiku Productivity — limiting yourself to three active projects at any one time — I’d add to that “and Three Values”. Reducing your consumption isn’t a project anyway — it’s simply changing your beliefs about what it appropriate. It’s about changing your values.

Here are some examples of values that might be appropriate to focus on:

  • It’s best for me to reduce how much I drive and how much gas I use.
  • It’s appropriate for me to purchase products that have minimal packaging — and the packaging should be recyclable.
  • I should consider altering my goals to make them less materialistic and more focussed on family, community and happiness.
  • I should make an extra effort to recycle — even if it’s inconvenient (like bringing soda cans home from work to reccle them, instead of throwing them in the trash can at work if your work doesn’t recycle).

So as your putting together your GTD Projects, and as you focus on your three Haiku Productivity priorities, also consier adding three values to your list. They don’t have specific tasks associated with them — but they may be even more important in the long run.

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13 thoughts on “Three Projects — AND Three Values

  1. Check out a book called The Paradox of Choice – it covers the topic of America and the overwhelming choices available. Also a major theme is that some things should be “good enough,” yet we’re always looking for something bigger and better.

  2. Great post, it is easy to become so consumed with the next “urgent” project, that we forget to focus on our longer term goals and commitments. Thanks for the reminder!

  3. Hi there! I just popped over from ZenHabits, and I think your post is great. I’ve been awake for about seventy million hours, so I’m not really lucid enough to contribute anything of value here, but I really liked the post.

    One of the things that I find is missing in many productivity systems is that they fail to see a bigger purpose. They see a big-ish purpose (become effortlessly organized, limit your working time, that sort of thing) but what are we supposed to do with all this extra time that we have. I think that’s where the values come in.

    If all I’m going to do with the 36 hours of my workweek I just freed up is hang out with my buddies at the pool hall, there wasn’t really a whole lot of point to the whole endeavor. If I use that time to furthering my value-oriented goals, then I’m making a difference.

    Again, thanks for the article. Off to subscribe and then sleep.

  4. I just want to add that I’ve spent ten years as a freaking copywriter, and seeing all the errors in the comment I just left makes me want to weep. Note to self: proofread, then click submit. Not the other way around. :)

  5. @naomi Yeah – so sorry about the typos. I noticed them after as well.

    It’s not that I don’t proof read the posts, I do. In fact, I usually read and re-read at least 4-5 times. But even with that, they sometimes slip through – like today.

    I’ve done a lot of magazine writing and even authored a book once — and the thing I miss most now that I mainly write my own blog is having a good copy editor.

    I have a full-time job and so I need to write mainly before work (or later in the evening). This particular post was written in a hurry in the morning before I went to work, which is why there are the errors.

    I’ll be extra careful and try to give a few more reads in the future.


  6. NONONONONONO!!! I didn’t mean YOUR post. I meant MY comment. Don’t worry, your post was lovely! I was referring to my comment left at 12:52 – it was late. That’s my only excuse. :)

    BTW, I tried to email you to let you know I wasn’t insulting you but it was bouncing back saying you’d reached your capacity. I’m SO sorry!

  7. What a breath of air to find your site and read your post. The subject of values is both the root system and the meta-space in which I work with clients. With people who have a to-do list a mile long on any given day, I will often ask, “What values are each of those tasks aligned with?” and “Are elements of your vision showing up on your to-do list?”

    Another great litmus test is to keep a time journal for a week and see if your Big Life is showing up in your daily doings. If not, either your big life vision needs tuning or you’re doing things from a “should” perspective as opposed to values.

    My big fat 2 cents!!

  8. Excellent post. As a technology enthusiast, I think that technology will help consolidate the multiple channels of getting information. We’re even seeing it in game consoles like the X-box which provide a machine in the living room that allows you to have your games, movies, TV shows, news, and other forms of entertainment on the TV in your living room. I am sure that we will soon be able to make telephone calls, conduct video conferences and send emails along with a host of other options.

    However, technology cannot provide values, and I think the principles of this post are an important reminder of that. Just because we may be able to easily access all of our information and entertainment needs on one box in the comfort of our homes does not mean that we should approach such a funnel of data without a moral filter.

  9. This issue of time, and how to spend it wisely, without giving into a frenzy of activities, has been on my mind a lot lately.

    I feel a lot of the problem has to do with our consumerist culture, and the manic behavior that goes with it. Rediscovering simplicity is not easy. I guess, that’s where zen comes into play.

    Paradoxically, your article, although addressing the issue, from a purely content standpoint, embodies some of that same consumerist culture in the way it rushes to propose a solution, using numbered lists . . .

    It does get the reflexion started, and for that I thank you.

    Next comes the hard work of becoming more conscious.

    marguerite manteau-rao

  10. At the risk of sounding flagrantly self-promotional (it’s relevant, honest!), this issue of overload is a problem we’re trying to address with new community Green Thing ( Green Thing gets people to take the first step in fighting climate change by suggesting just one thing a month they can do. No-one can say they don’t have time to do one thing in a month. We also make that one thing incredibly easy and fun – brought alive with fabulous bits of creativity (videos, podcasts, games) to dramatise that month’s action and inspire people to act.

    By doing this we hope to massively simplify a hugely complex and daunting issue. Most info on climate change actions are To Do lists of 20 small steps you can take and we felt for less motivated people this often got filed in the Admin/must-get-around-to-that-sometime pile.

    By hooking people in with the first easy step we hope they will lead themselves on a deeper journey of exploration/action at their own pace (each Green Thing has a range of ‘Do More’ actions to encourage deeper engagement, e.g. Think of Green Thing like Weight Watchers, small, easy steps with lots of encouragement and community re-enforcement, lead to deeper, more meaningful ones over time.

    I think in the issue of mass public engagement with climate change – which clearly isn’t happening on the scale or at the speed it needs to – I would suggest that values can follow action. Sometimes process drives culture/values in an organisation i.e. what people actually do embodies the values by which they do it. You could think of it as lead and a lag variables – rather than do two things simultaneously (focused actions and values), you start with one and the other naturally follows.

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