The first thing we need to do is give up the idea that we can measure value in euros or dollars.
Let’s use a scale of discreet numbers from -3 to +3, which means we have seven options to choose from. Seven numbers would be large enough to use as the basis for statistics and analysis. (We wouldn’t be able to calculate much if we only had two states: valuable and worthless.) Seven is also a small enough number to be useful to people. (It’s just three positive numbers and three negative numbers, plus a neutral one in the middle.)
So, we define the following range of values:
We cannot discuss value without expressing value for whom. When I go for a 15K run in the forest, I see that as a valuable activity (+2) for me. When I spend an hour of my time reorganizing file folders, I consider that valuable (+1) for my team. And when I spend an hour writing a perfect newsletter that helps us to raise a lot of capital from the crowd, I see this as super-important (+3) for both myself and for the company. Not surprisingly, the time that I wasted while traveling this week was neither good for me (-2) nor for my team (-1). But the negative value of the travels was more than compensated by the positive value of the events.
We can represent the distinction of value for me versus value for others with a two-dimensional grid.
The value grid shows how valuable an activity was for me and how valuable it was for others. By using two dimensions of seven states, we end up with a “playing field” of 49 cells or boxes. For each activity that you consider valuable (or a waste of time), you pick one of the 49 boxes.
Note that it’s possible to pick cells that indicate conflicting interests. When I spend half an hour repairing a document that somebody on the team messed up by mistake, I can consider that a waste of my time (-1) but it will be valuable for the team (+2). And when I prioritize to go running over attending a team meeting, I consider that important for me (+2), and I accept that the team may be a bit sad that I’m not available for them (-1).
I was recently reminded of the benefit of rituals. In his excellent book Deep Work, Cal Newport writes that it’s good for our brains to ritualize the end of focused work. If you’d like to experience periods of flow, with deeper immersion, and higher effectiveness, you should not only create a comfortable space and turn off all notifications. You should also consider a “wrap-it-up” habit that helps you to appreciate that your work is done so you can turn your mind elsewhere. I can hardly think of a better ritual than a 30-second summary of what you just did and how valuable it was for you and others.
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