Ever wonder why "values" is such a ubiquitous buzzword in the Information Age? One reason is probably because the more we try to do—and the better we try to do it—keeping that sense of purpose and meaning in sight gets harder. Both organizations and individuals all want to know how to better define their values, and live and work according to them.
But maybe all this soul searching is unnecessary. Maybe your values are much more obvious than you realize.
Let's be honest. You already have values. Your company already has values. And they're not what you've sticky-noted to your laptop or what was plastered on the wall when the company was founded decades ago. No, your values are a lot simpler and easier to find than that.
They're hiding in your schedule. And for some of us, what they're communicating is frightening.
So when you tell yourself, "I put family first" but schedule a meeting for 6 p.m., you're kidding yourself. You told your spouse you'd be home before dinner—and then you do something like that. What your schedule is telling you is that you value work more than family, and if you're not okay with that, it's time to make a change.
This isn't rocket science, yet it's something that many of us—faced with near-term pressure at work and home alike—tend to miss entirely. When you say you prize proactive behavior over reactive behavior, but then have day after day filled with meetings, you're not telling the truth.
What you really value there is obvious. Ultimately, we all vote our priorities with each action we take—every single day. Whether out of guilt or fear or rebuke from your boss, you're putting yourself in a situation where you're faced with endlessly reacting to all kinds of things.
The principle here is simple: Your calendar never lies. You can't say one thing and schedule another. Where you spend your time is where your values are. But if you feel, as many do, that your work-life balance is spinning out of control, it may be time for a reboot, and it starts with your calendar. It may be time to sync your schedule back up with your values—your real ones.
Here are four ways to get started.
Author and activist Parker Palmer has written, "Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am." The next time you rush off to another meeting or run in apologizing for arriving late at another parent-teacher conference, ask yourself, "Is this who I really am? Is this who I want to be?" If you feel some inner angst, pay attention to that feeling, and let it motivate you to make some important changes.
I learned this tip from my friend Michael Hyatt, who advocates that your calendar should not be something that stresses you out when you look at it. Each new day should be an exciting adventure. If it's not, then change it. To quote Greg McKeown, "If you don't prioritize your life, someone else will."
To start reshaping your schedule, don't shoot for minuscule changes—map out an ideal week, even if it seems farfetched at first. Before you can know what changes to make, it's important to know why and where you want them to take you.
Get some accountability. Ask a friend, spouse, or coworker to help you create some boundaries that honor your values, relationships, and commitment. When you cross those boundaries, there needs to be a consequence, even if it's just this friend asking you, "Are you sure you want to do that?" These kinds of reminders can give us space to pause and reflect on our intentions.
That may seem small, but it's often enough; too many of our decisions are made half-consciously or unconsciously, and before we know it, they're established routines. It's easy to forget that every action has a consequence—but it's pretty easy, too, to remind yourself of that.
When you're in the throes of a busy, stressful day, ask yourself, "Is this really what I'm meant to do?" Granted, every job has its drawbacks. But if you're going weeks and months doing things out of sheer obligation, then it may be time to consider a change.
The notion that we should pursue our passions or go after dream jobs has fallen out of vogue in some quarters. But in my book The Art of Work, I share how sometimes we don't have to quit our jobs to discover our callings.
Often, we just need to figure out a way to pivot in the direction of more purposeful work. Each of us only gets so many days on earth, and they go by faster than we realize. Let's try not to spend them on things that don't actually matter.
At first, this may be sobering to do—taking a hard look at your schedule and asking yourself these difficult questions. It may even usher in a sense of shame about where you've been spending your most precious hours of the day. But just because the values you're practicing now aren't the ones you'd like to prioritize doesn't mean they can't change. In fact, being honest about them is the only way they can change.
Jeff Goins is a writer who lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with his family. He is the author of the national bestseller The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant to Do. Follow him on Twitter at @JeffGoins.