When Some Workspaces are More Equal than Others

A while ago I wrote about the distraction of blogging and personal email. Based on this insight, I separated my workspaces into “separate but equal” area on different floors of the house: my blogging / personal email / instant messaging machine (a laptop) is now upstairs, and the graphics / development / production machine is in the downstairs lair. The theoretical result I projected was increased productivity in the office, and this prediction has held so far.

The only problem is that I seem to be spending somewhat less time in the office in the first place. And this is an interesting insight in itself.

The Obvious Conclusion is Not So Obvious

Ok, let’s get it out there: I’m being lazy and am doing fun things instead of being the disciplined worker I should be. However, these are the things I’ve been doing:

  • Writing or researching articles for the blog
  • Responding to people who write me with questions
  • Meeting people who are interested in talking about similar interests
  • Keeping tabs on how people are doing

I don’t read many blogs or play games on a daily basis. My only regular read is actually a few online comic strips. Sometimes I daydream a bit, if I’m goofing off, it still feels an awful lot like work. It’s just not what I thought I should be doing.

Generally, it seems I’m busy communicating with people, generating a steady stream of ideas and encouragement for whomever seems to want it. In some companies, this is an entire job in itself. And since I’ve decided that my path is one of independence, this suggests that I should rethink the balance of my activities.

Aligning with My Shifting Values

In the past, I’ve framed myself in context of what I can make with my two hands and a mouse, which is the reason why “being more productive” at my workstation is such a preoccupation. However, the separation of the communications part of the day from the production part has shown me just how much time I’ve been spending on what I regarded as “support work”. Apparently it’s far more compelling to me, at this time, than writing code or slinging pixels.

I keep coming back to a comment that Lauren Muney made on my earlier post on “Purpose”: another post, about being in alignment with one’s values. This phrase has been haunting me a lot lately, because I’m sensing that I’m on the cusp of yet another directional shift as my values become clearer.

RANDOM ASIDE: Check out this background page on Lauren: she does multimedia motivational presentations using fire, among other things. WOW THAT’S COOL.

The Flip-a-Roo

With the past year’s emphasis on productivity, I thought I was just getting myself ready for a concerted push toward being a better designer / developer. Now I’m not so sure.

While I like code, graphics, and working with clients, I’ve tended to put the tangible production work first. That’s the place from which I started, and so that’s the way I’ve tended to understand “my value” with respect to others. I repeat this a lot when talking about products and services: it’s what you can tangibly show to people, in a way that shows clear benefit, that matters in a transaction. It’s a pretty well-developed personal philosophy toward creating things, and I stand by it. That is the philosophy that drives my desire to be a more productive and efficient worker, creating things that people can readily see. That is the philosophy that drove the separating my workspaces in the first place.

And yet I still spend all this time writing and communicating. Mark, Jeff, and I chatted about being an idea worker over lunch the other day, and I’m starting to think that there might be something to it. If I’m spending so much time communicating and ideating, that indicates that there’s a second set of values that speaks more insistently to me. If I can figure out what they are, the flip-a-roo would be to alter the nature of my practice such that I harness that force and be more “naturally productive”. I think this is what “being in alignment with my values” would mean to mean, and it may also be my way of following my bliss and doing what I love.

In practical terms, I need to make a living from being in alignment with my values for this all to end happily-ever-after. Here’s a basic value proposition, from a market perspective:

  • What differentiates me from other vendors?
  • What are people willing to pay for, given the degree of my differentiation?

It’s interesting to note that these perspectives are both cast in the context of providing what other people desire. It doesn’t address what I desire. I think this insight is pretty critical; when you’re dissatisfied with work, it probably comes down to this basic conflict. Sure it pays the bills, and the clients are pleased, but there’s just something’s missing.

To reframe the value proposition, I tried the following on for size:

  1. What do I value MOST?
  2. How am I making my values VISIBLE?
  3. Who is responding to me?
  4. What benefits can people derive from our interaction?
  5. If I can identify the benefit, what can I charge for it?

Numbers 2 and 5. together form the fundamental reframing of the market perspective, so this list is a superset of my business development strategy.

Redux

I have already had the critical personal realization that I like “making sparks”, and I like being around empowered, positive people. I have also already realized all the programming and design skills I have are NOT the source of my identity, but exist in service to my spark-making desires. The new realization is that it may be possible to derive income from just spark-making and communication, not from the creation of tangible things. Don’t get me wrong: making tangible things still underpins my value system because I believe in showing over telling, but maybe my best contribution lies in facilitating the creation of sparks. This possibility is a bit clearer to me today thanks to that 9rules interview on Monday, and the lunch discussion on Tuesday.

I find these thoughts exciting—and somewhat unsettling.