Aligning Actions and Values

documentednerd profile image Kevin Mack Originally published at welldocumentednerd.com on ・3 min read

So I did a post in January around the idea of goals and aligning values. And I talked about the idea of making sure that actions you take align with your values and at the end of the day that’s what matters.

So I’ve gotten questions from colleagues who read the blog post about what does it means to actually align actions to values, and how do you do that. So I wanted to take a minute to drill down on this topic and really quantify what this means.

Many of you have likely heard of the Urgency / Importance matrix, this is a productivity idea that has really gained momentum with a lot of experts, but specifically with Dr. Stephen Covey (7 habits of highly effective people). The idea behind it is this, every action or demand placed on you has two aspects that you should use to judge it.

  • Urgency
  • Importance

Urgency is the one everyone gets, at the end of the day this is how quickly it requires my attention. But I would actually argue that a lot of people (including me) get this part wrong. The idea here is how urgent is the required action.

The challenge I would push back on people is that a lot of times we let urgency be dictated by others. So in its truest sense, I believe a lot of people, and myself included become addicted to urgency. We get this believe that if we don’t act right away we will miss out or fail in some way. Just because this is an immediate need for one person, does not mean it is for another. And there is almost a social contract here where by we need to make sure to set expectations accordingly. And honestly, that’s an entire blog post itself.

The result of that is we use urgency as the sole aspect by which we prioritize our efforts. And that is where, as Scott Hanselman says “you time travel”, we get caught up in the urgent, and email is the worst example of this. And then we don’t feel like we accomplish anything.

The second aspect of any activity is importance, and this is the one that usually trips people up, “how do you define importance?” Now here’s the magic, for me the importance of an item directly correlates to the values I am driven by. As I talked about in my last blog post, I have gone with the idea of value based living, so for me, the definition of important is a binary decision “Does this align with my values?”

Now below is the urgent / important matrix that many authors and researchers reference as being the key to maintaining focus.

Now I’m going to steal from Scott Hanselman, as I think he sums it up best with his reaction to each of these:

| | Urgent | Not Urgent |
| Important | Do it now | Decide when to do it |
| Not Important | Delegate It | Dump It |

So the key parts here are this gives a roadmap for how to align activities to your values, and then decide the appropriate action. The idea behind this being that at the end of the day, I only have a finite number of hours left in my life, and can only succeed at some many things, so I should focus my energies on items that align to values and are important to me (see what I did there).

So for example, I’ll be candid with you, my loyal readers here, my values are the following:

  • Family
  • Innovation
  • Learning
  • Impact
  • Creativity
  • Achievement

So for me, I’m really trying (not always succeeding, but trying) to make sure that I align my activities to things that fall in these 6 buckets. And by putting my energy into those values I’m making sure that my actions will drive a maximum impact in core areas that matter to me.

Like for example, its not arbitrary that the items up there are in that order, Family is always going to be the most important thing for me, and I will always prioritize actions for my family, like making sure my daughter is successful, over other activities.

But basically what I’m saying is for me, it doesn’t rate as important, unless it relates to those values above and driving success in those areas. As I mentioned I’ve put this together based on the works of Greg McKeown (Essentialism), Angela Duckworth (Grit), Mike Michalowicz (Clockwork) and a few tips from Scott Hanselman. Below is a great talk that Scott gave on scaling yourself:

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Kevin Mack


I am a well documented nerd and software developer.


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