Values and StandardsPublished: 05-07-2019
- Values and standards
- In search of clarity
- Defining values
- Setting standards
- What gets measured gets managed
Values and standards
I want to share two resources with you that have had an impact on me, my decision making and behavior, in particular.
Both have helped me clarify what to do and how to evaluate what I do. I am talking about defining values and setting standards.
If it’s clear to you what I mean, skip directly to the resources - an article and a podcast, and learn from the source (something I highly recommend).
- What to work on by Julian Shapiro
- Set standards. Aspire to achieve them. Become an eminently qualified human by Jocko Willink
Now, to the part where I tell you how I took the knowledge from these two and applied it to my own life.
In search of clarity
I’ve been following Julian for some time now, and I’ve found his advice on growth marketing and strategies to acquire customers online very useful for DULO. However, his knowledge spans across a much wider array of topics. What I like about his approach to knowledge sharing is the depth to which he goes, especially when it comes to his renowned guides.
But there is another section on his website which is fairly easy to miss - his blog. I got a little bit excited when I discovered this section, mostly because I have started to enjoy his writing style. I highly recommend going through the stories there!
What caught my attention was this article. To be fair, I was also in a state of mind where I was at a bit of a crossroads, considering what to work on next. I’ve been feeling stuck at the day job for a while and this had started to have a negative impact on my work for DULO. Over the years, I have noticed that I get more inspired and motivated to expend more effort after the regular workday has ended if I had a productive spell at the job. If I have gained momentum during the day I have no difficulty to keep working in the evenings or early mornings. Therefore, when I observed on several occasions the mental tiredness I was feeling late in the afternoon, combined with a lack of energy and creativity to work on my own company, I got concerned. I started questioning and reflecting on my situation.
It took me a while to get to the point where things became clear but eventually I decided that it’s time for me to move away from the comfort of the day job. The security and comfort were nice but they were making me lazy.
With that realization in place, I needed to figure out my next move. This is where the article I mentioned above helped me to start clarifying things.
I’ll outline the steps I took to define my values here. I suggest you go directly to the article and read from the source. The main point of this exercise, as far as I approached it, is to define a set of values with which you can make decisions about what to work on.
How do you choose what projects you spend your time on?
How often do you ask yourself this question? Is it clear why are you doing what you are doing? I asked myself these questions and with a small exception about knowing why I am working on DULO, I had a very hard time answering for the other work I was busy with. This step helped me realize that I didn’t have a system in place against which I can make decisions about my work.
Pen and paper
Take a pen and paper and write down the values you feel strongly about. Make a list.
While writing down your list keep the following things in mind:
- Knowledge and learning are important for personal growth, keep those high in consideration
- Creative expression, through practicing your skills will keep you challenged and engaged
- Lessen the importance of money
Rank in order of importance today
To avoid overthinking and complication order the values according to what feels most important to you today1.
Evaluate your projects against the list
Take each of the things you want to work on and see how many of the items they tick from the list. Keep the ranking of values in mind.
Take your time
I took my time to define my values. I wrote down a list initially and kept thinking about it for the next two or three days. I noticed that I didn’t change the values I put down with the exception of changing the names of a few to reflect better my interests. What changed more was ranking. I reshuffled the order a few times.
After doing this exercise you might end up surprised by the outcome. Take your time with this part and make sure you are honest with yourself and not impacted by some outside influence. Listen to your own voice.
Doing this exercise helped me a lot. First, it got me thinking about what’s important to me. In the momentum of everyday life, it is easy to lose track of the big picture and what is important to us. Second, I was remembered of the importance of taking the time and space to think about where I am going. Third, the combination of these leads to clarity which immediately made it obvious what to work on, which in turn prevented anxiety, doubts and unproductive inner deliberation about what to do.
With that system in hand, today I am much more comfortable choosing what to put my time into. Making career choices and saying no to things became easier.
Being clear what to work on is great but how do you ensure you put in the necessary effort to achieve great work that makes an impact? This is where standards come to play.
The thing about standards is that everybody agrees of their importance but most of the time we are unclear about them, especially when we ask what is the minimum, middle, or high standard. I know I have never thought about it in-depth until I listened to Jocko Willink’s podcast episode on the topic.
Are you clear on what is expected of you?
In the episode, Jocko shares his own experience when he was in a position where he had to evaluate his subordinates. While having a conversation with someone who was not happy with their performance evaluation, Jocko asked if the person was aware of what the standards are. It turned out that the soldier did not read the form and was not clear on the demands to meet the high standards.
The moment I heard this I immediately drew parallels with my own experience and realized that I have often been in situations where the standards were unclear. Whether they were set in the first place or not communicated properly doesn’t matter. On a personal level, I thought that I am not clear about my own standards. If someone would have asked me how am I performing I would naturally say “pretty good”, “above average”, or something of the sort. But the reality is that this is vague and most likely untrue. Against what standard? What do I base my evaluation about myself on?
After listening to the episode I had an honest moment where I realized there are many aspects of my life where I am not performing at my best.
Knowing what the standards are is the only way to know if you are doing as good as you are thinking. More importantly, knowing the standards at each level will change how you operate. If it is clear what is required at each level you will have a clear picture of how you are doing and what to aim for, based on your values. The opposite will simply mean you are doing mediocre at best and without any actual accountability.
To achieve the lofty ambitions we need to have clear standards defined and regularly check how we are doing.
USMC Fitness Report
In the podcast episode, Jocko reads out the definitions of standards for multiple categories as defined in the US Marine Corps fitness report. You can find the report here. It is worth reading it, especially sections D, E, F, G, and H. Don’t get distracted by the label “Fitness report” - it goes much deeper than that.
Eminently Qualified Human
This podcast episode made me question a lot of things about how I am doing things. It got me thinking about implementing a similar scoring system in my own life. Something to measure performance in the categories of relationships, fitness, nutrition, health, and work. The goal here is to get as close as possible to the level of an eminently qualified human.
The eminently qualified human came up on the podcast as an alternative to the eminently qualified marine - the highest possible level, achieved by only a single individual who’ve met all the highest standards in each category.
What gets measured gets managed
The combination of defining my values and setting standards has been an eye-opener. The step of putting it all in writing made it a revelation. Having these clearly stated means that I can clearly see and evaluate what is working and what needs changing or improving.
With this powerful system in place, I am free to deploy my energy on what really matters to me and avoid the trap that momentum creates. Because it is very easy to get used to how things are and get really comfortable. That’s the easiest way to lose track of my goals. Fortunately, this approach seems to be a great way to move forward and keep an honest look at who I am and where I am headed.
I hope this post nudges you in a direction to do those two exercises. I really believe there is a lot of value to implement such a system in one’s life. Start by reading the post and then listening to the podcast. From then on you can decide if this works for you and if this approach has any value.
Note that this list and the ranking might change over time. What is important to you now is not necessarily going to be as important in the future. Something else might have entered the picture. So, it is important to revise this exercise every once in a while. ↩︎
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