time management

Finding Your Footing Through a Priority Shift: How to Do the Next Right Thing

March 23, 2020

Reading Time: 10 minutes

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Upside down is kind of what life feels like right now. We don’t really know what to expect over the next few weeks, and whether you’re a business owner worried about the future, or you’re a new homeschool parent, you’re taking your first leap into remote work – or a combination of all three – unsteady times can have a ripple effect throughout our lives, making us question and shift our priorities, and struggle to figure out the next right thing to do.

That’s why this episode is dedicated to your north star. Knowing how to define, and how to access your personal guiding principles, so that during times of uncertainty both big and small, you can quickly and easily tap into what matters most to you, and let your values show you the way so in any given moment, you can do the most important thing. 

So in this episode, I’m talking about:

  • Why knowing your core values is more important than you might think

  • What exactly core values are, and what they’re not

  • How to define your own personal core values, as well as core values for your family or your team at work.

  • I’ll also touch on how to use your core values to quickly prioritize when you’re not sure what to do next or where to start.


Too Much Time, or Not Nearly Enough

“I don’t know where to start.”

“I’m completely overwhelmed.”

“I want to use this time to strip it down, streamline and get back to the basics.” 

Based on what I’ve heard so far, I’d venture to put most people in one of two categories. And of course – this isn’t scientific – it’s just what I’ve observed.

In one group, we’ve got group of people who have a newfound abundance of time – business is slow, or completely paused. Work is slow. There just isn’t that much that can be done right now. 

On the other side – is a group of people who are experience an almost total loss of free time. Your kids are at home, and you’re trying to work remotely, or keep your business a float – while supervising schoolwork, chasing toddlers and prepping snacks. Your available time for true focus is limited, and you’ve put our multitasking skills into overdrive – or you’re like me and use using early mornings, nap times and late nights to try and keep things going – only to fall into bed exhausted at the end of the day.

For different reasons, being in either camp is hard right now, and there’s no right way to feel. But – a lot of us share the same feelings of overwhelm and confusion over shifting priorities.

If You Don’t Stand for Something, You’ll Fall for Anything

If you’re not sure where to start, or how exactly to get back to the basics, this is where your core values become increasingly important. But before we dive into core values – I want to take you back to grade school. 

You can probably picture this quote on a motivational poster in the cafeteria, or hear it coming from a high school guidance counselor or youth minister:

If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. 

Maybe this is just me, but do y’all ever remember being walked through the process of actually deciding what it is you stand for?

I certainly remember being told what I should stand for… but somewhere along the way it seemed easier to just keep moving through the motions of life without actually stopping to consider things like core values and deep thoughts about my life’s purpose. 

I mean – who has time for that? 

As we get older, and become adults with jobs and commutes and bills to pay. Stopping to ponder your core values, much less write them down – isn’t exactly going to get a top spot on the to do list when we have so much else on our plates. 

Not to mention, that in any given day – particularly when spending time in front of a computer, we’re hit with a distraction ever 40 seconds. In this ultra-connected, hyper notification 24-hour news cycle world we live in, we can barely make it through a single minute without getting distracted. 

It’s no wonder we have trouble achieving this “work/life balance” thing and finding a spare 15 minutes for self-reflection among the demands of career, family, volunteering and more… and then we beat ourselves up with a chorus of Negative Nancys… when we don’t “get it all right.” 

Writer Annie Dillard said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

Simply put: 

If you don’t take the time to define YOUR purpose and use it to set YOUR priorities — YOUR days and YOUR life will be spent living SOMEONE ELSE’S purpose. 

What are Core Values?

Your purpose, or your core values, your “one thing” or “your why” as some like to call it – is a reflection of who you are and a guiding light for decision-making of all types. By measuring opportunities against your purpose – whether it’s a job opportunity, potential client, meeting request, leadership role, or a hot date –  you can quickly determine if something is, or isn’t, worth your precious time. 

So how do we define our core values? 

The wonderful thing about defining your purpose – or core values, is that, contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t require a vision quest or some prolonged journey filled with trips to mountaintops or visits to gurus. Chances are, you’re already doing a pretty good job of living your values, or you feel that tug or imbalance when your time and your priorities don’t match up.  

Defining your core values is as simple as jotting down a list of words and phrases that resonate with you. It doesn’t even have to be incredibly deep, and it can change from season to season – or they can be steadfast and consistent. It truly is up to you. 

In a nutshell, your core values are what make you, you. They guide the way we act, the choices we make, and how we spend our time. Even if we haven’t articulated those values, or captured them on a piece of paper, they’re still there and affect every aspect of our lives – whether we realize it or not. 

When we honor our personal values consistently, we experience fulfillment. Decisions are easier. When we don’t – something just feels off. And often, we try to fix that “out of whack” feeling in unhealthy ways.  You’ve probably heard me say before that Time Management begins with heart management, and in order to have clear priorities – you’ve got to get clear on your core values. That’s time management from the inside out. 

Core Values Show You the Next Right Thing

And here’s why knowing your core values is so critical during uncertain times. Imagine a funnel – that’s big at the top and gets narrow down at the bottom. Or an upside down pyramid. Your core values are at the top in the widest part of the pyramid. Since they represent who you are, and what is most important to you, those core values influence the next level down, which are the goals you set for yourself – What you hope to accomplish. Long term goals – short term goals – they should be driven by what you believe in. Your goals influence the next level down – which is what you need to do this year in order to achieve your goals. What you need to do this year determines what you need to do this quarter, what you need to do this quarter affects this month. What you need to accomplish this month affects what you need to knock out this week, and what you need to achieve this week determines how you should spend today. And – at the very bottom of the funnel – or the upside down pyramid –  is the smallest point. What you need to do today affects what you need to do right now. 

My Core Values in Action During Social Distancing

To give you an example of how my core values have shaped my life in this past week of social distancing – the core value at the top of my list simply states “family first.” you can see my 8 core values on my website by the way at annadkornick.com/about. Beneath each of my 8 core values are a few statements that explain what each value means to me. Anyway – family first is at the top of my list, and whenever I felt frustration over not having as much focused time to work on my business – I would always return to “family first” and that the most important thing that I can do is serve my family and take care of Camilla – especially during this topsy turvy time. Returning to my values, especially during times of frustration have guided me toward the next right thing. 

The Next Right Thing

Speaking of the next right thing – I think we’ve watched Frozen 2 every single day since it was release on Disney Plus. There’s a part when Grand Pabbie, the Troll King, tells Anna that when you can’t see the future, you have to do the next right thing. Knowing your core values is what points you in the direction of the next right thing. 

So your core values are basically the overarching driver of everything – and if you’re clear on your core values – you have more clarity about how you should be spending your time in any given moment. It almost completely eliminates those overwhelming, scary feelings of What should I do now? Or what should I do next? They’re the roadmap for how you should be spending your time and they help you figure out the next right thing, the most important thing you can do right now. 

And yet – most people will never take the time to articulate their core values and unlock the clarity that can enable them to confidently move from one thing to the next with intention. 

So – we’ve established that core values are an important driving force behind how you should spend your time. And that they can make decisions easier by serving as your north star. 

What Core Values are Not

Let’s talk for a moment about what core values are not. 

Core values are not an extensive laundry list of all of the things that are very to somewhat important to you. Instead, they’re typically 5-7 – ideally no more than 10 – words or phrases that capture what’s most important. Having too many can dilute their power and diminish their meaning. They’re also not necessarily a list of things you’ve already achieved – they can be aspirational and something for you to aim for in your day-to-day life. They’re also not based on other people’s expectations. They’re not what you *should* value, and they’re not chosen based on what someone else thinks you should believe in. They’re yours, and they’re personal to you. 

Now – if you’re ready to create that foundation – that overarching driver of how you spend your time based on what truly matters most to you, let’s define your core values. 

How To Define YOUR Core Values

You might want to grab a piece of paper and a pen for this part.

First – grab a journal or some blank paper and a pen, and challenge yourself to write down 100 dreams you’d like to accomplish in your lifetime. They can be anything from places you’d like to visit, books you’d like to read, books you’d like to write. Really anything you’d like to do – there’s no dream too big or too small. 

Then – once you’ve made your list of 100 dreams, take a look at what you’ve written. Which dreams can be grouped together? Can you create categories or dreams that or similar? What themes do you notice? And here’s a gut check question – does how you spend your time now reflect any progress in the direction of these dreams? This part is usually when people begin to realize that what truly matters to them, and the things they hope to do – aren’t present at all in their day-to-day. 

Once you’ve grouped your dreams into different categories and identified themes that emerge – whether it’s family, learning, travel, adventure, service, faith – start brainstorming words or phrases that represent those themes and feel like you. Download my Core Values Multiple Choice worksheet with more than 100 different values words to choose from. I always recommend jotting down everything that feels right.

Once you’ve got your big master list of words and phrases – you might remember that earlier, I mentioned that core values should be a list of typically 5-7 words, and no more than 10. So it’s time to narrow it down – big time. 

Of all of the words you’ve collected, take a moment to reflect on each one. Ask yourself – what does this word mean to me? What does this represent in my life now? Or What do I hope it will represent in the future? 

Of all of the meaningful words you’ve chosen so far – narrow them down to your top ten (or less if you choose) and then rank them, from most important to least. 

You’re in the homestretch. Now that you’ve got your Top Ten, ranked in order – ask yourself:

  • Is there any overlap?

  • Did I miss anything?

  • Do any of these words make more sense as part of a phrase?

  • Can any of these words be combined into one value – examples like selfless service, or honest leadership. Lifelong learning. 

  • Are these easy to understand?

  • Do I have too many?

It can be so hard to narrow down our core values into just a few words and phrases, especially when we’re passionate about so many things. However – being too broad and having too many core values diminishes their importance. These are your core values, not a nice list of good things. 

After asking yourself the previous reflection questions, making sure you’ve narrowed your list to only what’s truly important – congratulate yourself for taking a huge step toward knowing yourself better and building a strong personal foundation. Crystal clear core values are your guiding light and personal compass for goal setting, prioritizing and choosing how you spend your time. 

Core Values for Your Family

And – they’re not just for individuals. You can use the steps in this episode to create core values with your family. This could be a great exercise to do with your children, and you can even create an art project by cutting words out of magazines, practicing their writing, drawing pictures that represent each value and more. 

Core Values for Your Team

You can do the same with your team at work, collaborating on the core values that define your team and its mission. In the book Traction, by Gino Wickman, Wickman writes that the vision of your company can be answered with 8 questions. By simply answering 8 questions, your leadership team should be able to clearly state your vision and ultimately enable everyone in the organization to “see” where you want to go. 

Question number one? What are your core values? And – once you’ve answered this question for your business or your team – you must hire, fire, review, reward and recognize people based on those core values. Once again – core values form the overarching driver for for the organization. And by not defining core values for your team, you have no way of knowing who believes in them, and who doesn’t.

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