In order for it to stand, the base of any pyramid has to be solid. That’s why it’s essential that you build your personal productivity pyramid on your governing values. The people, things, beliefs, ideas, and activities that you value most must be the foundation on which you build your dreams. If you set goals based on your values, you’ll find the motivation to pursue them.
Benjamin Franklin understood this well. When he was 20 years old, he established a plan for his life. This plan began with an introspective list of 13 virtues—values and attributes that mattered most to him. He determined he would devote his life to improving upon these virtues one week at a time.
Temperance: Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
Silence: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid
Order: Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
Resolution: Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what
Frugality: Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself;
i.e., waste nothing.
Industry: Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
Sincerity: Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
Justice: Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
Moderation: Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
Cleanliness: Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.
Tranquility: Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
Chastity: Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.
After that, he lived his life in 13-week cycles—focusing on strengthening one virtue each week. (As it turns out, thirteen divides perfectly into 52.) We know what his determined actions brought about. Benjamin Franklin became one of the most accomplished, successful, and influential people in world history.
Why not strive to mimic the strengths of someone like that? The trick is coming up with your own personal list of values. Franklin focused on specific virtues, but your values don’t need to be quite so narrow. Governing values can be people, interests, knowledge, standards, virtues, ideas, and more. Your governing values are the root of what makes you tick.
How do you get to the root of it all?
Start with a list. If you are struggling to come up with broad values, consider the people, places, ideas, and desires that matter to you, then ask why those things matter. For example: if you love being outdoors in nature, ask what it is about that experience that you love most. Perhaps your value is Peace, Quiet, Fresh Air, or Time to Ponder. List those values in your planner.
Now that you have your list written, write a simple, one-sentence definition beside each item to clarify what that value means to you. We call this a clarifying statement. This may take some time, so be patient.
Example. If one of your values is career—I am successful in my work. Your clarifying statements could be:
- I do excellent work every day.
- I am open to the ideas of others.
- I have a positive attitude.
- I am a team player.
Which Is Best For You?
It takes time and introspection to develop this list, but this is the key to success. That list represents a lot. It touches on the roles you play as spouse, sibling, parent, child, employee, and friend. It includes your talents, skills, interests, and more. You may even feel a little overwhelmed by it all, and that’s OK. You don’t have to do it all at once. The secret is to determine which of all those things mean the most to you. We recommend you use what we call the I-beam Test.
Ponder The I-beam Test.
Steel I-beams are used in construction to hold large amounts of weight. They’re flat on the top and bottom with a vertical structure in the middle, so if you look at them from the end they look like a large capital letter I.
Imagine you’re standing at the edge of a deep ravine and everything you care deeply about—your talents, knowledge, skillset, family members, friends, hobbies, income, all of it—are on the opposite side of the ravine. In order for you to get any one of them, you need to cross a 200-foot I-beam spanning that ravine. As you consider this, there are some things that you’d walk away from, small change for example. There are others that you’d go after without hesitation, your loved ones. Those things that you’d be willing to cross the I-beam to save are your governing values.
Write your list of governing values and keep it in your planner. As you plan, refer to it often to ensure that your plans are focused on the things that matter most to you.
“Your governing values should be important enough to you that you will invest your time, resources, and energy in making them a fundamental part of your life.”
—Hyrum W. Smith
Download this free form to help you identify your personal governing values. Good luck, and happy Organized October!
Your 13 Virtues Pocket Size: PDF
Your 13 Virtues Compact Size: PDF
Your 13 Virtues Classic Size: PDF
Your 13 Virtues Monarch Size: PDF
Your 13 Virtues
On a separate piece of paper, write a thorough list of all the things you care deeply about—your talents, knowledge, skillset, family members, friends, hobbies, income, ideas, beliefs—all of it. Then go through each item on your list and determine which of those items you would be willing to sacrifice your comfort and safety to save. Those items are your governing values. List each of those on the lines below and refer to this list as you set goals and plan each day. You may be able to narrow your list down to fewer than 13. That’s fine. What matters is that this list represents what matters most to you.