When I meet someone new, I often get asked what it is that I “do.” I love this question, but I always feel kind of awkward explaining that I “do” productivity. Of course you can’t actually “do” productivity, you’re simply productive or you aren’t. I usually tell folks who ask that I enjoy helping others find ways to be more productive so they can really focus on what matters to them. That sounds nice, but I want to expand on that a little bit and share why that’s so important to me.
Before I got heavily into professional organizing and productivity, I never gave much thought or energy to clearly defining my goals, my passions, projects, different areas of responsibilities, or even my life’s purpose. That last one especially was a very uncomfortable topic because I didn’t really know what I wanted my life to be about. It was especially tough for me to focus at that 50,000 foot level when I had so many runway level things flying at my face a million miles a minute (aka real life).
When I was able to gain control of my work flow using GTD principles, I felt like I had the time, energy, and focus to expand that outwards and upwards to different areas of my life, both personally and professionally. The amount of clarity and focus I derived from that has been not only refreshing, but very empowering. I finally feel like my life has clearer meaning and purpose, because it does! I defined it.
The benefits of spelling these things out are many-fold. I can clearly see if the actions I am taking are in line with my goals and purpose. If they aren’t, I evaluate what it is that I’m doing and can adjust myself accordingly. It makes a lot of previously challenging life decisions a lot easier to make because I have a compass pointing me true North. I’m able to point my focus like a laser to the things that will move me closer to my goals and desired states because I know what they are and I’ve identified those actionable steps I need to take to get me there. Because I’ve taken the time to identify what it is I want out of my life, I can spend my efforts toward doing the things that will get me there.
It makes me feel like anything is possible, and that really is true when you have a map guiding you along the way. It’s an amazing feeling when you’re living your life true to purpose. Life doesn’t seem so overwhelming and you don’t feel stretched thin. I love this feeling and it energizes me, and I want everyone to be able to experience that and live their lives to their fullest potential.
The Takeaway – Here’s what I did to gain that clarity and focus.
This is only one approach out of many. As long as you’re making a conscious effort to figure this stuff out, the approach doesn’t really matter.
Once I had my work flow and processes in place and all that “stuff” was out of my head, I was able to actually sit down and brainstorm what my life’s purpose actually was. It wasn’t easy, but I personally used mind mapping to help me narrow it down. The first iteration wasn’t perfect and has gone under quite a bit of revision, but it’s something I am happy with right now.
This is a living document. You’re not going to identify your life’s sole purpose and have it set in stone. Things change and people change, so you modify and adjust as you need to. It’s the thought processes and writing it down part that’s important to get it out of your head and into a form that’s tangible. When you do that, there’s no more wondering about what you need to be doing; you focus on the doing part.
I used the approach that David Allen discusses in Getting Things Done. This has helped me in ways outside of just identifying goals and actions. By defining and populating these different altitude levels, I’ve become more adept at being able to shift gears between different levels instead of just staying stuck in the weeds all the time. I think this is a critical skill to have for any professional.
50,000 feet: Life (Purpose and Vision)
This is very high-level stuff, and it’s usually rather short. That’s fine, because as we go down in altitude, we start to get into the details. This is where I defined what I want my life purpose, career purpose, and vision of how I want to live my life. I literally wrote it all down.
40,000 feet: Three/Five Year Goals
Now we’re getting into more details about specific things. I wrote out where I want to be in three to five years in different areas of my life so I can take the steps to reach them (which we’ll see as we move down in altitude). This goes for all areas of my life; from my professional career and all other areas of responsibility I have.
30,000 feet: One/Two Year Goals
Now we’re looking at short term goals – within one to two years, and the desired state I would like to be in to reach them. Because they are specific, measurable, realistic, and time-specific, I’m able to spend my time identifying the actionable steps I’ll need to take to reach these goals.
20,000 feet: Areas of Responsibility
Continuing down in altitude are the various areas of responsibility that I’m committed to, one way or the other. This is nothing more than a reminder of these commitments, but they’re directly in line with the higher levels. This adds another filter over my actions, as they should directly support one or more of these areas. Examples are my job role at work, the relationships I have with friends and family, the hobbies I enjoy, etcetera.
10,000 feet: Current Projects
Down at the 10,000 foot level we have specific projects identified (outcomes that take multiple steps and planning to complete) throughout my various areas of responsibility. When I establish that I have a new project to work on, I always make sure that I identify which area of responsibility it falls under. This is just a list of projects (the details are kept within an Evernote folder specific to each project). This includes projects from both work and in my personal life. I can always come to this master list containing all my projects and determine what needs my focus to move things forward.
I encourage you to play around with different approaches, brainstorm, and figure out what works best for you. Whatever method you decide on, I think you’ll find that merely getting all those things out of your head and captured somewhere frees up quite a bit of mental energy to focus on actually doing the important things to get wherever you want to go.