We’re living in a well connected world with a faster change in life in all areas. Everyday, our life is becoming more complex than before. We have increasing expectations at work, in personal life, and in society. In addition to it, many of us are hankering to get more results and happiness from our life. Many of us wish to be increasingly more productive everyday, to get more things done within a least amount of time and effort. But the reality is that we all have limited time (just 24 hours) in a day.
At work, there is a constant need to continuously learn and perform. For example, if you’re a computer programmer, there is a need to continuously improve your development skills. It’s similar for any role in the technology industry. Technologies are changing on a faster pace with the continuous innovation. Also, as we grow in our career, we have expectations of more advanced skills at work, that needs acquiring skills beyond the current knowledge base. For example, a senior developer may be expected to learn more about company’s overall technical architecture. On one hand, new technologies are ever more complex. On the other hand, businesses have a need to continuously innovate, to stay relevant and dynamic in the market.
In personal life, we all have expectations from each other in the family, friends, or society. For example, if you’re a father of a 3-year old kid, you may desire to spend as much as possible with your kid. When you spend less time, you may feel guilty of not doing enough. Similarly, if the society expects you to participate in a social cause and you’re unable to spend enough time, you may again feel guilty of not doing your part for the society. In addition to expectations of others, many of us have high expectations from ourselves, with an eagerness to be more productive, to increase our self-worth.
Question is, how we manage our life with so many expectations, needs, and desires? An initial step to simplifying life is to define your focus areas, goals, actions, and avoid distractions.
Define your focus areas:
Define what’s important for you to live a wholehearted complete life. Ask yourself what are all things you want to do in your life. In the beginning, it may be a long list of items to do. By spending more time to reflect on it, you may categorize them into areas. Your selected focus areas must include all aspects of your life, to live a wholehearted life. For example, you may want to earn money for your living, spend time with your family, and take care of your health. Deciding our focus areas help us to assess the priority in the moment and say no to anything else. When we’re overwhelmed with many things to do, we can take a step back, and remind ourselves about our focus areas. Defining focus areas bring the clarity of actions. It also help us to understand how much time we can spend in each focus areas, in the order of importance. For example, below are my focus areas:
- Spiritualism: it defines who I am, what I want to do in my life, and how will I do it. It is to understand what are my personal mission, vision, and values. For example, my core value is service. I want to serve others, to add value to their lives. To link all focus area together, let’s use the analogy of a tripod stool, with a base and its three essential legs. Spiritualism is the base of my tripod stool analogy.
- Fitness: it includes my physical health, mental health, and a well-balanced diet. Without fitness, I can’t perform my desired activities. In the analogy of a tripod, fitness is the first essential leg.
- Family and friends: it is to gain and provide the support from and to my family and friends. As Aristotle said, “Man is by nature a social animal.” We all want to love others and being loved by others. We all want a support system of people. In my tripod analogy, this is the second essential leg.
- Finance: it’s critical to plan for financial needs. For me, money is not the end goal; it’s a means to fulfill the needs of my life. In my tripod analogy, this is the third essential leg. To earn money in a meaningful way, we must find out what we are good at doing naturally. For example, if you’re good in understanding technologies, defining technology vision, and working with people, you may wish to get a job as an engineering leader.
Blend all-together when possible: Try to blend your focus areas with each other, as much as possible because blending it makes it easier to follow and relate it to your complete life experience. It’s like keeping a tripod stool as one wooden product, with its essential legs linked strongly with its base. For example, this is how I have my focus areas blended. In spiritualism area, I practice my core value, service. In all focus areas, I intend to serve. For finance, I work as a technology leader. As a technology leader, I am contributing to people’s lives, by creating technical solutions to their problems. I contribute to the family and friends by taking care of them, by sharing what I know, and help them succeed in their lives. By focusing on my fitness, I am helping myself, my family, and friends. Without staying fit, I won’t be able to serve anyone.
Let’s take another example. Suppose your focus areas are family, society, finance, and fitness. Suppose you have a family owned business of yoga classes. Then, all your focus areas are well-blended. In this business, you’re spending more time together as a family. You contribute to the society by training others on yoga classes. You earn your living with this business of yoga classes. You stay fit by doing yoga, while training others on it.
We defined focus areas. Next, we want to define goals for each defined focus areas. To make progress on your focus areas, define your life-time, long-term (5-year), 1-year, 1-month, 1-week, and even a 1-day goals for each focus area. For example, for finance area, you may find below questions valuable for your time-bound goals:
- Life-time: for my life-time, how much money your family and you need, for all expenses like retirement, kids education, vacation plans, housing expenses, etc? Define what’s your life expectancy? Define when do you expect major expenses and how much money is required for each such expense?
- 5-year: what are upcoming expenses in 5-year roadmap and how much money you need for it? Find out how a 5-year roadmap makes a difference to a life-time financial need. How do you plan to earn and save to reach this milestone? Is your current earning plan enough to meet the needs? If not, what changes you plan to make, to meet your financial needs? Some examples of changes could be to increase your business, to get a higher salary job, or to plan for a side hustle.
- 1-year: how much earnings and savings are required in this year to achieve your 5-year milestones?
- 1-month: how much you need to earn and save this month, to achieve the yearly goal?
- 1-week: how much you need to earn and save this week, to achieve the monthly savings goal?
- 1-day (today): what actions today will help achieve my weekly savings goal? For example, should I avoid having at least one meal outside and cook at home, to save money just for today’s goal?
Plan for actions with a schedule:
So far, we identified our focus areas and long-term & short-term roadmaps to work on tasks on focus areas. Next, it’s the time to think about a more focused time window, to actually perform actions. For some tasks, an yearly or a monthly time period makes more sense. For example, you may want to plan for a yearly long-distance vacation, three mid-distance quarterly vacations, and a weekly short-distance vacation (on weekends). Though, for some tasks, a year or a month is a good time duration, a week is still a good timeframe to plan for and validate tasks in all focus areas. To achieve anything in life in the future (tomorrow), it’s critical to define what actions you will perform today and at what time. For example, here is a sample time allocation for my focus areas for a week, with the planned actions for today and at expected time:
- Spiritualism: I try to focus 15 minutes daily on meditation when I wake up. During the day, I try to be aware of my spirituality, whenever possible. That helps me to focus on my life and it helps me to avoid moments of slipping in the grip of ego. On weekends, specially on Sundays, I prefer more time on this area (like read books, visit places, etc.), to strengthen my belief and continuously discover who I am.
- Fitness: I try to spend about 30 minutes every day on fitness. During weekdays, it’s after the work. During weekends, it’s afternoon. For the type of fitness activities, I try to follow the weekly CDC health guideline of doing 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activities and 2 days of muscle strengthening activities.
- Family and friends: I try spending around 2 hours everyday with my family. It’s planned in the morning and after the work hours. On a weekly basis, I attempt to call or meet my friends and extended family members, to know how they’re doing, and how we can help each other in anyway possible. An example of a help could be to just listen to someone’s problems with empathy and without judgement.
- Finance: Define how much time you want to allocate to this area. Defining the time window helps to avoid working on it more than required. To be productive and relevant at work, define how you will spend your day at work. Thinking to act on more than one item at a time doesn’t work; it could cause anxiety and restlessness. So, work on one task at a time in the order of importance. For example, my friend, who’s a programmer, allocates 9 hours every weekday for the work. In these 9 hours in the weekday, he plans to work on his assigned tasks with the order of business priority. In addition to it, he always seeks opportunities to build relationships. He also tries to attend at least one training every year, to upgrade his skills. If that training needs a commitment for an entire week, he plans to take time off from work activities, so that he’s not working after work hours because that may negatively impact other focus areas.
Plan for unplanned: There is a possibility that something may show up unplanned. Planning for unplanned tasks is equally important. Plan for a few hours in the week for the unplanned tasks. For example, reserving 5 hours on weekends help to mitigate the risk of managing an unplanned task. If unplanned tasks doesn’t show up in the week, you may utilize those 5 hours for a waiting to-do list item, or use it as a free-will time.
Plan for ad-hoc needs: Also, on ad-hoc basis, you may need additional time to focus more on one activity within your focus area. It could be a weekly meditation plan or a need to learn a new skill that needs complete weekly 40 hours. Can you fit those within your busy week? The brief answer is No. You can’t “find” time on a regular weekday because it doesn’t exist. Accepting this reality of time limitation helps avoiding stress and anxiety. If you plan to find time for one outstanding task, other areas could be impacted, which is not good for the wholehearted living. If you need more time in a week for a particular area, find alternatives. For example, to join a week-long full 5-days meditation program, take time off from work.
Now as we defined our focus areas of life, we need to stay focused on these, by avoiding distractions. Clarity in life helps to focus on right things at the right time. Many times, we wish for many things, but those are different from our needs. Many of us dream to become “something bigger” or “uniquely famous.” Whenever your mind wanders and distracts you from your already defined focus areas, question yourself to assess your thinking. Whenever you have a need or a wish for a new task, assess if it fits within your defined focus areas and defined goals. Assess a new want against your mission, vision, and core values.
Here are some examples of some common desires categories that needs a constant assessment:
- Money: You may want to become the world’s richest person. Assess this desire with your mission, vision, and core values. Assess how it fits within our focus areas and goals. If you have a focus area of finance, you have already decided how much money you need for your financial needs for the lifetime. Assess how earning more than required helps in any of your defined areas. If not, it seems like a desire of ego to become something bigger or someone special, without a reality.
- Fame: You may want to become famous. Assess this desire with your mission, vision, and core values. Assess how it fits within our focus areas and goals. For example, if you like writing and want to contribute in the world, to help others, assess the impact of people’s life with your writing, instead of becoming famous with 10K followers on social media. The desire to becoming a top follower is ego’s drama. Whereas, creating and sharing best articles of your life could be related to a focus area, to help others.
- Respect: You may want to be most respected person in the world. Assess this desire with your mission, vision, and core values. Assess how it fits within our focus areas and goals. Instead of becoming the most respected person in the world, you want to ensure an environment of mutual respect for each other.
To know more deeper about human life, learn about body, mind, and ego. Learn why mind wanders, why it compares, and how to deal with it. In addition to unlimited desires, we may also be trapped in demands by others. Before saying yes to any request from anyone, assess how it fits your focus areas. If it doesn’t fit, say no. If required, read trustworthy books about how to say no to others, when you don’t want to say yes.
Simplifying the life is an important key skill, to avoid being overwhelmed, and living a wholehearted life. It’s the skill that takes time to learn and practice. Bringing clarity in life helps to plan for tasks that are feasible within the given limited lifetime. Decide what’s important for you in the life and act on it, with careful planning and actions. While making the progress, plan to reflect on the journey. You may decide a periodic self-reflections of weeks, months, quarters, and the year. In addition to it, getting feedback from others on your journey is equally valuable. It needs a continuous self-discovery and a desire to get feedback from others about yourself. Refer to the Johari window about knowing yourself. As you learn and grow, make required corrections to the journey.