(photo by Drunken Monkey Photography). I thought I’d explain a little more in detail about how I plan my life, and what tools I use to achieve my goals. I like to separate my thoughts on planning and organizing into two levels: upstack and downstack. I often talk about Getting Things Done (GTD) as a good downstack framework. But this post will be about my upstack efforts, and for that, I often turn to Covey.

Covey’s Habits

Since 1995, I’ve been practicing variants of Dr. Stephen R. Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective people. One of the very best visual icons he gives in his work is the premise of living one’s life by the compass instead of the wristwatch. The premise is that one be guided by their “true north principles,” and not the whims of the hours passing in a given day.

To short-hand what Covey talks about in the 7 habits, here’s the rundown.

  1. Be Proactive. Realize you’re the programmer, and that YOU write the program.
  2. Begin with the end in mind. Now, go write the program.
  3. Put first things first. You’ve written the program. Organize and execute around what you’ve written.
  4. Think Win-Win. Seek third solutions that leave everyone happy.
  5. Seek first to unerstand, then to be understood. Listen more than you talk.
  6. Synergize. Use the team around you. Build on strengths. Accentuate the positive.
  7. Sharpen the Saw. It’s not over when you accomplish something. Stay sharp. Grow.

Principle-centered living means having a set of “operating instructions” that you can execute in any setting. If you’re on an island, you can do most of the stuff that’s in your instructions, just the same as if you’re in a busy office building in Singapore.

The thoughts and ideas I laid out in the other post with “streams” and the like are anchored to these compass settings I’ve built into my general self. So, I have a strong sense of family in my compass. I’ve got a sense of what I want to do with communities. I’ve got a sense of what matters to me with my work life. I know how I should better my finances. And I understand what should be the state of my physical health and well-being.

Every goal I’ve set for myself since 1995 relates to the sense of those compass settings. Sometimes, I adjust what matters to that compass, but I always align myself to a set of operating instructions instead of to set micro goals. If you re-read my post on planning and time horizons, you’ll see that I haven’t laid out specific targets. Instead, you’ll read that I have aspirations in those various areas.

Signal to Noise

Most of our lives are filled with mental clutter. We have music, tv, movies, games, comics, books, groups, clubs, friends, hobbies, sports, email, cell phones, business trips, and other vocations to fill our skulls and our waking hours. We’ve got complex social relationships involving online “friends” we’ve never shaken hands with or hugged, and we’ve got plenty of other ways to chew into our mental calories and thought processes.

By building a compass setting of the things that matter to me, and trying hard to align my actions, time and effort to that compass, I work hard to move things forward. Those of you who’ve gotten to know me know that I operate on a lot of things at the same time, and that I’m good at working tirelessly at a lot of projects simultaneously. I use my efforts in setting my guiding points to ensure that I’m doing the right things and spending the appropriate time and energy on the things I believe matter most to me.

Course Corrections

Covey points out that when an airplane travels from Boston to Los Angeles, it is off-course 90% of the journey. The majority of the time that the plane is in the air, then, is spent making course corrections. He says life is like this as well. So, I take time often to consider the goals I’ve set for myself within the boundaries of my internal compass, and I consider whether I’m on course. These corrections are how I get closer to the vision in my head of what I consider success.

Aim High

The last part of my planning and goal-setting efforts involves a quote I read somewhere (and I forget where). Essentially, set your goals high, even if you only hit halfway, because if you set them low, you might not even reach THAT goal. This has served me well in life. When I hadn’t run an inch, I decided I’d train to run a marathon. I was successful. When I started setting smaller goals, I fell off the fitness wagon entirely.

Everything of value I’ve ever done in my life came from setting a goal so high that I *might* achieve it, but that I very likely wouldn’t. This has led to lots of successes that I doubted myself capable of achieving, but that then fueled further successes. My career today is largely a part of my efforts using the system I sketched out above.

Wrapping Up

If you want the short-hand to everything I just wrote, here it is:

Figure out what matters the most to you. Focus on it. And then do THAT as often as possible.

Yep. That’s it. I work hardest to accomplish things that I believe relate to what matters most to me. This seems like a “duh” thing to say, but ask yourself how closely your day-to-day efforts match this model.

Let me know if I can help you with anything.

Chris Brogan is community developer for Video on the Net, a conference about the impact of broadband internet on the future of TV, Broadcasting, and Film. This article was cross-posted to Chris’s blog, [chrisbrogan.com].

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