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My Life Planning Model

My Life Planning Model

    (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.

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    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.

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    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

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    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.

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    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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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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