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Who Am I Today? The Importance of Roles

Who Am I Today? The Importance of Roles
WHo Am I Today? The Importance of Roles

    If you’re anything like me, life keeps you pretty busy. Sometimes — more often than I’d like, actually — it’s hard just to keep straight what day it is, let alone where I’m supposed to be and what I’m supposed to be doing.

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    Keeping track of the various roles I play helps keep my head in order and prevent that feeling of being torn into a thousand tiny pieces. Every so often, usually during my version of a weekly review, I flip to an empty page in my notebook and make a list of roles: step-father, partner, teacher, anthropologist, employee, writer, son, friend, brother, brother-in-law, nephew, uncle, citizen. It helps to see it all spelled out like that, and writing it down helps me focus on what I’m accomplishing and what my goals are for each role.

    It might seem obvious, but each role we play has different goals, different standards of achievement. As an employee, I’m concerned with making enough money to pay our bills and but our groceries, but as a step-father I have to leave those concerns aside so I can get on with the business of parenting: encouraging, nurturing, sometimes disciplining, and so on. Likewise, as a teacher, I am constantly measuring my student’s performance and growth, while as I partner I am devoted to appreciating my girlfriend’s many fine qualities as well as her faults.

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    Here’s an example of how I think about some of my roles and what each entails:

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    • Partner: to build a lasting and loving relationship; to openly communicate my feelings and worries; to plan household budgets and chores.
    • Teacher: to encourage the development of critical thinking, writing, studying, and research skills; to help students develop a sense of themselves as citizens and of their place in society; to assess students’ growth and give them guidance where necessary.
    • Anthropologist: to carry out research and communicate my findings to other members of my discipline and to the public; to encourage more informed attitudes about cultural similarity and difference in my society and in my students.
    • Step-father: to offer support and encouragement to my step-children; to make sure their physical and emotional needs are met on a day-to-day basis; to share my values and dreams with my step-children and help them to articulate their own.
    • Writer: to communicate effectively with my audience; to build my audience and seek out new markets for my work; to manage my submissions, payments due and received, tax paperwork, etc. (Technically, “writer” is two roles: one as a person sitting in front of a computer or notepad and writing for others to read, and the other as a person managing his business — I could call that second role “manager” or “entrepreneur”, but I don’t feel like either of those things.)
    • Brother: to offer friendship and support; to lend a hand when needed; to be an uncle to his children.
    • Citizen: to take part in the running of my society by voting, serving on juries, paying taxes (yuck!), obeying the law when possible, breaking the law when necessary; to keep the common good in mind; to engage with the process of governance by writing letters or otherwise working to express my thoughts to my representatives; to view society critically with an eye towards its improvement.

    Those aren’t all my roles, but it’s a good sample. Making my expectations of myself in each role explicit helps me to evaluate how well I’m doing in each role. Are the things I’m doing fulfilling my idea of what my role is? What else should I be doing?

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    While doing this, I try to set a few short-term goals for each role. By spelling out what each role actually is, I can be a little more specific than just saying “I should be a better teacher”. Instead, I can ask specific questions of myself, like “Are my current tests adequately measuring what I ant students to be getting from my class?” If not, my goal might be to rewrite my test, or come up with a better grading rubric to make sure my tests are effective learning tools. Likewise, “be a better brother” is pretty vague, but “help my brother launch his business” gives me a good idea of how, exactly, I can be a better brother.

    Knowing my roles helps me to keep them separated when I need to — something that’s crucial for someone like me whose primary office is in his home. On any given evening, I might have grading to do, a post to write for lifehack.org, an essay to edit for publication, invoices to send out, and so on. It’s too easy to get wrapped up in that stuff and not to be there for my family when they need me. But as much as possible, I try to be “step-father” and “partner” once my girlfriend comes home at 5:30; reminding myself that I’m not in “writer” or “teacher” mode helps me remember what my priorities need to be when I’m “at home” instead of “at work” (even though both are in the same house).

    But working at home isn’t the only situation that can cause confusion about who, exactly, you’re supposed to be at any given moment. Thinking about roles helps keep you focused on the moment and that can be useful for anyone. Take a few minutes now and then to figure out what roles you play, and how well you’re playing them.

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    Last Updated on January 13, 2020

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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