By Ben Sands – For additional insights, tools, and leadership resources, click here
So…I’ve got a confession to make. It’s a simple one – but with profound implications: I have wasted a lot of time in my life.
Now, as much as I am inclined to beat myself up over other such short-comings, I am giving myself a temporary “pass” on this.
The fact is, I only figured this out recently – when I developed my own life strategy – and started helping others develop theirs.
As discussed previously, executing on a clear and compelling life strategy is the surest way to a happy, fulfilling life.
Absent such a strategy, success will happen only by accident.
Coming out of college, my “strategy” was a simple one: pile up experiences. I would pro-actively explore new cities, have a variety of jobs, meet as many people as possible, learn as much as I could, and then…well…wait for the magic to happen.
Yeah, I know, it wasn’t a water-tight plan…but this is the best I could do at 25.
Essentially I was waiting for some theoretical “tipping point” when I would have accumulated enough experience to finally make sense of it all.
I was waiting for that moment of alchemy; that moment when my life experience would coalesce and I’d understand both the “meaning” of my life…and see a clear path towards achieving it.
Again, it wasn’t a water-tight plan. But, even today, I would argue that it’s better than nothing.
And I suspect that many reading this, whether you realize it or not, have adopted a similar strategy…
A BETTER STRATEGY
For a long time I thought that if I just kept pedaling, kept moving forward, life would eventually sort itself out.
I rationalized my waiting by reminding myself about how “busy” I was staying.
I thought, “how could anyone who had this many emails to write and respond to not be doing important work?”
I was waiting – patiently, but actively – for inspiration, intuition, clarity.
Sadly, I had it all wrong.
Author and university professor Cal Newport argues that a successful life strategy is not about doing it all…but about doing the right things, better. He writes on his blog:
“Simply putting in the time is not enough… You must identify what activities generate the highest returns, and then focus relentlessly on these behaviors to the exclusion of most other distractions… You have to put in a lot of hours, but of equal importance, these hours have to be dedicated to the right type of work.”
If this idea resonates with you, here’s a simple list of five, highest-value activities, to start doing today.
FIVE THINGS TO START DOING TODAY
Whether it’s a trip to the beach, a book project or a first date, there’s a higher probability that good stuff will happen take time to plan first. It may feel cumbersome at first, but it’s an undeniable prerequisite for long-term success.
Specifically, use planning time to figure out where, when and how to get done that which is most important to you, today. As a general rule, I try to be as specific as possible about the time and location. I find that if you get those two elements straight, the “how” will figure itself out.
A common characteristic of regret-free role models? They create unique value in the world.
Put another way, they generate ideas, art and energy (among other manifestations) that positively impacts the people and world around them. You should, too.
Write, cook, paint, teach or brew beer, whatever. In the early going, don’t worry so much about quality as quantity. Develop a regular habit of creation and, in time, your skill, ability and subsequent impact will grow.
It is TOO EASY today to focus inward; worrying about your own well-being at the expense of everything else. This is a mistake.
If you’re overwhelmed by the idea of serving others when you’re not yet sure you can take care of yourself, you’re not alone. The good news is that opportunities to “serve” are often closer than you think. My recommendation: start with folks you know and love.
It doesn’t matter if the work itself is highly urgent (like helping a friend find a new job or make an important connection) or more mundane (helping your parents with some yard or car work), it all counts.
As mentioned earlier, its foolish to think that we can simply pile our experiences up on top of one another and expect them to magically coalesce into real meaning. It doesn’t happen that way. We must create space and time to process what we are learning – about our values, our beliefs, our ambitions, among other things – and build upon it.
In a society in which productivity is often viewed as a status symbol, the idea of spending time each day in “play” might be hard to swallow. I would encourage you to reconsider.
As it turns out, a lack of play has been identified as a root cause of everything from depression to violent crime. Author Brene Brown defines play as “time spent without purpose.” What is your “play?” What do you love to do so much that you lose track of time; you don’t want it to end? Make and protect that time. Every day.
It is a little ironic that by adding more to our calendars, we might enhance the feelings of control, meaning and joy we feel each day, but it works.
That said, the amount of time and level of engagement will vary from person to person. Experiment with each activity to determine what works best for you.
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