A Quick Request
We all want a solid life plan.
One that delivers an orgasmic existence.
So we can look back on our little stint and think, yarp, t’was worth it.
Whereas many suggestions out there are pretty vague and don’t translate to real-world results, this is my self-administered attempt at getting analytical.
Take what you will and ditch the rest brave mindstronaut.
Going with the flow
Many of us treat life as something that simply washes over us. We react to what we encounter rather than proactively shaping an envisioned reality.
It’s fine to be flexible, but fortune can also be a fickle mistress.
If you have certain ambitions, preparing fertile ground seems sensible.
Consciously investing in a life plan can be beneficial. Success is where opportunity meets preparation.
I say this as someone who’s rarely abided by this principle and should take some of his own medicine.
Begin with the end in mind
A good way of reshuffling our papers and getting the old life plan in order is to begin with the end in mind.
A common technique involves imagining yourself on your deathbed and reviewing your life, complete with imagined successes and regrets.
The aim of this exercise is to remind us that life is short and provide some space on the mental dance floor to review our priorities.
The goal is to decide how to minimise those possible future regrets while maximising successes.
Hence, when you’re nearing the bright lights, you’ll have a smile plastered on your face.
Here’s the thing…
Many of us complain about our results in life.
We might blame our boss, friends, economy, or even weather.
But now your priorities in order, there can be no further excuses.
Taking responsibility becomes the default mental attitude.
Either you’re working towards your ideal future and taking the necessary action, or your not.
If it’s the latter, there’s only one person to blame.
100 coins to invest
You’ve imagined your own demise and final thoughts. This has hopefully ignited a fire.
But now we must break this bigger picture into more manageable chunks to take action.
Onto another exercise then…
Let’s say you have 100 gold coins to invest in your life.
These coins, at their essence, represent your resources. Could be time, money energy or attention.
Where will you invest them for the maximum return? Which areas of life will you prioritise to manifest the deathbed scenario above?
There are four main areas we can focus on in the framework:
You might say it depends on what you value. Because only then can you judge the returns accurately.
You see, if you make a boatload of money and don’t value material wealth, it’s not a good return on investment.
So, what do you value?
Only when you’ve decided can you start to plan your life.
When you’ve decided on your values, you can drill down into more specific life buckets.
Examples might be health, wellbeing, finances, career and relationships.
Ideally, these are natural subsets of your values.
When you’ve done that, it’s time to break them down again into processes and goals.
I prefer to list processes first as they signify an ongoing lifestyle adoption versus an endpoint to be reached.
An example of a process might be something intangible like, “maintaining physical and mental performance”.
Any specific goals can go underneath. This could be something like, “complete a triathlon”.
Another example of a process could be to “create a self-sustaining business.”
The associated goal could be, “which makes X dollars/month”.
Next, we need to drill down another layer and get into the action items that allow us to achieve these processes or goals.
Initially, you can brain dump everything you think will help polish the process or achieve the goal.
However, you should begin to form an idea of exactly which tasks will help move the needle to most.
If you want to lose weight for example, “exercise daily” will be a greater priority than something like “watching less TV”.
Now you have a workflow centred around your innermost values, which naturally trickles down through various areas of your life.
Here’s where we have to get analytical and ruthlessly prioritise, deciding where to invest our 100 gold coins.
Investing the coins
- Which values are most important to you?
- Which life roles do you most want to embody?
- Which life areas motivate you most?
- Which processes and goals ignite a passion?
Some will naturally stand out more than others.
Because as we stated earlier, we must decide where to invest our coins and allocate them among the areas identified.
For example, you could choose an even split over each area for the most balance or invest more heavily in areas that inspire, or if we’re lucky, fill us to the brim with passion and purpose.
This boils down to personal preference.
Learning from success
It’s worth noting that the top performers in each area of life rarely have a well-balanced allocation of their coins.
Their life plan is likely heavily weighted in one sphere.
How often do you see a workaholic neglect their relationships and health to invest more mental bandwidth in their chosen pursuit?
Or an elite athlete focusing on their health, fitness and performance to the exclusion of all else?
That’s not to say it’s the correct approach or the best for everyone, but the reality is that if you want to compete with the best in your field, you have to make sacrifices in other areas.
It’s also worth noting that you can still be successful in life with a more balanced approach.
Running a successful business, maintaining good relationships and investing in your health should all be possible with a balanced allocation of coins.
You might not be the next Elon Musk, working 120 weeks to take us to Mars, but you may be far happier for it.
Like finance, there will likely be a constant rebalancing of your attentional portfolio as you shift your coins from one area to another depending on life demands and emerging goals.
This is fine as long as you’re aware of it and consciously dictate expansion and contraction in each area.
When you’ve decided how many resources to invest in each life bucket, you can go more granular.
This is an area I’d like to talk about in greater detail, mainly because it’s where the rubber meets the road.
You can plan until your heart’s content, but unless we take action, it’s all for nought.
Therefore, for each process and goal identified, we need to establish a list of action items to complete.
This list could be self-generated, mentor-driven or inspired by research into other top performers.
Create action items in order of importance for effectively achieving the process or goal.
The actions can be monthly and weekly or daily, so try to specify the frequency. Really effective ones tend to be daily.
At first, when we’re still guessing which might be most effective, start by taking action on all of them and gathering data.
This data should include two things.
- How easy and enjoyable do you find that action?
- How effective is that action, using objective benchmarks?
With fitness, this might include tracking how certain activities make you feel and perform.
In business, it could be keeping a spreadsheet of sales activities and lead generation.
Number one tends to be easy to rate subjectively. Sticking with the fitness theme, you should know whether you like running more than cycling.
Number two can be more difficult, especially when dealing with delayed outcomes or multiple actions with various possible attributions to gains.
A way around this could be to adopt one action item at a time to limit variables, although results will obviously take much longer.
Ideally, we want to find the sweet spot between something we find enjoyable or happiness-inducing and actions which provide exponential progress in service of the process or goal.
Bear in mind, these factors are somewhat codependent.
Happiness creates success but success also begets happiness, so if an activity produces the desired result, we’re likely to enjoy it more.
Do this for long enough to gather feedback. How long will depend on the process and goal. It may be longer than you think.
This is the experimentation phase. Don’t seek immediate results. Big outcomes take time.
Also, ideally, we’re focusing on processes rather than goals, which emphasise sustainable lifestyle change and produce results as a byproduct.
The Pareto principle and high leverage activities
When you’ve gathered enough feedback, you’ll likely see the emergence of something called the Pareto principle.
Otherwise known as the 80/20 rule. That is that 20% of what you focus on tends to deliver 80% of the results. This is broadly applicable across any domain.
When you’ve found the 20, you start by investing at least 80 if your coins there to experience hockey stick results.
This will make our life plan more effective in practice, providing that much more bang for our buck.
For example, if you find intermittent fasting is largely responsible for shifting those Christmas pounds, that becomes an 80/20 activity where you invest proportionally more coins.
Analyse each life bucket and its processes/goals with the above in mind.
Whereas some people advise going all in, I would argue that an 80% investment in high leverage activities, with a 20% investment in speculative investments, is the best approach.
You see, like investing, it’s good to diversify your efforts, at least a little.
This way, you remain open to opportunities and can invest in hobbies or skills that might be the next habit unicorns, with massive potential long term payoffs.
In contrast, going 100% into an activity might close the doors on new opportunities.
With the 80/20 investment, fear will emerge about picking the right thing to focus on.
Perhaps this is more true of business opportunities where people seek the optimal choice for future return.
Here’s the thing though…
By investing heavily in any project, it can become successful.
Whether that’s selling products and services to tomato growers or hedge fund managers.
If you’re obsessed with your choice, there’ll be a way to make it work, especially when directing significant mental resources at the project.
Balance vs focus
A well balanced mental portfolio can lead to stability, but possibly at the expense of progress.
On the other hand, investing heavily in one bucket can create a slightly myopic approach to life, causing other areas to suffer.
However, this plan can be amended and tweaked with shortened timelines:
Although this is an overarching life plan framework, you can break the processes, goals and actions into individual month plans with specific deadlines and deliverables.
Perhaps there’s a short goal that you want to sprint towards or you simply work well under pressure.
Giving yourself a shorter month plan might force you to get more creative in making faster progress.
Likewise, you can reduce the plan into 1, 3 and 5-year versions depending on what you want to work on in different life phases.
Returning again to the investing analogy, whereby nearing retirement, you buy bonds over stocks for stability, so too you might focus on different areas of your plan.
Going through a major life transition like having kids will pretty much force you to re-do your plan and invest more attention in child-raising.
Life plan summary
For some people, balance is fine.
For others who are motivated by more by progress, ask yourself whether you’re spreading yourself too thin.
Is that why you’re failing to make meaningful strides?
If you’re frustrated, look at your life with an objective eye to decide where you’re investing your time, energy and attention.
Then design a system which prioritises where you want to go in life through reverse engineering.
Pursue high leverage actions which correspond to your desired life processes, in turn linking to each life bucket, and at the deepest level, aligning with your core values.