What are the most important things in life?
Do you want to do more of what you love?
Increase your effectiveness and productivity so you can do anything you want.
It can be more work or just chilling on the beach.
Table of contents
- The areas of the most important things
- Finances and spending
- Personal development
- Health and fitness
- Family and social
- Time for the Most Important Things in Life
- Sweet spot
- Work-life balance
- How to fill your life with the most important things
- How to reach your goals and improve your life
In How to Find Time for Things, I wrote about how to plan your day in a way that your to-do list wouldn’t overflow to the next day.
But this is just a tactical solution for a much larger issue in your life. What are the most important things in life for you? (If you are in a hurry, skip all the background stuff and get straight to the How-to section).
The areas of the most important things
After giving it a lot of thought, there seem to be only a few general areas of goals to strive for.
Much like Maslow’s pyramid of needs, your goal areas are hierarchical. The hierarchy means that if the first is not satisfied, the next is harder (but not impossible) to achieve.
First, you need food and shelter only then can you maintain your health and be active in society. In this, most of your goals are the tip of Maslow’s pyramid of needs. But you have to have a solid foundation to function properly.
As with the emergency procedures on an airplane, first put the oxygen mask on yourself and then help others. If you don’t, you’ll pass out and be of no help to anyone.
Finances and spending
Here are your key performance indicators:
- Regular income,
- total income,
- net worth.
How long are you able to live if your income goes to zero?
Finance is the area in your life that makes everything else possible. Maintain a certain level of financial independence to engage in personal development and to take part in social and family affairs. Financial reserves give you independence. You don’t have to have “f*** you money,” but you need enough to get through smaller crisis.
As one of my friends put it:
We have two kinds of people at the office. The ones who have their opinion and the ones who have a mortgage.
Financial independence is a great enabler in achieving your other goals. You will not be too motivated to do anything if you don’t know how to put food on the table tomorrow.
Don’t get too caught up in trying to earn mountains of cash. Obsession with money may lead you to miss out on other parts of your life. There’s always the next dollar or a million to be earned. When setting your basic goals, it is important to understand when it’s enough.
On the other side of finances is spending. An important habit is to spend less than you earn.
Every time you get paid, transfer some money to the emergency fund. 10%, 5%, or even 1% is OK to start with this habit. Transfer money to that account every time you get an unexpected sum of money or a raise.
Personal development is a huge area that includes everything you want for yourself. It can be:
- volunteer work,
- things, etc.
Now you must choose and knowing your interests comes in handy. Think about what makes you happy. Reading about history, playing baseball, hiking, advancing in your career… The possibilities are endless, but your time is not. Decide what activities will be a part of your life and ignore the rest.
When setting personal development goals consider how deep you want to go. You might want to become a high-level bridge player; this means it will take all your evenings and weekends. You will not have much room for other activities. But you may just learn the rules to fill in when your friends are short of a hand.
Or… you may combine one goal with multiple activities. Want to be fit? You can:
- ride a bicycle,
- ski, and
You don’t have to be any good at those activities to stay fit. Increase your energy levels and have fun doing it.
Health and fitness
Health and fitness are the base stats of your life! Everything else depends on those two attributes.
Let’s say you are smart and have impeccable work ethics. If your health deteriorates to the level where you can only work for an hour a day, then most people can run circles around you.
I have always been physically active, and in my gut, I felt that regular exercise gives me more energy for everything I do.
Now I had to test it. Several weeks in a row, my work just kept piling up. I had 60 and 70-hour workweeks. One part of that time came from neglecting my family, the other from not exercising. Exercising takes over 2 hours from my day.
I felt just fine.
You are tired after 11-hour workdays, but that’s normal.
Then I blocked off exercise time in my calendar.
What a difference it made.
My daily exercise comprises of 67 minutes of running. 66 minutes and 66 seconds, to be exact.
So, on Sunday, when I had less work, I went to the gym and ran on the treadmill. I took it easy and ran 7 miles.
What a difference it made!
My head was clearer; I felt less tired. I was ready for anything.
It’s so easy to skip exercise.
It’s not that I don’t want to do it. I just tell myself that I have to do one more work thing and it only takes an hour, an hour and a half max. I’ll exercise tomorrow. And so it goes week after week.
Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship. ~ Buddha
Mental note to myself.
We don’t waste the time we put in exercise.
It builds your physical stamina and mental flexibility. You get back the hours you put in the gym. You will get them back in the form of more productivity, clearer thinking, and higher willpower.
You only need medium to light intensity exercise for these gains.
Keeping the intensity in check lets you do it indefinitely.
Sometimes, you want to train hard. Maybe you want to build muscle fast or train for your personal best in the marathon. In those situations, leave the exercise for later in the day when you don’t have any responsibilities afterward.
Yesterday, I failed spectacularly at my own advice. I was exhausted, after a long day and decided not to go to the gym for my daily run. I should have gone out for a short walk, but I didn’t. Things happen, try not to skip two days in a row.
Sleeping is one of the most important aspects of our lives. Most people need 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night.
Yes, that means you too.
The most important thing you can do about sleep is a regular sleeping schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time, all the time. Even on weekends.
Sleep is so important you should read more about sleeping here.
Younger people can ignore this, but as you get older, get your health checked with some regularity.
However, don’t overdo it, there’s research on regular health checkups that shows no clear improvement in mortality rates.
Check your moles and lumps. Many tumors are just a scare if you catch them in time. Men should pay attention to their testicles. Testicular cancer is the one true emergency in men’s health.
Some studies show a small positive effect of health checks. Attending the health check was associated with reductions in cardiovascular disease risk factors sustained over six years, and the largest benefit was observed for reduction in smoking prevalence.
Other studies show no results. Systematic health checks are unlikely to be beneficial and may lead to unnecessary tests and treatments.
Weigh yourself daily.
Just the act of monitoring your weight every day helps you keep it in check.
For example, I saw a reality show about overweight people trying to get thinner. They weighed themselves once a week. On a weighing day, they were all anxious about how much the number on the scale would be.
I have a few more pounds than I would like, and I step on the scale every morning. I mean, what’s the problem? You put the scale in your bathroom. Every morning when you brush your teeth, you step on the scale.
Weighing daily keeps the thought about your eating habits in your head. You will be more careful when choosing what to eat.
Vaccinate your kids!
Spread the idea that we should vaccinate everybody.
The diseases preventable by vaccination are making a comeback: whooping cough, measles, etc. We, humans, have made amazing advances in science. Use those advances to improve your life.
We vaccinate most people living in developed countries against most of the diseases in those countries. Traveling opens you up to a huge number of new diseases you might not have in your home country.
Before traveling, find out if you need any additional vaccination and make sure you get those shots early, and they kick in before you reach that specific country.
Keep your teeth healthy.
It starts with brushing and flossing every day. Some people are lucky enough to have teeth that simply do not need a doctor for decades. If you are not one of those people, go to your dentist at least once every year.
Don’t treat your dental problems with painkillers.
Regular checkups let you catch the minor issues that can become huge problems when neglected.
Vitamins and other supplements
Latest research shows that supplementing your diet with vitamins is useless. So, I stopped taking them. But I have some exceptions.
I live in Estonia. During the winter, our days may be as short as six hours. Getting vitamin D from the sun is problematic. I supplement my diet with Vitamin D.
I run a lot and exercise, and my body needs to transport oxygen to the muscles. For that, you need red blood cells and hemoglobin. I use iron supplements to give these numbers a little boost.
Theanine is a nootropic that should make you more relaxed and focused. I think I see some positive effects in my work. Of course, I can’t say that these improvements result from adding theanine to my diet, but the events are correlated.
Family and social
Being a respected member of a group is important to most humans. This group may be your family, community, or workplace. Getting involved with others and building something bigger than ourselves is a great motivator and source of happiness for most.
Whether you want to be a great parent to your kid, help your friends, contribute to your neighborhood community or be an inspirational leader, it is the networking and interaction with others that delivers the rewards.
The other side of the coin is that you may be forced to do something due to social pressure to fit in the group. If you live in an area where your view of the world is not widely accepted, you may even consider moving to a different location. Sometimes people have stood up and changed the world instead.
In the end, increasing love, teaching others, creating happiness all around you is the ultimate goal. Research has shown that money spent on others makes you happier than what you spend on yourself. Among other goals perform random acts of kindness.
Making the world a better place. Social goals don’t have to mean connecting with others. You can change the world and improve the lives of millions without stepping into the limelight. Being in the background is what countless scientists and inventors have done.
Time for the Most Important Things in Life
Everything you set out to do takes time. You can either scratch the surface of many things or go all-in in a few areas. If you select only one area, then there’s a possibility that you can’t get results you want, even if you put in your best effort for years. On the other hand, if you spread yourself too thin, then the mark you leave may be fleeting.
This is a tough call.
It is said that Colonel Sanders visited over 1,000 potential franchisees before he finally franchised KFC. And that was to his friend. When making the decision consider the area you want to get into, think about the time you have, how much risk are you willing to take.
The sweet spot is an area where you can tie all t three types of goals together. The sweet spot means that you get paid to do the things you want to develop in yourself, and the result is beneficial to other people.
The key here is that the time you spend on one area of your goals also fulfills the two other areas. Limited time is the reason to do what you love.
Most of the success stories in business are about the people who have found the sweet spot. They make enough money, and sometimes, way beyond their wildest dreams. The areas they work on interest them and give them deep personal satisfaction. Finally, working on something that improves the lives of others fills the social need.
Everybody may have the goals that are not covered by the sweet spot. But having sweet spot goals will make your life much easier.
The most important thing in the world is family and love. ~ John Wooden
There’s a misconception about work-life balance. Some people think there are two separate things called work and life.
If you think work is something you wouldn’t do if possible, then it’s the first area of your life you need to improve.
Yes, some people have crappy jobs.
Work fills one-third of your life, and half of the time, you are awake. If that time is something that you consider wasted, then do something right now to improve the situation.
The solution is not “not working”
You are where you are because of the 100+ billion people who came before you and paved the way so you could live in the best time in human history.
You are standing on the shoulders of giants, who stand on the shoulders of giants, who stand on the shoulders of giants… all the way down. ~ Priit Kallas
You are responsible for the generations that come after you.
So, suck it up!
Do what you must do now and find a way to do something that fulfills you.
The solution is not working all the time
But grinding relentlessly is not a solution either. Gary Vaynerchuk advocates grinding it 18 hours a day.
Arnold Schwarzenegger said, “Sleep faster!”
That’s stupid, too!
If you sleep only six hours every night, your productivity will plummet. With constant lack of sleep, you accomplish less in 18 hours than others in 8.
I agree with GaryV on the fact that you must put in more than your competitors. But your effort must be sustainable. If you burn out, you are no use to anybody.
The solution is life
Make your work your life, so it fulfills you, your self-esteem gets a boost, and you can be proud of the goals you accomplish.
Make your life enjoyable!
Eliminate all the small inconveniences that take time but don’t give value. Find out how to simplify your day. You don’t have to strive to get better stuff, get a simpler life.
In the end, you will provide value to your:
- friends, and
- society at large.
But you must start with yourself. If you burn out, then there’s no point.
You can find an extensive list of things that waste your time and skew your work-life balance in this article, look at what you could eliminate.
You don’t increase productivity so you can work more. You should increase your productivity so you have time to pet your dog. Or maybe it’s a cat, or play with your kids, or go out on a date. Hang with friends.
Just sit down and relax.
You don’t increase productivity to work more. You increase your productivity so you have time to pet your dog. ~ Priit Kallas
Now fill every day with the most important things in your life
Here are the steps that you should consider if you want to move towards the important goals in your life:
- Make a long list of people, skills, stuff, and ideas that you want to see in your life. Be specific. Not a better car, but Audi A6 Quatro.
- How close are you? What would it take to get there? Days, weeks, months, years? It would be great to include a few easy wins to get you motivated.
- What’s your skill set? Make a list of the areas you are great or the ones where you can do well.
- Identify your most important things in life. What are the 4 or 5 things that you really want? Considering what you found out in the steps above, cross off items from your long list. Until you have 4 or 5 items. Sleep on it. Change it. But in the end, get down to no more than five items.
- Now you have the vision where you want to get to.
On this site, I have touched this subject in different ways:
Why Make a List of Interests You Have? [Self-Improvement]
Making a list of your interests will help you take the first step in understanding what you really want to do. On that list are dozens of items. Check the most interesting ones. Be honest with yourself. Make sure your selection is as little as possible influenced by what others think.
Improve Your Life #12: Write Down Your Goals
What do you want to achieve in life? Create goals from your interests, or vice versa, create interests out of your goals. If you want to lose weight, you may become interested in exercising and how the body works.
Improve Your Life #30: Pick Your Own Path
You are doing it for yourself; even if your goal is to feed all the hungry people in the world, you are doing it for yourself. Make sure your reasons are your own. Go your own way and ignore the people who are trying to detract you.
How to reach your goals and improve your life
Keep those most important things in life list handy and start planning. You don’t have to devise a huge 5-year master plan of your life. Anything specific that goes beyond 6 or 12 months will probably need revising later.
- The first step. For each of the important things in your life, determine what is the first thing you need to do. And then… do it!
- List specific next steps. List the activities, tasks, projects, meetings, and commitments that fit in with the list. Be specific about the first weeks or months — later correct course based on the vision.
- Daily grind. Every day select 1-3 important tasks that move you towards your goals and do them first. Eliminate everything else. Find the smallest step you can take so that on the days when you are really exhausted, you can take at least that step.
- Chores. Some of you may need to eat every now and then. Mundane tasks mean that you may need to do things not on your list — plan for that. If you have to flip burgers for essential income, do that but find time for the 1 -3 important tasks.
If you follow the steps, I described, you will start moving in the right direction. The important thing is to keep moving. Take some steps every day. I have found that making crosses in the calendar works well. Take the smallest step possible… but take a step every single day. Keep the chain of crosses in your calendar unbroken.
Now, think about the first step, what are the most important things in your life.
Image: Important Interoffice Memo by D. Sharon Pruitt
Image: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs by J. Finkelstein
Cover Photo on Visual Hunt
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