What are Your Important Things in Life
In How to Find Time for Stuff 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 really important things in life for you? (If are in a hurry skip all the background stuff and get straight to the How-to section).
Over the last month I have touched this subject in different ways:
- Improve Your Life #26: Make a List of Your Interests Making a list of your interest will help you take the first step in understanding what you really want to do. On that list are dozens of items. Check the ones that are most interesting. 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.
After giving it a lot of thought, I arrived at the conclusion that there are only three general areas of goals to strive for. Much like the 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 have to have food and shelter only then can you maintain your health and be active in society. In this, your goals are an inverted version of the Maslow’s pyramid of needs. As with the emergency procedures on an airplane, first put the oxygen mask on yourself and then help others or you will pass out and be of help to no one.
Finances and spending
Income, regular 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 other goals possible. You have to maintain a certain level of financial independence to engage in personal development and to participate in social and family affairs. As one of my friend 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 to miss out on other parts of your life, as 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 the spending. One of the most important habits you can form in this area is to spend less than you earn. Every time you get paid transfer some of the money to the savings account you will not touch. 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 health, looks, fitness, education, career, hobbies, self-improvement, things, etc. This is where knowing your interests comes in handy. Think about the stuff that 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 others.
One thing to consider when setting personal development goals is 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 and a bit of the game to fill in every now and then when your friends are short of a hand.
Or… you may combine one goal with multiple activities. Want to be fit? You can run, ride a bicycle, rollerblade, snowboard, ski, and swim. You don’t have to be any good at those activities to stay fit, increase your energy levels, and have fun doing it.
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. Resistance, in some cases 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 in this area. 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. This is what countless scientists and inventors have done.
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 more than 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. And then act.
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 that 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. This 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 in some cases 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.
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 better car but Audi A6 Quatro.
- How close are you? What would it take to get there? Days, weeks, months, years? It would be a good idea to include a few easy wins to get you going and motivated.
- What is your skillset? Make a list of the areas you are really good at or the ones where you can manage pretty 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 three steps above start to gross of items from your long list. Until 4 or 5 items are left. 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.
Keep that list of your most important things in life 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 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. This means that you may need to do things that are 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, take the first step, identify the most important things in your life.
Also published on Medium.