Note: This is the first in a series of posts, and as the others are written, I’ll update a table of contents with links to the whole series here.
For the first 20 years of my life, I didn’t make much of an effort to keep myself organized. My parents did most of the work and were better at it, so why even bother?
As I completed college, however, I realized that I would just drift through life if I didn’t sit down and figure out what my goals were and how to achieve them. This began as it probably does for a lot of people: I had really lofty dreams and I wanted to make them reality. Over several years, I read hundreds of articles and several books on the topic of life management and organization, and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out the ideal system.
After getting married, and especially as my wife and I began to have children, I changed my approach completely. This post is the first in an intended series of what my new method is, and why I think it works better.
What is “Life Organization”?
Planners and calendars are more common than people in the Western world. Everyone who has a smartphone has at least one (I’m not among this group just yet, but I’m told by my wife that I am an endangered species). But a planner or calendar alone is not the whole crux of what this term means.
Admittedly, “life organization” sounds too simple and too simplistic. Life, in truth, cannot be organized comprehensively. Nor should it be.
For our purposes, the term “life management” means the tools, methods, and behaviors a person uses to keep track of and accomplish their long-term goals. It involves figuring out what your own goals are, creating a plan to achieve them, and learning to stick by your plan even when you don’t want to.
Dreams vs Goals
If you’ve ever attended a high school graduation, you will have heard teachers and students alike speak of the virtues of “pursuing your dreams”.
But what if your dreams are bad? What if they are truly impossible? What if the risk of failure isn’t worth the pursuit?
These are the sorts of questions you are not allowed to ask, but which are important to answer. They can change the whole course of a life.
Goals are a bit different than dreams. Instead of being esoteric and ambiguous, goals must be concrete. This is best demonstrated by way of example:
Dream: I want to be important.
Goal: I want to own my own company.
Even in this example, the goal could use a lot of definition. What sort of company? What products or services will be produced? Will you simply have a managerial role in the company? Is this a company you will start on your own or acquire from someone else? By what date does this need to be accomplished?
These questions may seem to suck the fun out of making goals, but in truth, they infuse the goals with purpose, realistic constraint, and urgency. Without asking and answering such questions, you’ll never achieve the goals except by accident. I wouldn’t want to plan on my greatest accomplishments being achieved by accident. I don’t think you’d want to do that either.
An even better example is this:
Dream: I want to be a famous musician.
Goal: Within ten years, I want to play piano with the proficiency of a concert pianist and I want to be performing in city-level orchestras.
This goal is lofty, but achievable. It has a time limit to give it some urgency and to help you plan year-by-year what you need to do to achieve it. It has concrete objectives (playing in a concert is a real and tangible thing; having a level of proficiency can be further expanded to listing pieces of music that, when performed without error, prove it).
Why spend the time doing it?
You don’t have an infinite amount of time in this life. If you want to make the most of it, you need to know what “making the most of it” means. What are the greatest things you can do and how can you do them? This is the heart of life organization.
Planning too much is just as bad as not planning enough, and most of us are guilty of doing one or the other. Everyone needs to plan and organize their time effectively, but not waste time in the process. There’s no secrete formula here, and it will be a lot of hard, irritating, headache-inducing work.
In the coming weeks, I plan to continue this series by discussing what sort of life goals you ought to establish, how to break those goals up yearly, how to use a planner and calendar to accomplish the tasks required, how to cultivate the behaviors and rituals you will need to succeed at them, and anything else I can think of that’s on-topic.