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If you have been following along with the seven-stage life design process, at this point you have:

  • A good understanding of yourself, including your core values;
  • Draft personal purpose, why, and mission statements; and
  • Draft vision(s)

Now it’s time to create a plan for how to put all this hard preparation to use. This is Stage Five in the seven-stage process. 

How will you structure your life to use your mission to move toward your vision? This life structure includes: 

  • Routines,
  • Habits,
  • Projects, and
  • Tasks.

Routines are made up of two or more habits. For example, I have a morning routine that includes the habits of checking my weight and blood pressure, consuming my initial information diet for the day, and meditation (reference). 

Projects are made up of two or more tasks; the steps required to complete the project.

Projects and tasks have defined end dates and produce a tangible result or deliverable upon completion. Routines and habits continue indefinitely. The formation of new habits requires behavior change to make the habit truly habitual (performed without thought).

A plan to achieve a vision typically includes projects and new habit formation. Broadly, relationship vision plans (for example, a plan for improving a marriage) tend to have more new habit formation, and career vision plans (for example, a plan for a career pivot) tend to have more projects.         

Planning Method #1: Vision Decomposition

This is a top-down structured approach that begins with a clearly defined vision. If you aren’t sure about what’s next in your life and your desired destination, instead use Method #2.

This method and the word “decomposition” are standard in project management practice

Decomposition in project management is used to break a large project down into smaller, more manageable pieces. This is often done by creating a work breakdown structure (WBS), which is a hierarchical list of all the tasks and subtasks that need to be completed in order to finish the project.

Decomposition doesn’t mean that your vision is rotting (smile). 

Method #1 works regardless of vision format. Some popular vision formats are: 

  • Narrative, using “I am” statements (reference
  • Odyssey Plans (reference)
  • Roles and arete (ibid.)
  • Aspirations defined in a ‘Wheel of Life’ exercise (reference)
  • Long-term major life goals

The steps in this method are: 

  1. Define, at a high level, what must happen to arrive at your vision. If using roles and arete, what work is required to move closer to your arete? If using Wheel of Life, what work is required to improve the satisfaction level in each area of your life? Mind mapping is a useful technique for this step. 
  2. List the required projects and habits that will produce the points in the high-level definition. Sticky notes (Post-it Notes) are a useful way to support this thinking process. I then use a simple spreadsheet to receive the results of this brainstorming and support steps five and six below. In project management language, this becomes your Program Plan.
  3. Create a project or habit note in your note-taking system for each project or habit. I use Obsidian for this and store the notes in a folder dedicated to this purpose (reference Tiago Forte’s PARA folder structure.) Use these notes as a project or habit charter document (use this reference for inspiration, albeit it is written for projects in a corporate setting) and a place to record general information and reflections about the work as it progresses. 
  4. Check for coherence with your identity (your core values, personality, and strengths), and personal statements (your purpose, principles, why, and mission). If needed, refine the plan or refine your personal statements to achieve the desired alignment. Refer to this earlier article for more about identity.  
  5. Prioritize and sequence the projects and habits. Account for any dependencies, where one project or habit must be completed before it is possible to work on the next project or habit. Refer to this earlier article for more about prioritization. 
  6. For the work starting in the immediate quarter, break down projects and habits into tasks—the single-step actions that move projects to completion, and habits to adoption.
  7. Enter tasks in your task management (to-do list) and/or project management software. Because I am a solo entrepreneur with modest projects compared to larger business entities, I can get away with using a simple spreadsheet for my project management. Some of my projects are so simple that I don’t even need a spreadsheet; the Obsidian note is sufficient for keeping track of what is next and progress.

    If I have a task in a project spreadsheet, I do not add it to my to-do list (task management system.) I reserve my to-do list for tasks that are not in a project spreadsheet. For example, spring cleaning the garden shed is a task on my to-do list; however, this isn’t something that I need to create a project for.

  8. Define short-term goals for the immediate month. Use the SMART goal framework for projects and the NICE goal framework for habits. 
  9. Handoff further granular scheduling and project management to daily and weekly routines

Example

I’ll use my life design as an example. A piece of my vision is to become a life and career coach with a successful private practice dedicated to “reinvention” coaching.

I used this mind map to deconstruct the one-sentence vision statement (Step #1). I began by defining six success criteria on the left side of the mind map. I then, on the right side, mind-mapped everything I could think of that would move me toward a successful private practice.

mind map segment

Next, I created this Program Plan using Microsoft Excel. The vision to “become a life and career coach with a successful private practice” became 19 new habits to form and 32 projects to execute. Yikes.  

Microsoft Excel screenshot

Method #2: Wayfinding

This is a bottom-up approach that is more a journey than plan. Use this method when your vision is shrouded in fog. Your “what it’s next” is unknown, and you may not even know your purpose and mission with any certainty. That’s okay. Start from where you are at. 

To quote Rumi, the 13th century Sufi mystic and poet:

As you start to walk on the way, the way appears.

In Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life, authors Bill Burnett and Dave Evans define wayfinding:

Wayfinding is the ancient art of figuring out where you are going when you don't actually know your destination. For wayfinding, you need a compass and you need a direction. Not a map—a direction.
Since there's no one destination in life, you can't put your goal into your GPS and get the turn-by-turn directions for how to get there. What you can do is pay attention to the clues in front of you and make your best way forward with the tools you have at hand.

Another example from my own life, I am using the wayfinding method to explore employment opportunities that center on my passion for learning and knowledge sharing. This might be a role in online community building, education, writing that book that is in me, or who knows what else? Unlike my vision for a successful coaching practice, the exact destination or vision is unknown.

In my wayfinding, I focus on five activities: Researching, Networking, Experimenting, Observing, and Reflecting.

Curiosity fuels all the activities. Learning is an outcome of all the activities.

As you proceed with wayfinding, adjust your course based on your evolving insights and intuition, trusting that each step forward contributes to your growth and progress.

 

Researching. Selectively consume articles from magazines and blogs, newsletters, books, podcasts, YouTube videos, and other content supporting your evolving life direction.

Pick topics and sources with the greatest chance of filling any identified knowledge gaps and those most likely to spark new interests. This means reading both what strengthens your current thinking and sources intentionally far afield from your current thinking. Mix it up. Expose yourself to the unexpected.

Create Google Alerts for concepts and phrases related to your direction.

Feeding the next activity, using LinkedIn and other sources to research who are the thought leaders and active participants in your evolving life direction.

 

Networking. Leverage and expand your network. If you are searching for a job, target people who are working in roles or industries that you feel drawn to.

Informational interviews are standard fare for job searches. In this Happen To Your Career podcast episode, host Scott Anthony Barlow shares a subtle alternative, the “test drive conversation.” In “test drive conversations, the intent is to test a hypothesis and gain rapid exposure to new information and build relationships at the same time.” “You’re not asking for a job or even an interview. After all, you’re not even sure if you want to work there yet. The point of these conversations is to gauge whether or not you’re interested in their role, or organization.”

 

Experimenting. Try different paths, activities, and approaches to gain clarity about what resonates with you. Treat each experiment as a learning opportunity, extracting insights about your interests, strengths, and values. Try, for example:

  • Volunteering for a cause or organization that you are drawn to.
  • Job Shadowing or Internships.
  • Enrolling in online or in-person courses.
  • Traveling to new places will expose you to different cultures, lifestyles, and perspectives.
  • Exploring new hobbies.

Failure is part of experimentation. Learn from any failures and move on to the next experiment.

 

Observing. The power of careful observation is key for wayfinding. For example, observing:

  • What activities seem most aligned with your core values (PDF download)?
  • When do you get to use your signature strengths?
  • When do you feel the most energized, or the most drained?
  • When are your emotions most likely to be positive (appreciation, happiness, joy, etc.)? What sets off negative emotions (anger, fear, sadness, etc.)?
  • What is your body telling you?
  • When does curiosity come easily? When are you more likely to feel bored?
  • What people, places, and things are you most drawn to? What captures your attention? What repeals you?

 

Reflecting. Finding your best path forward requires a quiet mind to enable hearing messages from your subconscious mind, your heart, and your gut. Using a digital or hardcopy journal is essential to both spark and capture these messages. Within this method, techniques to consider include:

  • Meditation, including guided meditations. I use Insight Timer.
  • Mindfulness practices where you focus your attention on the present moment without judgment.
  • Walks in nature without your phone.
  • Yoga.
  • Creative expression such as drawing, painting, or playing music.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation—tensing and relaxing different muscle groups in the body.
  • Sensory awareness—paying attention to all your senses; the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and sensations around you.

 

For another example of wayfinding, watch The 4 Phases of Retirement TEDx talk by Dr. Riley Moynes. Focus on Phase 3 at 6:32, where Dr. Moynes says: 

 

Phase three is a time of trail and error...It is really important to keep trying and experimenting with different activities that will make you want to get up in the morning again.

I hope that by sharing these two methods I created some new motivation for you to find and secure your life vision. Good luck.

Over To You

Do you have a life vision? If so, do you have a plan for moving closer to your vision? How did you develop that plan? Or are you using more of a wayfinding approach to define your life direction? How is that going?

If you would like some help with creating your life design, including creating a plan for achieving your vision, I would love to be your coach. See my Services webpage to learn more about what I offer.

Note: The book links are Amazon affiliate links that pay a small commission to me upon purchase, at no cost to you.

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