Would you do it differently? – how to plan your life

This week I got asked by my cousin “if you could do it all over again, would you do it differently?”. That made me think back. Am I happy where I am right now in my life? Could I be more successful if I had done things differently?

To answer these questions we need to zoom out a little bit: I’m in my 40s now. I’ve reached a point in my career where spectators would attest to me that I am successful. But still, I’m not completely satisfied with what I’ve accomplished.

So what was my answer to my cousin’s question? Goals! I wish I had set goals earlier in my life. Sure. I’ve always had things I was trying to accomplish. What I would do differently is one simple thing: Write it down. When musing about how life should turn out we do it in our heads and may have a clear view of what it should look like. But the second we hit a speedbump on our set way to that vision our brain does something really odd. The goal shifts and changes. Don’t get me wrong. Reevaluating our goals is an exercise we should do now and then. But it should be intentional. Changing the goal because it’s too much trouble getting out of bed early is never a good idea.

So, write it down. This could be a text, a bullet point list. You can draw a nice picture of what your life should look like in 5 Years. Whatever feels right for you. The important part is that you can look at it when you struggle to remind yourself why you are doing all of this.

You can go even further with a few technics that Ali Abdaal presents in a video. For example the Odyssee Plan. Write down (in much detail) what a day in your life would look like in those scenarios:

  • What would your life look like in 5 years if you continue down the path you’re currently on?
  • What would it look like when you take a totally different route because your current path get’s blocked by something?
  • What would your life look like if money and what people think would’t matter at all?

Doing the Right Thing

I always confuse the both since they sound so similar: Being effective and being efficient. In casual conversations, both get used seemingly analogous without thinking twice about it. Even a thesaurus lists both as synonyms.

But we are missing an opportunity here. Let’s first get the semantics sorted:

Effectivness is doing the things that get you closer to your goals. Efficiency is performing a given task (whether important or not) in the most economical manner possible. Being efficient without regard to effectiveness is the default mode of the universe.

Timothy Ferriss in The 4-Hour Work Week

They seem very dissimilar now, don’t they?
What it all comes down to is that we, as obedient worker bees get ourselves busy so we drive our goals forward. We are very efficient. To a point where we are so busy that there is no time left to stop once in a while and evaluate if we’re doing the right thing ( being effective).

This seems such a good way to slow down progress that even the CIA used it in a manual on how to sabotage corporations and production:

From now on think about it like this: What you do is way more important than how you do it. Don’t get me wrong. Doing your tasks efficient is still important but dwarfs in comparison to doing the right thing.

The Power of the Might-Do List

I’m lazy. That’s not me bathing in self-pity, that’s simply a fact of life. The question I’m thinking about lately is: “Does that mean that I also have to be unproductive?” – I don’t think so and here’s why:

Most of us have done it in some shape or form: Writing down a To-Do list. You might have used a fancy app like Microsoft To-Do (formerly known as Wunderlist) or the reminder app on your phone. Some might even have used pen and paper. I’ve done all of that. I’ve done it again and again. Do I get stuff done? Yes. Some of it. Does the rate at which things get done decay over time? Every time! Let’s have a look at what’s happening.

The human brain is for having ideas – not for holding them

David Allen – Author of Getting Things Done

I’ve come across this fact by listening to Ali Abdaal. I then quickly realized that this is the reason I’ve been dumping everything that I can think of on a To-Do list. I feel liberated when I do that because I don’t have to remember the thing. It’s safe on my list. Great. Well… for some time. What happens to me every time? And apparently to most – if not all people? The List grows faster than things get done. Then the guilt roles in. “I should have accomplished more today, this week, this month!” This escalates to a point where I dread even looking at the infinitely long list of things that I didn’t do. At some point, I “declare to-do bankruptcy”. Scrub the list and start over with some other tool. In this Wired article Clive Thompson dives deep into the psychology behind all that.

So how can we not do that? One nice system to trick yourself into dealing with that comes from Ali Abdaal:

Think of it as a Might-Do List

Just by changing that perspective it, all the sudden, doesn’t seem so intimidating. Can you feel that? I still put all the things on my Might-Do list. I mark one thing that I really want (or have to) do today as my daily highlight and the rest I might do.
When I look back on my day and have done just my daily highlight. I feel good about it. Just try it for a few days. You will feel relieved. At least for me most of the time, a lot more than just that one thing gets done.
Yes, we still need some good techniques to sort the list. We will examine that some other time.

What do you think about this concept? Can you relate? Are you like me? Have you tried the might-do-list and had some success? Hit me up on Twitter or consider subscribing to my email newsletter below.