How to take control of your life

At some point in your life you will feel lost or adrift. That is nothing to worry about. With some help and essential tools you will take control of your life once again. Everyone benefits from a ‘map’ which directs them back in the right direction.

You might not suspect it, but productivity can help you in how to take control of your life. In short, by being productive you can steer your life in such a direction as you see fit.

How to take control of your life: where to start

It seems extremely daunting to take control of your life. There seem to be so much external influences that impact your life. However herein lies the key. Emphasize control on all the parts that you can control and learn how to let go of the rest. This is hard, very hard. But the results will be beyond your imagination.

First, let’s start by setting up goals. Do you have any goals? Good, that gives you a head start. For those that don’t have clearly defined goals here follow some tips to setting goals.

Goals in life

David Allen, the inventor of Getting Things Done, describes his horizons of focus by using an analogy of an airplane, flying at different levels of altitude. For clarification I shall also use these levels of altitude. The lowest level describes day to day next actions, while the highest level describes our purpose and core values. These are the different levels of altitude:

  • 50,000 Feet – Purpose and Core Values
  • 40,000 Feet – Vision (3-5 year goals)
  • 30,000 Feet – Goals and Objectives (1-2 year goals)
  • 20,000 Feet – Areas of Responsibility
  • 10,000 Feet – Projects
  • 0 Feet/Runway – Next Actions

0ft – Runway

All the way all the bottom of the horizons is the runway level. This level holds the physical next action steps, for which the Getting Things Done philosophy is renowned. At this level you are focussed on getting action steps done and crossed off your list. This helps you moving forward to the 10,000 feet projects.

10,000ft – Projects

Projects are defined as any outcome that require more than one action step to complete. At this level projects will take less than a year to complete and will serve one of your roles at the 20,000ft level as well as feed into your 30,000 feet goals and objectives. Projects are what will make up most of your 0 feet next actions. Projects can both be personal as work related.

20,00 Feet – Areas of Responsibilities

This level of altitude represents your various life roles and responsibilities, such as being a father, wife, husband, student, manager etc. At this level you might want to think about your roles and responsibilities and what 10,000ft projects you should focus on in order to serve these roles.

30,000ft – Goals and Objectives (1-2 years)

At 30,000ft your goals have a more tactical nature, these are your 1 to 2 year goals. You will want to have measurable and specific goals that you can work towards. So when creating goals for yourself make them measurable, so that you know exactly what you are going to accomplish in 1 to 2 years and so that you can measure your progress and keep yourself accountable for achieving those goals. At this level your goals are mostly going to be comprised of your 10,000ft projects.

40,000ft – Vision (3-5 years)

Where would you like to be in the various aspects of your life in 3 to 5 years? Where do you want to be financially? Where will you live? How will your career look? What about your family life? These are the long-term goals. So you don’t need to plan them out exactly. What is required is a powerful vision of how your life will look over 3 to 5 years. Close your eyes and envision the future.

50,000ft – Purpose and core values

This level is rather abstract. This is the highest horizon of focus and this is the level from which all of your visions, medium and short term goals, projects and even your next actions spawn from. This level requires a lot of introspective work, regarding who you are, what drives you and what your purpose in life is. Practically, you might want to craft a personal mission statement and five of your core values that drive your actions. Also ask yourself “What kind of legacy do I want to leave behind once I am gone? Is this the lifestyle I want? And is this the job I want?”

How the horizons and control of your life come together

This might all seem a bit vague as of now. But once you have a better view of your values and goals in life you have something to work towards to. When you can create some more clarity on what you want in life this can help you enormous in working towards goals.

How to take control of your life

Much of the time management methods used for business are just as good for personal usage. Think about setting priorities, working on things with undivided attention, living in the now, gaining focus and reducing stress. Here follow some global tips on how to take control of your life:

Setting priorities

Once you have defined long-term goals you can start defining short-term goals that work towards the long-term goals. Setting priorities is just as important for your personal life as it is in the office. Setting priorities also means saying no to some things, things that you don’t want or that don’t add up to your goals. By setting priorities and working on your goals you will gain more control over your life. Work on what you think is important, what helps you complete your goals. And eliminate the things that don’t help you complete your short-term or long-term goals.

Do the things you like

Try to do the things you like and eliminate or delegate the things you don’t like. This can be done in the office as well as home. Freelancers can help a lot with the things at work you don’t like to do, or even easier, ask a colleague to help with something. This gives you more time to do the things you like and the things where you are good at (overall, the things you like are the things you are good at). Also, by focussing on these things you will get better results and you will achieve more. Because you are good at them you can finish them faster than anyone else.

Don’t overcommit

Most people, I am no exception, are used to saying “yes” to everything. We are taught that taking each and every opportunity creates new opportunities. And frankly, that might be true. However, that doesn’t mean we should say yes to everything. Sometimes it is best to focus on the things you truly want to commit to: focussing on your family or social life, working towards a promotion or spending more time writing a book. Learn how to say no and commit to only the things you find important.

Clear your head, externalise your tasks, to-do’s and ideas

Probably one of the best tips on how to gain control of your life is clearing your head. This can be done by externalizing all of the ideas, tasks and to-do’s that are in your head. Get them onto paper and sort through the different items. Are there things you can throw away? Then do so. In the end only the actionable to-do’s, tasks and ideas will remain. This list can be put into a Master To-Do list (I prefer a digital version, as that can be easier managed). Once your head is clear you will see how much relieve that will bring you.

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