How to control life when life is controlling you — step 1

These fading tulips remind me of how I felt - a little bit battered and out of control...

These fading tulips remind me of how I felt - a little bit battered and out of control...

Recognising that I was slave to my life

Those who run their own business will know that you have to sell, smile at networking events (even when you don't want to), do the marketing, answer the phone, respond to emails, manage the business, manage people, manage projects, do the books, do the admin stuff, not miss meetings, not be late, remember to eat... Oh, and actually do some work and be really good at it. And that's just life at work...

Some people have a thing called life outside of work. For people like me (back then) that included property refurbishment, living in a 'Kibbutz' (leaving that for another blog), a weighty amount of housework and home admin (for the 'Kibbutz'), caring for my Grandma and teenage niece, 'cleaning up' volcanic aftermaths from the activities and choices of less balanced siblings (to put it nicely), counselling friends and family (I am labelled as a good listener), walking our oh so needy black lab, being a wife, daughter, sister, sister-in-law, daughter-in-law, friend...

Looking back I can see I was well and truly in 'the cult of busy' (superb article,  by Dina Kaplan). I wasn't unhappy as such. My life then and now was pretty full of laughter and love (the things that really matter).

But I was dissatisfied. Drained. A little too angry. Definitely frustrated. Running on empty. Becoming podgy. Experiencing physical pain (locked up neck and shoulder). I certainly wasn’t being effective, I wasn’t spending my precious time on the right things and I wasn’t bringing in the income levels I so desired.

My life design project

To this day I don't know where the design your life principle came from. I most probably read part of a book (because I certainly didn't have time to read a whole book back then) or an article that inspired me. I noticed I was using the term 'life design project' a lot so I Googled it just in case I was unknowingly referencing something I'd read. I found The Life Design Project by Rob but although it looks interesting, it's not what got me started on this journey. If what I am about to share sounds familiar to you please put me out my misery and tell me where this came from. Maybe I dreamed it. Maybe God or an angel spoke to me.  

I asked myself, ‘What life do you want’? I knew I couldn’t magically transform my life into something completely unrecognisable overnight so I asked, ‘What kind of life would be acceptable right now?’

I considered the things I really wanted to do (but never had time for), the income I wanted, the work I wanted to do, the changes I desperately needed to make... And then I worked backwards. Then I tested things. Then I refined things. Then I tested things. Then I refined things... Get it? We all know life and time does not stand still. Things change.

What is acceptable to me right now is different to what was acceptable to me back then. So I am constantly refining my life design.

My life changing Google Calendar

Designing the life you want will be very personal to you. Here are some examples from my constantly evolving life design project. 

Designing an acceptable work life

  • To have x income at £x an hour, I need to deliver x hours of work
  • To deliver x hours of work I need to generate x leads (based on a conversion rate of x)
  • To generate x leads I need to do x marketing activities
  • To convert x leads I need to spend x time on sales activities
  • To stay on top of things I need x time on admin and book keeping

Designing my future work life (this allows me to think a little more long term)

  • To grow my business I need to spend more time doing x and working on it (not in it)
  • To achieve x I need to change x
  • To develop the residual income and multiple income streams I aspire for I need to do x

Designing my life outside of work

This revolved around a person I had gotten good at ignoring. Me. Yes, me. I was important! Things that are important to me right now are:

  • My husband (Liam), family and friends (my very small but very trusted circle)
  • Health and wellness
  • Spiritual and personal development
  • Attending to my writing itch

Once I had a clear idea for the vision I had for my life I simply created a Google Calendar!

There are only so many hours in a day. So I plotted in how much time I needed to spend on everything in order to get the results I really wanted (defined above).

Click to enlarge

Lessons from my life design project calendar

  • It's a framework that serves me, otherwise it would be too rigid for real life. Use this as a guideline.  

  • These are the current priorities in my life. There are things not in this calendar that need to be there. There are things in this calendar which I should be spending more time on. Realistically, some things will always need to give and you will have to choose how you spend your precious and limited time.

  • It's colour coded so I can easily see what I should be doing — when I go off track repeatedly it's for two reasons.

    • Something has changed and my calendar needs refining (as long as the changes I need to make respect my overall life design project) 

    • I need to be more disciplined and do the important things that will get me to the life I want

      Change and discipline will impact you too and the more effective you are at taming these beasts the better you'll be at achieving the life you want.

  • There's a cushion because unexpected things happen most days — they don't always happen at 5pm but there is an hour in my day for things you can't plan for. This came out of a refining process. I suddenly realised the reason I was repeatedly going off track was because there was no room for important incoming phone calls that I couldn't reschedule, unannounced visits, traffic and other daily curve balls like that. Make space for the unexpected and let it be. 

  • I plan for 3-4 meetings a week — any more and I can't fit other important things in. My meetings fall into delivery blocks (like project meetings with clients), sales blocks (like meeting potential clients) or marketing blocks (like networking). Work out the things you have to contain, the things that could take over your life and leave you no time for other important things. 

  • My calendar includes time for sleep, exercise, spiritual and personal development — things that are necessary for a healthy, balanced and growing me. These were things I just wasn't doing at all prior to my life design project (apart from some, but not enough sleep). There are some things that never seem important enough to fit in and will keep slipping and slipping. Usually, they are the most crucial ingredients to your life design project.

  • There's nothing in my calendar after 7pm (except on a gym night) because that's when Liam gets home and he's on my important list. Realistically, sometimes evening events crop up and that's ok — remember this is a guideline. Make time for people that matter and decide when your day ends, otherwise, it won't.

  • There's nothing on the weekend calendar except gym and writing. This is a massive change for me! It's to remind me that the weekend is for important people, rest and other things you can't do in the week. In my case that means doing things that matter, but at a more leisurely pace — so spending an hour on the business (development work as opposed to everyday delivery work) our house project (though now we do that less manically) or working in the garden — these are acceptable weekend activities (according to my life design). Equally important are things like having a lie in, leisurely weekend breakfasts and being spontaneous. Writing is on my weekend plan because although I have an itch, I'm still a little scared of it so I tend to procrastinate. Writing down your intentions and making them visible makes them front of mind and more likely to happen. The weekend is special — make it so.

  • I have a separate daily planner spreadsheet (step 2 in my life design project — coming soon in another blog) because I found that plotting my daily activities within the colour coded blocks got too visually complicated to make any sense of. But I do plot my 'going out' events (yellow) which override my basic plan (because times have to suit other people too). I also plot items of interest (red) so I can plan them in if I can or should. By showing how these events fit or 'clash' with what I should be doing helps me decide if the events are worth it and plan if I need to change my schedule with a workaround. For example:

    • The Ison meeting uses up some of my allotted sales time for the week

    • It's ok to skip gym for one Wednesday

    • The networking event overrides my lunch and reading break and uses up some of my allotted marketing time, so I may have to workaround this and do an hour or two of delivery work on Friday (which is normally my marketing day).

      Achieve your plan through workarounds, being flexible, realistic and focused.

I am absolutely sure many readers lives will correlate with where I was. Sadly, I know I was in the majority and not the minority. I really hope you can take some inspiration from my story of constant life design refinement. It is far from perfect. But I am significantly more contented, on purpose and slowly but visibly (to me) achieving the life I want.

I encourage you to get in the driving seat of your life.

 Do share your story along the way (comment below and find me on Twitter, @sara_drawwater).