Over the past six months, in addition to writing and editing my memoir, I’ve been developing an online course. The concept is based on a life-balance framework that I first wrote about on this blog way back in 2016.
For a long time, I felt stuck in my daily routine. I wanted to cultivate a more fulfilling mix of activities in my life, but I was always putting off taking action. So, I started reading about habits and motivation. Then, I experimented with how to set new priorities and make mindful choices. A course I took from Jocelyn K. Glei called RESET also helped get my butt in gear.
The approach I came up with worked so well that I am now writing, reading, practicing yoga, and meditating regularly—all things I was struggling to do before.
I’ve decided to pause creating the live version of this course, but I still think the ideas are worth sharing. So, I’m going to post the content here in four steps, similar to how the course would have unfolded in Zoom sessions.
If you aren’t quite ready to hire a life coach but could use some tools to shape an intentional life that works for you, my approach just might help.
Start by taking a close look at how you currently spend your time—this includes activities that you do on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.
Take out a piece of paper and draw a vertical line down the middle (or do this on your laptop, on a white board, your phone, whatever makes you happy). At the top of the left column, write Automatic. At the top of the right column, write Willpower. Then, start listing activities under each category, as defined below:
Automatic – These are activities that you perform freely, with little-to-no prodding (from yourself or others). This includes activities that you find fun or rewarding, habits that have become second nature, and tasks that you perform willingly out of a sense of responsibility.
Willpower – These are activities you want or need to do, but do not perform consistently (if at all). You have to summon significant willpower to start and/or complete these tasks, so they rarely get done. This includes activities that you find boring, challenging, or alien to your regular routine.
Here’s a condensed example of my sheet from when I first started doing this:
- Watch TV
- Scroll on social media
- Caretaking for Mom
- Walk the dog
- Make meals
- Pay bills
- Texting with friends
- “Busy” work (tidying, organizing)
- Read (and finish) books
- Write and edit
- Cardio exercise
- Calls and visits with friends
- “Heavy” chores (bathrooms, floors)
Take your time and try to get down as many activities as possible. My full list had 22 items in each column! Sometimes a task seems to fall in the middle. Try your best to put it in one column or the other—you’re not being graded, so just pick a side.
Now, reflect on why items landed in either column and how you might shake things up. Ask yourself these five questions:
- Why do I perform the Automatic activities on a regular basis? This may include a variety of reasons, depending on the task. You don’t have to do this for every item, but try picking out at least five and asking why. Keep going if you’re having fun and gaining insight.
- Why are the Willpower activities so challenging for me to perform regularly? Again, varied reasons may apply, depending on the task. Start with a few items and continue as long as you like.
- Which Willpower items would I most like to incorporate into my schedule? It is highly unlikely that you’re going to suddenly start doing everything in the right column. This approach is about creating a sustainable balance—not pushing yourself to take on too much. As you move on to later steps, you may want to build habits for some of these Willpower activities so that you perform them regularly; for others, you may simply want to be more mindful that they’re on your menu.
- Are there any Automatic tasks that I can scale back or delegate to other people in order to free up time for Willpower activities? Circle those tasks. (Sadly, there is no magic way to add minutes to your day. You must make the time yourself, and the Automatic column is where you look to do so.)
- Am I resistant to the prospect of letting go of any of the Automatic tasks? If so, why?
This exercise might seem like a giant no-brainer, but I promise you that being more aware of how you spend your time is critical to moving forward. Getting it down on paper can be hugely enlightening, even to those of us who consider ourselves highly self-reflective.
Splendid work—good for you for getting started!
When you’re ready, you can move on to Step 2.