When the lenses in a telescope aren’t properly aligned, it’s not worth much. The images are distorted and blurry. When they’re properly aligned—or collimated, to use the vernacular—you get beautiful images of comets and nebulae. Everything is in crisp focus.
Even when we have checked off all the boxes, we might end the day no closer to where we want to be than we started. The best way to kill our productivity isn’t to spend the day slacking off—it’s to be so busy dealing with gravel that we don’t have time for the big rocks.
The problem is that we aren’t focused. Our day-to-day actions aren’t aligned with our goals, dreams, and deepest values. Big changes don’t happen all at once. The small actions we take (or should be taking) every day add up.
Three Levels of Planning Focus
There are three levels planning of that you need to focus on:
- What do you want to do today?
- What do you want to do this year?
- What do you want to do with your life?
At the highest level of planning is our personal mission statement. Drawing directly from our core values, it’s the highest expression of who we want to be and the life that we want to live. Everything we do is either taking us in that direction or taking us further away.
Next, we define our roles in life. Our roles are how we start living our life’s mission—they’re the hats we wear. What kind of a father do you want to be? What kind of employee? What kind of leader? How do you serve in the community? At church? At your eightieth birthday party, what will they celebrate about you?
One of the essential roles we have, which is too often overlooked and neglected, is taking care of ourselves and keeping our saw sharp. If we aren’t at our best, we can’t give our best to anyone else.
In each role, we set goals. Goals are major achievements and milestones on the journey from where we started to where we’re going. They take work. They require sacrifice. We need to celebrate them before moving on to the next goal.
Finally, goals break down into next actions. Ideally, everything we do is something that takes us closer to a goal. If we spend our time changing our life, guess what? We change our life.
There will always be gravel we need to sort. Buying groceries and paying bills may not be that exciting, but see how quickly you start spending time in Quadrant 1 if you ignore them.
Bringing the Full Stack into Focus
Planning happens from the top down. What we want to do with our life determines what we want to do this year. What we want to do this year determines what we do week-to-week and day-to-day.
Most planners and task management apps will let you track what you’re doing today. If they’re worth their salt, they’ll also track projects (a group of tasks that contribute to a larger outcome). And that’s where most of them stop.
For example, I use OmniFocus to track tasks, projects, and the next actions for the goals I’m actively working on. I need to track more than just the next actions to be successful with goals, though. So I use Evernote to capture the full SMARTER criteria for the goal—why I want to do it, when I’m going to do it, and how I’m going to get there. Locking this down is what transforms a wish into a goal.
How do you transform a goal into reality? It takes focus.
If you don’t already have one, work on crafting a personal mission statement. The more specific you can be, the better. If you have just a general direction you’re heading in, you’re off to a better start than a lot of people.
Have half a dozen goals in play at all times. Make them meaningful—they should be pulling you towards the life you want to live, even if you’re a little scared of the change actually happening. (It’s funny the way we do that.)
Every day, schedule time to work on one of your goals. It doesn’t have to be anything big. (You’ll feel overwhelmed if you try to make monumental progress on every goal every day.) But do something. Anything to keep moving the chains.
When your daily actions line up with your goals and your dreams and your vision for the future, something changes inside of you. Instead of wasting energy digging out from under gravel, you start making real, meaningful progress in life. Your big rocks get scheduled and get done. Nothing brings the future into clearer focus than making it happen.