A lovely Irish couple stopped me on the street the other day to ask for directions. They were looking for a museum on the other side of town. The way the man was holding the limp paper map, it was clear they didn’t know where they were.
When we make plans for the future, we’re like that wandering couple. We may know where we want to go, but we need to find out where we are on the map to set out in the right direction.
Even if you aren’t trying to make plans, sometimes life just feels crazy and out of control. We don’t know where to start. We get overwhelmed with everything we have to do, and picking up somewhere feels like we’ll drop something else.
How to get a handle on where you’re at now, so you can get where you want to go
I have a method for getting a clear picture of my commitments and desires. Once I know where I am on my map, I can make realistic plans.
This method has helped me see my situation clearly when I’ve been overwhelmed. What you’ll have at the end of this process is a journal entry that shows you where you stand.
1) Do a Brain Dump
First off, you need to gather up and write down everything that is bothering you, like:
- Friction points in your life that you want to fix,
- Tasks you need to do for yourself and for other people, and
- Big ideas you’ve had floating around that you want to do someday but have never written down.
Write down everything on paper or on your computer until it’s all out.
2) List Your Roles and Responsibilities
What roles do you have in your personal and work life? Then for each one, also write down what responsibilities you have in that role. For example, if you are a parent, you have child-rearing responsibilities. If you are a manager at work, you have responsibilities to your manager and to your employees.
3) List your Existing Commitments
What projects are in flight? What regular recurring commitments have you made to yourself and others? E.g. a monthly book club or working out three times a week.
Write them all down, and it doesn’t matter in what order.
4) Use Your Personal Mission and Vision Statements as a Filter
Next, read through your vision and mission documents. If you haven’t written these yet, don’t panic, just skip to the next step. You can come back and write them later.
Now look at everything you’ve written in this session.
- Is there anything you can cross out because it doesn’t fit with your mission and vision?
- Do you have any projects in progress that move you toward your vision?
- Are you doing activities that are contrary to your mission?
5) Organize Your Ideas
Now is the time to collect related ideas together in one place. First, anything you crossed out in the previous step, move to an area of your document called “Not to Do.”
Later, when you get tempted to do those activities, look at your “Not to Do” List to remember how they waste your time.
You can further organize your ideas by rewriting and shuffling what you’ve written into logical groupings.
If you’re more visual, use a mindmap. I like to do this on a legal pad turned sideways. There are software and online options for mindmapping, too.
Whew! With me so far? Great job, take a little break.
6) Look Over Your Document
Finally, review what you’ve written about all your commitments and concerns. If you don’t feel calmer at this point, you still have more commitments than is healthy for you. See if you can remove, delay or delegate any other items.
Wrap It Up
From here, we can see everything laid out in one place. We can know where we are on our map. The way forward usually becomes clear on its own.
The longer I go without doing a full review of my situation, the more chaotic my life feels. When I do a brain dump and mindmap it, a clear picture emerges.
After I’m done with this process, I feel calmer. I’m ready to plan my quarter, month or week.
Has journaling out everything on your mind helped you get a handle on your crazy life? Share your tips in the comments!