After six and a half years, I left my first professional job and accepted a part-time position. For now, I have Fridays off, and I’ll likely also have Thursdays off midway through 2015.
A woman of many passions, I’ve always lamented my lack of time. Working full time, I made more than enough money to live on, but never had the time (or more importantly, the energy) to pursue my creative endeavors to the extent I wanted. My consulting job, structured around billable hours, stressed me to the point of insomnia and anxiety. Harried, I dropped lifestyle choices that matched my ideals in favor of creative work – I had no energy to wake up early enough to bike to work (honestly, only twenty minutes earlier), I no longer experimented with new recipes and we started eating out more frequently, I quit baking, I couldn’t be bothered to go to the bulk grocer. I felt myself drifting from the life of voluntary simplicity I want, falling into a cycle of indifference.
I may be quiet, but I have never been indifferent.
What was I doing to my health in service to a life I didn’t even want?
As Chris Guillebeau says, in order to live the life we want and avoid getting lost in daily life, “we must work on our lives the way we would work on any other project.” I didn’t want to lose sight of my vision for my ideal life. I didn’t want to run out of fucks to give.
Determining My True Goal
My long-term goal for several years has been early retirement, but I realized that what I actually want is more time now. I enjoy working and don’t (at this point, anyway) want to completely pull out of the working life. Having a defined schedule enhances my personal productivity, and a reason to get out of the house is important. It was clear that my original job would never be able to phase down my hours (they replaced me with two people), so when I saw a post for a half-time job that sounded like it was written especially for me, I crunched some numbers, said, “Close enough!” and chose myself.
During this year’s personal annual review, I have the opportunity to design a life that meets my needs — financial and emotional — and satisfies my values.
My Process of Life Design
To design my ideal life, I started with defining success at the very broadest level. What do I want to get out of life? Is happiness paramount, or is legacy?
A naturally melancholy person who believes that death is final, I want to balance accomplishments with daily contentment (easier said than done). I’m a bit tetchy about goals but believe directed self improvement is worthwhile. While I need no encouragement finding new creative projects, happiness itself can be elusive, so I brainstormed what truly makes me happy (let me tell you, keeping a happiness journal was challenging).
Reaffirming my priorities came first. Chief are my creative endeavors (writing and design), my health (both physical and mental), and my personal environmental impact. My ultimate lifestyle will be sustainable, healthy, and creatively productive.
Break down goals into ever smaller chunks until they become SMART
I assigned “life hotspots“, adapted from the Agile Way, into my three overarching priorities. The life hotspots of mental health, physical health, relationships, and fun/travel fell under “healthy life”. Environmental and financial fell under “sustainable” (if I can’t afford the lifestyle, it’s not sustainable). “Writing” became its own category, replacing the suggested “work” – I wanted to set goals for my personal work, not my job.
Within each life hotspot, I developed objectives towards achieving my three priorities. Objectives are mid-range goals that generally take many tasks to complete. I like to include a ‘why’ in my objectives to remind myself of the ultimate purpose. Creating objectives that prioritized my health required me to first define healthy for myself, to establish my standards of success so I can evaluate when I’m on track.
For each objective, I listed SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely) tasks that will help me achieve them. In addition to one-time tasks that I can complete and cross off, I identified new ongoing habits I need to follow.
For example, one sustainability objective I have is minimizing the amount of waste my household produces. To accomplish that, I need to set up better recycling and composting stations throughout my house (I just added a bathroom compost) and I should track my kitchen’s food waste for a month to determine what we’re throwing away. An ongoing habit to practice is obtaining things I need used if possible (reducing the amount of raw materials needed to sustain my house), and second-guessing planned purchases to evaluate whether I actually need them.
Use productivity techniques to accomplish goals
Ever on the hunt for new productivity techniques and ideas, I’m pulling process goals from James Clear, Chuck Wendig, and The 12 Week Year, and using habits to accomplish goals from Leo Baubata and Charles Duhigg. Developing habits that match my goals will make my new lifestyle sustainable. Combining the two approaches, I’ve created a daily schedule for my “traditional” workdays, and need to do the same for my personal workdays.
My Only 2015 Creative Goal: Book by 30
I’m throwing away my long wishlist of creative goals in favor of a single goal for 2015. My thirtieth birthday falls in late October; I want to have a submittable book draft finished by my birthday.
Ten and a half months.
What am I getting myself into?
Breaking Down An overwhelming Objective into Tasks
Towards that daunting objective, I’ve roughed out some starter tasks to make the project feel more achievable (is it working yet?). I’m “starting” from a draft of 157,000 words that I’ve written over the past two years (and three NaNoWriMos).
Step one is evaluating the draft to determine structural issues that remain and identify missing as well as superfluous scenes. I just sent my current draft to my kindle, which will hopefully help me read with a fresh eye (that and letting it rest since August). Based on the problems I find, I’ll come up with a revision plan, including finding beta readers and getting them a draft with enough time to revise afterwards.
Establishing process goals, habits, and reminders
My process goal towards finishing the manuscript is writing for two Pomodoros daily. Twenty-five minute chunks seem to work well for me — I can usually make it halfway before checking the time, and it doesn’t get really painful until the last five minutes. I’m trying to make waking up and immediately writing for one Pomodoro a new daily habit. The trigger for the second, evening Pomodoro will be finishing dinner. If I’m feeling up for it, a third Pomodoro in the evening would follow.
Attending my weekly writing group is one ongoing habit, and I’ve started attending a second writing group occasionally. Fortunately, three other people in my regular writing group have picked 2015 to finish their books, so I’ll have companions in misery :D Since I joined my writing group two years ago, I’ve gotten much more serious about my work (and gotten a lot more done) — the emotional support and perceived peer pressure of fellow creatives is invaluable for tackling massive projects.
I’m the type to get distracted from creative projects, so I’ve set up reminders for myself on top of the process goals and habits: new desktops / screen savers on all my devices.
I need to evaluate the best use of my newfound time off and develop a schedule for my free Fridays. I haven’t yet decided whether I should dedicate them to relaxing (mental health), cooking (physical health), hiking (physical health), or writing (creativity). I might develop alternate schedules that combine one or two so I can choose between them depending on how I’m feeling on a given day. Scheduled work blocks are somewhat effective at work, so I might try that for my personal life too.
I also need to create a system for checking in with my priorities and tasks. I’ve been successful creating daily task lists at work, but haven’t yet incorporated them into my personal life to my satisfaction. In the past I’ve done quarterly check-ins for my personal goals, but they haven’t been as effective as I’d like. I may take up a weekly review like in the 12 Week Year.
What’s worked for you to keep your life on track?