STRUCTURE || The Life Plan


Chapter - 4

 STRUCTURE


The time which we have at our disposal every day is elastic; the passions that we feel expand it, those that we inspire contract it, and habit fills up what remains.


It is exciting to start this part of the journey and I suggest that you keep revisiting this chapter. This is the building part, the part that creates the structure to support the purpose, values and definition of success you have set so that you can make your vision a reality, keep stretching yourself and realise your hopes. This is where the accomplishments start to kick in and where the rewards begin to pile up.


Structure also gives you some easy levers to pull each month to adjust your path as needed. The circumstances of our lives are constantly evolving and our thoughts, feelings and behaviours sometimes need to shift accordingly. Structure should always guide you, but never govern you. It should help you find the rhythm of the life you want to be living.


You’re probably already pretty good at creating structures for your life, but I’ll hazard a guess that while your annual holiday plans are analysed, reviewed and shared in big, bold letters on your calendar, the same attention to structure isn’t present in the rest of your life. In fact, in my experience most of us spend more time planning our holidays than we do our health, finances, careers or families. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with looking forward to a holiday, but if it becomes all we really have to live for each year, there’s a problem!

Valuing time

It’s important to value time and to understand what it is doing for you – not just when you’re taking a break, but in every moment. The way you structure your activities will either give you a sense of energy, achievement, success and fulfilment, or will make you feel stressed, out of control and exhausted.


Time is a gift and it is our responsibility to ‘own and drive’ it. This means taking responsibility for what we want to feel (unhurried, calm and relaxed, or rushed, anxious and stressed?) and understanding the consequences of each of our activities.


Our perception of time changes according to our circumstances. Any woman in the throes of labour will tell you that 1 minute is a very long time. Consider how a 15-minute block of time feels when you’re in the following situations:

  •    On a freeway in bumper-to-bumper traffic, with no music and no passengers.
  •    Running late for an appointment or meeting.
  •    In a slow-moving queue at the bank, post office or supermarket.
  •    Waiting for someone who is running late for an appointment with you.
  •    Sipping cocktails on a relaxing holiday.
  •    Deeply immersed in reading a book, watching a film or doing your favourite hobby.

DO YOU NEED MORE TIME?

Are you experiencing a ‘time famine’ – the feeling that you’ll never have enough time, no matter how fast you’re running? Does this sound familiar to you?


Leslie Perlow of Harvard Business School in the US is a specialist in organisational behaviour. Her research indicates that feeling as though we’re experiencing a time famine has very real consequences, from increased stress to diminished satisfaction with our lives. But unfortunately, we’re often too busy taking action to really think through the importance of what we’re doing.


The good news is that we can also create a situation where we feel ‘time affluent’, with all the time we need entirely within our reach. All it takes is the willingness to structure our time around doing the things that really matter and letting go of the idea that our level of busyness somehow defines our level of importance.


Let’s change our thinking and embrace planning to focus on the activities that truly make a difference, so we can create the kind of freedom we long for in our lives.

Planning ahead

Now you have your hopes mapped out, what will the month ahead look like? Start your planning by writing down a list of what you need to do. You might like to use colour pens, coloured paper or a new diary or smartphone app – be creative and make it special so that the very idea of planning feels more exciting and enjoyable. As the month progresses and you make your way through the list, tick things off or cross them out because this gives your brain a lovely hit of dopamine, one of the feelgood chemicals our bodies produce that will help you increasingly look forward to making plans and carrying them out.

QUICK TIPS TO GET STARTED

  •    Invest in a diary or smartphone app that gives you an annual, monthly and weekly view of your priorities.
  •    Make sure your diary or app is something you love and will be excited about using.
  •    Play around with the diary or app to find the way it works best for you.
  •    Make this diary or app your touchstone throughout the day to guide what you do.
  •    Give yourself the pleasure of ticking things off!
  • *Structure is a powerful and highly underrated tool that will fundamentally change your life for the better.

Want to go with the flow?

The world’s most effective leaders understand that forward planning is essential for success. By loosely planning each year in advance, month by month, you’ll be well prepared for the busy times, but also able to factor in plenty of fun.


An annual calendar puts you in charge of how you use your time. It gives you the perspective and focus you need to move from the passenger seat to the driver’s side of life. It’s the next step in bringing your purpose, vision and hope map to life.

FIVE STEPS TO PLAN YOUR YEAR

Start with the obvious and jot down birthdays, holidays and other regular significant events that are part of the rhythm of your life. Don’t get bogged down in small details yet – focus on the big-ticket occasions that shape your year.

 

1 Add your hopes
Looking at your hope map, are there key milestones, events or opportunities you want to note? For example, the date of the marathon you want to run, a conference you want to attend or the go-live date of a major project.

2 Bust the energy drainers
Add any known energy drainers that will have to be taken care of, so you’re prepared to tackle these head-on. For example, when will you do your annual tax return, service the car, spring-clean your living space?

3 Prioritise some fun
Plan some pick-me-ups in your calendar to keep your motivation and energy levels up. For example, have you booked an annual holiday, is there a concert you want to see, would you value a spa day with a friend?

4 Breathe
Take a deep breath and relax, knowing this list is there to guide you, not govern you, as you focus on the things you most want to complete.

Of course, if your annual calendar looks overwhelming at this point, now is a good time to see what you can delegate, what you can delay until next year or what you can simply delete. Be sure that when you look at the big picture of what will unfold this year, it is taking you towards the kind of success you want.


  • *Think of this as your road map for life. You’re eliminating the dead-ends and wrong turns, and taking the fastest, most direct route to your destination.


  • Do you know what this month will bring?

    Personal fulfilment depends on how you value each and every moment. Now that you have planned your year, as each month approaches it’s time to get more specific about what you want to achieve, the time you need to unwind and the golden moments you want to create. To create your monthly plan, first write down the key activities on your annual planner that occur in the coming month. Now, add:

    •    Personal priorities
      Book in personal time in the same way you would schedule a meeting. For example, my family’s first hour at home each evening is our most important meeting of the day. Do you need to plan time with your family, your partner or your friends?

    •    Health and wellbeing
      Exercise, food, fun and time out are vital and should be shaped around your work.

    •    Hopes
      What do you need to focus on doing this month so that you can move forward on your path?

    •    Energy drainers
      What are the drainers you need to take care of this month? Haircuts, gardening, paying the bills?

    •    Mental breathing space
      Make time for rest and recovery, when you can just hang out and be. I love my couch nights!

    When you’ve finished drawing up your plan for the month, step back and take a look at the big picture once again. Is this the kind of month you want to be living? Is it moving you towards your purpose, vision and hopes? Are you looking forward to the month unfolding? If the answer is ‘no’ to any of these, put yourself in the driver’s seat and find a way to change the direction, shift gears or make the journey more enjoyable. This is your life; you need to make conscious choices about the way you live to achieve the outcomes you most desire.

    Seeing a month mapped out in advance is liberating and keeps us focused and inspired. Here is an example of a template my clients use to help them plan each month.

  • Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life.

Can you fit everything in?

Looking at your monthly plan, you might be wondering how you’ll fit everything in. After all, there are only 24 hours in a day and yet there’s so much living to be done.


The good news, as we discovered earlier, is that studies have found most of us spend almost half our day in a haze of habits we may not even be fully aware of. I’m not suggesting we try to claw back all that time, but what if we could be more mindful about how our habits are playing out and use the simple habit loop we discovered earlier of cue, routine and reward to prioritise some of the changes we want most?

CREATING A WEEKLY HABIT MAP

 

1 The best place to start is by creating a map of your week and noting down the key success habits you already have. For example, do you already have an exercise routine, do you have a regular meditation time, do you spend time with your family each evening, and so on? What are the habits that already exist in your week to bring your purpose, values, vision and hopes to life? And when do they happen? Write these on your weekly map.

2 Are there other habits you’d like to add to make your most desired behaviours a sure thing? These don’t have to be big investments of energy or time; you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish in as little as 10 minutes. For example, if one of your hopes is to spend more time catching up with friends, a 10-minute habit of calling or writing to someone first thing each night after dinner can have you touching base with up to thirty people each month. Or, if one of your hopes is to learn more about a new topic, a 10-minute habit of reading a book or article each morning before you turn on your computer at work can have you quickly gaining more knowledge. What are the small habits you’d like to create in your week to start prioritising the changes you want to see in your life? When will these habits take place and how can you get started? How will you celebrate what you’ve done so that you’ll want to do it again tomorrow? Add these to your weekly map.

3 Pay particular attention to your morning and evening routines – you want to start the day with power and finish with a good night’s sleep.

4 Make weekly diary planning a habit so you can keep moving towards the outcomes you want. At each weekly update, tick off the things you’ve achieved – this gives you a sense of accomplishment and boosts your confidence.

Will these habits stick? Are they realistic? Do they fit in with your work hours and your family commitments? Will you still have time for rest and recovery?


Don’t set yourself up for failure. Start with small changes, just one at a time, and when a habit begins to stick, add the next one. And then the next one. And then the next one, until you feel that your weeks are truly being spent in the ways you find most rewarding.


  • *It is important to value time and to understand what it is doing for you – not just when you are taking a break, but at each and every moment.

Will you make today count?

One of the commitments I urge all my clients to make is to keep a daily diary. This is the moment when all the annual, monthly and weekly habit plans come together into one clear set of daily actions.


Not having a diary is an act of self-sabotage – it’s like charging expenses on your credit card all month, not keeping tabs on your spending, never asking for receipts, and then complaining about how high your credit card bill is.


While many people have moved to electronic diaries in recent years, I’ve found lots of my clients are switching back to paper options. The old saying ‘don’t think it, ink it’ seems to be more important than ever. Personally, I don’t think it matters which approach you use as long as you are driving it, it is working for you and you are getting the results and sense of satisfaction you need to stay motivated.


At the start of each week, use your monthly planner and weekly habit map to complete your daily diary. Be sure to note:

  •    Significant moments and milestones
  •    Meetings for work, home or play (with time for travel if required)
  •    Times for your habits
  •    Key actions you need to take to help fulfil your hopes
  •    Energy drainers you need to take care of

Be generous in your allocation of time so you’re not running from one activity to the next and driving yourself crazy.


Remember the 80:20 rule. Life moves constantly; a reasonable balance to aim for is knowing that you can probably control 80 per cent of your time, while 20 per cent of the time you’ll be thrown a curve ball. Leave space for the curve balls so they don’t send you into chaos and overwhelm you.

FIVE QUESTIONS TO GUIDE YOUR DIARY PLANNING

 

1 Will I feel that this was a day I lived well?

2 Will this move me towards my purpose, vision, values and hopes?

3 Have I made quality time for the people who are most important to me?

4 What are the rewards and consequences?

5 Have I structured calm and balance into my life by using my success toolkit?

  •  *Depth and fulfilment in life depend on how you value each and every moment.
  •  *Not having a diary is an act of self-sabotage.

Where will you start?

My favourite book is Eat That Frog! by Brian Tracy. I’ve found it to be extremely practical when it comes to getting things done. The concept is that the frog is the biggest and most important task of the day, the one you usually procrastinate on. So to start the day, you discipline yourself to ‘eat the frog’ and do this task immediately, completing it before moving on to anything else. ‘Eat the frog’ is my morning motto and is programmed into my phone.


Self-managing means setting yourself a structure to carry out tasks, such as ‘eat the frog’. People often find it easy to plan, but they have to carry it through by executing the new habits they need to put in place and finishing what they set out to do. Brian Tracy says there are three ‘D’s to address when forming new habits: decision, discipline and determination. When I’m trying to create new habits to assist with my self-managing, I find it helps to visualise myself as the person I intend to be and that the job is done.


As you can imagine, I have a list a mile long of dreams, ideas, things to do, and a business and family to run. Part of my self-managing is realising that there needs to be an underlying aim of total wellbeing for myself. I find that if I am fit, healthy and well, and have had enough sleep and nutritious food, I can ensure my family, my business and everybody else are getting the best from me.


  • *I build my self-motivation through confidence, positive thinking, focus and a motivating environment.

  • Who is on your team?

    Wanting to do something and actually doing it can be two very different things. The distinction between people who never reach their goals and those who achieve one goal after another often comes down to the ability to self-motivate. Motivation is your internal drive to achieve, produce, develop, evolve and keep moving towards your goals.

    Motivation is linked to your level of initiative in setting challenging goals for yourself, and your belief that you have the skills and abilities required to achieve these goals. You can boost your motivation in the following ways:

     

    1 Confidence
    This makes you resilient and driven, viewing difficult goals as challenging rather than impossible. You’re more likely to bounce back from setbacks and believe in your ability to succeed.

    2 Realistic optimism This is particularly important when things aren’t going as planned or unexpected setbacks arise. Don’t think ‘I knew I couldn’t do it,’ but ‘This one failure isn’t going to stop me.’

    3 Focus Setting clear, strong goals helps you stay focused, as does recognising your achievements.

    4 Support Surround yourself with people who remind you of your goals and encourage your progress, and are willing to celebrate your success. Seek out resources that will support you.

    YOUR DREAM TEAM

    Identifying your dream team and keeping these people around you is an important part of your toolkit and structure for success. Your dream team may include:

    •    Role models
    •    Mentors
    •    Friends
    •    Coaches
    •    Personal trainers
    •    Family
    •    Colleagues
    •    Your own mastermind group of like-minded people
    •    An exercise buddy

    You can also find motivation in different tools, such as:

    •    Books and audiobooks
    •    Magazines
    •    Music
    •    Podcasts
    •    Public talks (such as TED talks)
    •    Gratitude journals

    Plan your dream team into your life. For example, whenever I go for a walk on my own I listen to an inspirational audiobook. I set up a monthly coffee date with my mastermind group, see my life coach once a month, and go walking with my fitness buddy once a week. Every night I alternate between writing a gratitude journal entry and listening to a meditation in bed.


Are you committed enough?

When you are truly committed to your goals, you achieve them. When you don’t achieve them, the problem is that your level of commitment isn’t high enough. In every moment of your life you are committed to something – you may be lying on the couch watching television, thinking you’re not committed to anything, but lying on the couch and watching television is exactly what you are committed to doing.


Our commitment to something can be influenced by an even stronger underlying commitment. These can have both a positive and negative face. For example, being independent can be a wonderful thing, but it can also be a hindrance in some aspects of your life. Working out an optimal balance is about identifying what you are truly committed to. Following through on commitments is very powerful, as it builds your confidence and builds trust with those around you.


Think of each task on your ‘to do’ list or in your diary and consider where it fits on your scale of commitment. Has it been sitting there for months, waiting for you to ‘find the time’? Which of these levels of commitment are you operating at?

1 Hmm . . .

2 I’ll think about it.

3 I’ll do it (unless something comes up).

4 I’ll do it (unless something important comes up).

5 I’ll drag myself there bloodied and broken if I have to.

For example, if Martin says, ‘I’ll try to quit smoking this weekend,’ he really means that he is not ready to commit to quitting and hasn’t fully explored the commitments that smoking fulfils. By using the word ‘try’ he can avoid quitting and exploring what his commitment to smoking actually means. This is a world away from, ‘I will stop smoking on Saturday.’


If you’re lacking the commitment to follow through on your plans, try this to find the real reasons you’re getting stuck:

  •    Write down a goal or desire you’ve been unable to attain. For example: ‘Go to the gym twice a week.’
  •    Make a list of the actions you have taken (or not taken) that are in direct opposition to this goal. For example: ‘Worked longer hours, so told myself I didn’t have time; stopped working out with my gym buddy and lost that accountability; eventually cancelled gym membership as I wasn’t using it.’
  •    Imagine that these choices, which have taken you away from your desired goal, are an expression of a deeper commitment. Consider: ‘What commitment are these choices in direct alignment with?’ The underlying commitment is: ‘My gym membership is expensive and I’m not getting value, so I’ll cancel it and save money.’
  •    Now that you know the real reason why this underlying commitment has held you back, reset your goal and truly commit to it. For example, join a gym that offers better value and classes you really like, find cheaper or free ways to exercise such as cycling to work, walking in the park or doing yoga DVDs at home, or find a friend to work out with and re-establish motivation and accountability.
  • Every time you just ‘try’, instead of truly committing to achieving a set task, you rob yourself of time and energy (both physical and emotional).

Will you take responsibility?

When you hear the word ‘responsibility’, do you associate it with a burden to carry or the opportunity to feel free?

When things don’t go to plan, we often look for someone to blame, turning ourselves into victims who are resentful and powerless. When you choose to blame, you choose to burden.

But when we take responsibility for the way that our own thoughts, feelings and behaviours have contributed to a situation, it puts us back in the driver’s seat and gives us the power and freedom to respond differently. If you accept the saying, ‘If it’s to be, it’s up to me!’, there’s very little you can’t achieve.

  •    Blame burdens us with disempowerment and loss of freedom.
  •    Responsibility frees us with power and choices.

Taking responsibility simply requires us to ask: ‘What have I done to cause or affect this? What can I do now to improve the situation?’

Consider Lesley, a finance broker who, at the age of fifty-five, lost money in share investments. He was angry. He felt cheated. A large proportion of his life savings was gone and he blamed his financial advisor for giving him bad advice. He was becoming very bitter over the whole ordeal, which was holding him back from setting new financial goals for his retirement. But he’d agreed to make the investment, which was a gamble, and he needed to take responsibility for his choices.

As well as being disempowering, to blame is to dwell and hence a waste of time. And blaming yourself is just as damaging as blaming others. Instead, try to think of it as taking responsibility for the things you are responsible for, and letting go of the rest. Once you are ready to do this, you can forgive yourself or others for mistakes and move on.

Choose to blame = Choose to burden

How can you avoid self-sabotage?

Does fear, anxiety or worry ever get the better of your plans? You know those moments, when you unexpectedly find yourself cleaning the house, hiding on the couch or distracted by 101 other things, none of which your diary suggests you’re meant to be doing right now. All of us suffer occasionally by letting our best intentions be hijacked by fear.

COMMON SELF-SABOTAGES

  •    Fear of success.
  •    Fear of failure.
  •    Beliefs such as ‘I’m not good enough’ or ‘There isn’t enough to go around’.
  •    Beliefs such as ‘I’m independent – I don’t need help’.
  •    Beliefs such as ‘I don’t deserve it’.

If your fears are holding you back from following through on your purpose, vision and hopes, it is time to recognise that these beliefs are simply stories we tell ourselves. Your brain is a sense-making machine and one of the ways it puts the pieces of your life together is by constantly creating stories about why things are happening and what might happen next. Sometimes these stories are accurate, but much of the time they’re not. When fear is putting you in life’s passenger seat, it is time to ask: ‘Is there any other explanation for what’s unfolding?’

Byron Katie, author of Loving What Is, suggests that when fear or unhappiness is holding us back, we need to do what she calls ‘The Work’. It’s a powerful tool that I’ve found gives excellent results. Take a look at her website, www.thework.com, and apply it to your fears.


  • *Own your limiting beliefs and work to reduce them.

Are you ready for the obstacles?

When you created your hope map, you discovered the importance of planning for obstacles if you want to reach your goals. Common obstacles to wellbeing and success are:

  •    Not enough time.
  •    Not enough money.
  •    Don’t like exercise.
  •    It’s too hard.
  •    The timing’s not right.
  •    I wouldn’t know where to start.
  •    I travel too much.
  •    I don’t know the right people.
  •    My family and friends would laugh.
  •    I’m no good at that.
  •    I’m too tired.
  •    If I succeed, people will expect me to keep it up.

To ensure these obstacles don’t hold you back, challenge yourself to find small changes that make the outcomes you want possible.


  • *If you are fully present with your senses, you can really live life with depth, clarity and a sense of total abundance.

SUMMARY

The foundations are set, the clutter is gone, you have simplicity in what you want out of life and you know what you need to do to get there. It is now time to compile and use the tools in this chapter to make your definition of success a reality.


Creating routine and structure in your day is the key to a calm, balanced and successful life. Structure is a powerful and highly underrated tool that will fundamentally change your life for the better and give you the kind of time affluence you’ve only dreamed of.


To achieve your goals, the things that matter most in your life need to be planned and supported: health, relationships, work, money, fun and time out.


When the right structure is in place the basics are covered, so you can be spontaneous and grab new opportunities without sacrificing your normal obligations. It gives you balance and clarity, and the space and freedom you need to live a life you love. Hold these plans lightly and be guided, but not governed, by the changes you’re creating.


Planning my diary annually, monthly, weekly and daily so that I can drive my habits, tackle difficult tasks and use technology to support me is the only way I can maintain my energy at an optimal level. Structure is how I ensure I have time for creativity and fun, for self-care and a good night’s sleep. It allows me to stay in the driver’s seat, and never return to the passenger seat.


TIPS AND TRICKS

Whether you use an online planner or a paper diary, spend a little time each day planning how the hours will unfold. A week-to-a-page diary is a perfect ‘at a glance’ representation of where you’re investing your energy, and helps you ensure you’re moving towards the purpose, vision, values and hopes you most want.

  •    Take the time to plan your year, your month and your week.
  •    Map your habits around the behaviours you most want to develop.
  •    Keep a daily diary and savour the joy of ticking things off.
  •    Ask yourself if you are committed to being You.
  •    Make sure you have a dream team of people urging you on.
  •    Ensure you’re taking responsibility for what you can do.
  •    Don’t allow your fears to hold you back.
  •    Have your obstacle plan ready and don’t use excuses as a way to avoid showing up.
  • *Remember: first we make our habits, and then our habits make us.
     Structure is the cornestone of calmness, clarity and control.






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