Sunday, April 13, 2008

JWN: Design Your Life

Design Your Life

By: Joseph W. Norman

What kind of structure is in your life? How do you spend all of those hours? Odds are you might not have a clue. Personally, I have a decent idea, but my life sure isn’t as measured as it needs to be. Why is this important? Time management is one thing, but lifestyle design is another!

I just finished reading Tim Ferriss’ book, Four Hour Work Week. In it, he discusses his concept of lifestyle design as an alternative to long haul career planning. Ferriss rests on an ideal of focusing on quality over quantity and weighing the critical few versus the trivial many. He has used this approach to automate his businesses, allowing him to travel all over the world. His story is really quite incredible. (For more information on the Four Hour Work Week, check out his website here).

For now, however, it is crucial to discuss the importance of knowing what you’re doing. What does your life look like? Is it structured to maximize your strengths, achieve your goals and dreams, and make you as effective as possible?

I am a writer and entrepreneur, so my life needs to facilitate creativity and productivity. These two things are the life blood of effective output for me. So, how do I alter the inputs and design of my input strategy to increase my outputs?

Recently, I’ve been meeting with a tremendous executive coach, Jennifer Sertl, founder and president of Agility 3R. The last time we met, she stressed the importance of getting disciplined with my writing and providing more structure to my life. Jenn, a self-proclaimed “design freak,” would give such advice. Here’s why it works:

Structure makes you MORE creative!

Jenn Sertl’s colleague, Michael Allosso, a communications specialist, actor, and executive coach attests, “Sterling preparation blended with spontaneity will help you be YOU on your best day.” Thanks to Jenn, I recently got to attend Michael’s workshop “You on Your Best Day.” He absolutely blew my mind. (For more information on Michael, check out this video of his lecture!)

People who have deadlines get things done. So, make deadlines for yourself. Build in time for creative problem solving and prepare for that time like it is a meeting with your boss. You are, in fact, the boss of your life.

NOTABLE: Projects and problem solving should have deadlines. Design both into your schedule.

Quantifiable inputs and outputs establish mission critical tasks and put you on the path of producitivity. What are your mission critical tasks? Define them and build their completion into your daily plans.

How do you manage mission critical tasks?

SINGLE TASKING. Yes, that word flies in the face of our over multi-tasked, “crackberry” oriented society. But, it is the most effective way for getting things done. Focus on the task at hand until it is complete. And, get it done early. It is best if they are completed before lunch, so you cannot use lunch as an excuse to step away.

Email is the single greatest productivity destroyer and deterrent from single tasking. Like everything else, design it into your day. Tim Ferriss recommends 11 AM and 4 PM if you are working a classic 9 to 5 work day. This allows you to focus, undisturbed, on the task at hand.

Batching. This is another key concept. When you take on little tasks every time they come up, you lose sight of your mission critical items. People often do not return to the project they were working on or article they were reading when “something comes up.”

Manage those “somethings” and design their completion into your life. Your new email response schedule is the batching concept applied. Take care of your 100 emails a day at the same time, instead of one at a time.

You may argue, “But, Joseph, my emails are crucial and time sensitive.” My response is, “Are they really?” More often than not, emergencies aren’t really emergencies after all. In addition, the pressure of batching helps you develop creative solutions to the “emergency” problem.

Some solutions include sorting your emails by key word or sender and automatically sending them to categorized folders, forwarding these emails to people you empower to handle them, or auto-responding with an email defining your email checking schedule and requesting a phone call for REAL emergencies. NOTABLE: Define emergencies in your auto-response.

People will take advantage of your time if you do not define your boundaries.

Design your day. It all boils down to this concept. Every evening, complete your written plan for what you are going to do the next day. Define your mission critical items and structure your time. Build in time for completing your mission critical tasks (best to complete before lunch), problem solving, and email reading and response. You should even structure in your quiet time; reading, reflection, relaxation, and meditation.

Know who you are, what you’re best at, and what you want to accomplish. Those three answers will help you formulate your life design. If it isn’t measured then it can’t be managed.

Take control of YOUR life!


Joseph W. Norman, resides in Geneseo, NY, and is Co-Founder and Editor in Chief of Notable and Newsworthy. He offers lectures and keynote talks on leadership, personal, and professional development and is always up for a business lunch.

Joseph can be reached at or 607.743.8569.

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