Living the Integrated Life
‘An integrated life is one where you’re able to fit the different pieces of your life together in seamless fashion’. – James Collins
As we come to the close of 2013, it is a good time to review how we have spent our year. Have you been enjoying focus and direction in life, or do you feel exhausted running in 10 different directions?
It is easy to get lost trying to juggle life and satisfy everyone – our parents, our children, our spouses, our colleagues, our friends, societal norms and expectations…
Fortunately, the different areas of our lives are linked in one way or another. Better health increases your capacity to focus and accomplish more in a day. What happens at work affects you emotionally and mentally, which spills over to your family and relationships, which in turn affects your ability to focus at work, and the cycle goes on.
The key is to find the values, beliefs, and priorities that are central or core to you, and identify the people and activities in your life that build on one another to hold and align the seemingly-fragmented pieces.
Minor adjustments that make massive differences
Let’s meet Joyce. She had been feeling exhausted of late, and pulled in all directions. Her work as an accountant was getting busier and taking a toll on her, her 2 children were having exams soon and her father had a minor fall. She was concurrently volunteering with 2 charities, coordinating her best friend’s wedding, taking French classes while helping out for her church camp. While she believed in all her projects and wanted to contribute to everyone, the commitments were beginning to weigh her down. To top it off, she felt guilty knowing that she did not look forward to her volunteer work nor meeting her best friend for the wedding preparations. She also felt that she could not take time out to enjoy herself when there was so much she had yet to complete.
Joyce realized that something had to change, and took a step back to reorganize the pieces in her life by placing her own values, strengths and priorities first. Joyce discovered her top personal values were altruism, family and beauty. She believed strongly in giving back to the society and in nurturing her family, and also had a fine taste for art, writing and music.
Over several months, Joyce found a new job where she advised clients on ways to structure their finances and accounts to grow their businesses, and even secured an account with a music school and a landscaping company. She gave up her French classes and one of the charities she was volunteering at, after realizing that these were not core to her interests and goals. She also worked out a new arrangement with her best friend so she could focus on sourcing and design work for the wedding, but enlisted someone else to support with the detailed planning and administrative work which stressed her out. Finally, she placed some of her favourite music and art pieces at home so that she could take time out to enjoy them while spending time with her family.
Obviously, all these took time, but before the year was over, Joyce was feeling much happier, more energized and complete. By simply becoming aware of what mattered most to her and where she functioned best, Joyce was able to align and integrate her activities so they built on one another rather than pull her in different directions.
Expanding your pie
How can we apply this? Here are a few simple steps to get started on integrating your life.
1. Starting with the end in mind.
It helps to have clarity about your personal niche and what matters to you.
– Try going through some questions here.
– List down: In a world where there are no limitations, what are the top 5 things that you would accomplish 10 years from now, for you to consider your life meaningful and successful?[Hint: If you find yourself struggling with this item, just list down any 5 things that come to mind, and repeat this exercise over 30 days. Look at the items that consistently appear over the 30 days – they are the most important to you at this juncture]
2. Applying the 80-20 rule to the Integrated Life
– Look back at your past week and month. List down the activities and people that take up the most of your time.
– Consider if these activities and people (a) energize or drain you; and (b) if they are adding to the 5 things you listed in Item 1. Classify them into one of the 4 quadrants below.
(a) Remove Value-Reducing Items (VRI) in Quadrant 4. These people or activities consume the most time, tire you out, but add the least to your goals. Consider how you can remove them altogether, or at least minimize them, to free up time and energy for yourself?
(b) Prioritize Value-Turbo Items (VTI) in Quadrant 1. This is the space where you learn, grow and achieve the most. Commit priority time to these people and activities. For example, if “writing” is the selected activity and you are most productive in the mornings, set aside 1-2 hours of dedicated time in the morning, at least 4-5 times a week, to focus on your writing. List down clear goals and objectives before you enter into these focused time slots, for maximum results.
(c) Restructure Value-Adding Items (VAI) in Quadrant 2. These activities and people add value to your life and goals, but may not be executed in a way that is energizing. For example, your mastermind group supports and pushes you forward in life, but you feel drained after each session due to personality conflicts in the group. Make a conscious decision to address the conflicts, or look for a group that provides better synergy. The items in this quadrant should be nurtured to become VTIs.
(d) Indulge occasionally in Value-Supporting Items (VSI) in Quadrant 3. We all have interests and passions which may not be core to our life goals. Spending quality time with friends over a drink can be extremely satisfying and enjoyable, even if it does not directly impact your life goals. Do plan for sessions to recharge and indulge, especially during low-priority time slots.
3. See and review the big picture.
Review your list and the 4 quadrants regularly, and be conscious of how they spill-over into the different aspects of your life. Over time, you may even discover some VTIs are so fundamental to you that they can literally power-charge all domains of your life.
Try it. It’s easier than it seems and can generate more returns that you imagine!
To the life you’ve always wanted,
Chief Happiness Officer, SoH