Strategies for Soul-Satisfying Success
This book presents eight practical steps that mix soul and strategy to help readers find their purpose, set goals, and create a personal strategic plan to discover and realize their life’s ambitions.
The joy of a life well lived—our work well done, our cherished ones well loved, our potential realized. Isn’t that what we’re all after? So why do many of us feel unfulfilled even as we are exhausted from working so hard? Chances are, if you are like many highly accomplished professionals, so many demands are coming your way that it’s hard to get through the day in one piece, let alone feeling satisfied and joyful. A fulfilling life doesn’t just happen. To achieve soul-satisfying success, you need a framework to decide what’s most important and a set of tools to help you select the strategies that are most likely to get you the results you desire.
First Things First: Prioritization Tools
You have a full life and are busy, busy. Much of what you’re doing may even be quite rewarding. Your cup runneth over, but so doth your plate. When there’s more on your to-do list than you can possibly complete, you need to clear out the clutter and give your all to doing the essentials exceptionally well. That is a lot easier than it sounds. The following techniques can save you a lot of time by preventing you from taking on unworthy tasks. That’s a great return on investment for learning to use them, especially when you think of how you can reinvest that found time in something you truly value. You will discover that once you’ve used them for a while, they just become part of the way you think.
The Not-to-Do List
Most of us are great at adding new tasks to our list, but we’re not always so good at taking things off the list. This is not the same as not completing something. This is about making a proactive decision to take non-priority items off the list altogether. As long as something is on your list, it demands your attention and drains your energy, all the while making you feel like you’re not getting everything accomplished. Ask yourself what would happen if each item doesn’t get done. If the answer is, “Nothing too bad,” take it off.
My mentor, Dr. James Cash, professor emeritus at Harvard Business School, shared a metaphor years ago that has stayed with me ever since. He talked about filling a jar with rocks until they brim over the top. While the jar appeared full, he pointed out that there was still space between the rocks to fit in pebbles. Then he noted that sand could fill in the micro-gaps between the pebbles. His point was clear. You can fit quite a lot into a jar if you start with the big stuff first. If you put the trivial matters, the metaphorical sand, in your jar (schedule) first and then try to layer on the big rocks, you’ll find that you have less room for the more important matters. What sand are you allowing to keep you from getting to some of your big rocks? Make a point from now on to consciously focus on the things that matter most to you. Give them the priority they deserve when allocating your time, resources, and attention.
One of the most powerful and commonly used prioritization tools is a simple importance/urgency matrix. If something is urgent and important, it zooms to the top of your to-do list. If something is not important and not time sensitive, it doesn’t merit your time. This item should populate your not-to-do-list. If something is urgent, but not important, you need to decide if it is worth the effort.
Important items that are not time sensitive require your attention. Often, these are activities such as taking care of your health or doing some long-range planning. They often allow you to be more efficient and effective over the long term. Because urgency isn’t forcing you to address these matters, it’s important to proactively make time on your calendar for them. Vacations and spiritual renewal activities fall into this category, as well. Taking breaks to refresh and renew often does not feel urgent, but it is essential.
Feasibility Filter: Risk/Reward Matrix
Now that you’ve determined which tasks deserve your attention, you’ll want to devise strategies that are most likely to yield the result you desire. I’ve developed a tool I call the Risk/Reward Matrix to evaluate the difficulty of implementing certain strategies relative to their potential benefit. To maximize your chances for success, strive to choose the actions that will give you the biggest payoff for your efforts and that will play to your strengths. If something is easy to do and is going to pay huge dividends, pursuing it is a no brainer. Likewise, if something is difficult to achieve and won’t yield much benefit, that’s a great candidate for your not-to-do list. Judgment again becomes a factor when something is easy to do but produces relatively little benefit. You’ll also need to decide if it’s worth investing in something that may be difficult to carry out, but comes with huge rewards if achieved.
Remember that success is not about simply achieving your goals. You need to punctuate your days with pleasure. This is actually a practical notion. You are much more likely to stick with something you enjoy doing. I find visual reminders helpful for decision-making. That’s why I created the Joy Meter, to measure the “joy-to-hassle ratio” of a situation. Because we’re trying to maximize joy along with optimizing outcomes, we need to keep our joy quotient front and center in our calculus of which activities we take on.
Let’s face it, as high achievers, we are likely to be busy and we may even prefer it that way. The key is to be mindful about what initiatives we take on and, once we do, to be fully present and give it our all. And, yes, that means committing to do our work well, cherish our loved ones, and realize our potential.
Article adapted from The Joy of Strategy; A Business Plan for Life by Allison Rimm. This book presents eight practical steps that mix soul and strategy to help readers find their purpose, set goals, and create a personal strategic plan to discover and realize their life’s ambitions.
Allison Rimm is a management consultant, executive coach, and educator who inspires individuals and organizational leaders to create breathtaking visions and plans to bring them to life. She is the former senior vice president for Strategic Planning and Information Management at Massachusetts General Hospital and is now at the helm of Allison Rimm and Associates. She shares her insights and experiences through her Joy Strategies blog and articles for Harvard Business Review and WBUR’s Cognoscenti. Follow her on Twitter @allisonrimm.