When you don’t know where you’re going in life, it doesn’t matter which path you take since you have no destination in mind. When you do know where you’re going, you might not know the way to begin at first, but you’ll find it eventually.
Stephen Covey talks about starting with the end in mind in his book. Beginning with the end in mind is equivalent to good self-leadership, and how you get there is just good management. Starting with the end starts with the vision you create for yourself. What do you want your life to mean looking back when all is said and done? What’s your purpose? What drives you? Unless we create this vision for our life, we can’t live it. We need to think about things before we can do them. When thinking about your end goal, remember that only a few things matter in the end and almost everything else is noise. We can’t do everything (nor do we want to), so we must do fewer, better things and do them well rather than doing many things poorly.
So, how do we begin with the end in mind? First, understand that starting with the end in mind requires us to be proactive. By that, I mean that our life is our responsibility. We may not be responsible for the situations in our lives, but we’re fully responsible for our choices in those situations. Only when we take responsibility for our life can we begin with the end in mind, which requires being proactive.
Once you accept responsibility for your life, take some time to create a vision for your life. Figure out those few things that matter to you in terms of the person you are and the contribution you want to make. Think in terms of relationships and results. When thinking about relationships, think about what you want others to say about you (in terms of your character) when you’re gone. When thinking about results, think about the results you want for yourself that will add value to this world while also fulfilling you at the same time.
Once you’ve figured out those few things that matter to you, then we create a personal statement for ourselves (not unlike a mission statement of an organization) based on the relationships (character) we want to strive for and the results (contribution) we want in our lives. Then, it’s a matter of living that as much as possible, staying on course (keeping our focus), and evaluating it from time to time. That’s where consistency comes in. The reason for having this personal statement is that it will help you navigate in times of difficulty. It will be the only constant when things around us are changing all of the time. It will help us make decisions particularly in challenging times.
Then, it’s about spending as much of our time as possible doing things that are important to us (and doing them consistently). We do that by setting aside some time every week in our calendar to plan for it.
One thing we should strive for is to make as few decisions as possible over the course of a given week. The more decisions you’ll make over the course of a given day (and week), the more the quality of those decisions will deteriorate. It’s called decision fatigue. The idea is to make as few decisions as possible while getting the most out of your week. That involves not thinking about things we do every day such as when we work, eat, sleep, etc. Not thinking about these things every day helps us conserve our thinking for those things that actually require thinking power. One way to do this is to create some order in your life. This comes in many forms, such as having rituals and habits, having routines, and having sensible defaults.
Of course, you’ll still have demands for your time from other people because it’s convenient/”urgent” to them, but it’s your choice as to how to deal with it. Unless you choose to be proactive about it, you won’t be able to protect your time and attention from others. We must remember that we can’t help others until we help ourselves. That requires saying no to others’ requests (especially) when they don’t overlap with our own agenda.
It’s about doing more of the high quality things as often as possible. When you begin with the end in mind, it can eliminate a thousand decisions in the future because you have clarity as to what is important to you in the long-term. Knowing what you’ve said “yes” to once makes it easy to say “no” to almost everything else later.