Imagine a stool with three legs. Now, let’s say each leg of the stool stands for an area in your life. Let’s call them self, work, and relationships. In order to keep the stool balanced, we need to devote equal time and attention to all three legs. If you take out any one area from the three, it becomes imbalanced.
Alternatively, imagine three overlapping circles with self, work, and relationships. The point is you can’t work with one or two. You need all three. For instance, if you have self and work, but no relationships, then that doesn’t work because we are social animals and interdependent on each other to survive and thrive. Work and relationships without self doesn’t work because if you give time and attention to the other two at the cost of your own well-being, then that’s not sustainable. In other words, we can’t do things for others until we take care of ourselves first. We need to be healthily selfish. And of course, we can’t just focus on self and relationships. We are wired to feel useful by helping others (through our work). We need all three. I call this the trifecta of life — self, work, and relationships.
Most of us tend to make work the center of our lives at the cost of our self and/or relationships. We even tend to define ourselves by what we do (for work/money). Because we focus more on work, we don’t give enough attention to ourselves — never mind our relationships — and we think of “success” mostly as financial success. Would we be truly successful if we had all the money in the world but didn’t devote time for ourselves and relationships? In fact, that would be a rather dull and boring life devoid of any growth.
We suffer from the “I’ll be happy, when…” syndrome, thus putting more focus on the work at the cost of the other two areas, but that never works. For instance, you might say you’ll be happy when you retire from work at 40, at which time you’ll do the things you really wanted to do — such as giving time to yourself and your relationships — but you don’t know if you’ll wake up tomorrow morning, let alone make it to 40. You don’t know if you’ll have any relationships by then simply by the virtue of who you choose to be now.
Contrary to what most might believe, success does not lead to happiness, no matter how you define them both. You start with gratitude to be happy now. Then, it doesn’t matter if you’re “successful” or not. At least that way you are not searching for that elusive “eternal happiness”, but you are being happy now (which is a choice you make every day and not some destination you arrive at in the future) and living each day to the fullest. Your only job is to do the work in those three areas of your life starting today, not some arbitrary time in the future.
Now that we know we need to focus on all three areas of life now (instead of putting it off), what do we do? Well, if you’re like most, then you probably spend most of your time at work even though you know it’s not sustainable. In order to make time for yourself and those who matter to you, you need to be ruthless with your time and attention. You might draw boundaries at work and from everyday societal obligations/pressures. That means you’ll have to learn to say no, particularly when those requests don’t overlap with your own agenda. This is not an overnight process by any means, but one you work on slowly over a period of time where you feel comfortable in your own space. You will eventually learn to prioritize yourself over others because you realize you need to help yourself first before you decide to help others (or not). You don’t have to justify how you spend your time to anyone. You are not here to live up to others’ expectations and vice-versa. You have to clarify expectations in your relationships, as no relationship can exist without them. Likewise, you have to focus on the everyday fundamentals (eat, move, sleep) so you can show up to be your best self.
Here is how the trifecta manifests in my life every week. One of the things I do is plan out my weeks in terms of outcomes I want to reach. Writing this list in terms of outcomes is important because it doesn’t matter what you did. What matters is what you completed.
Here’s how that process works. I start by writing an arbitrary list of things I want to complete in a week, and only then will I put them in the areas of self, work, and relationships. Once I have captured the initial list, it’s okay to put these areas down so I can remind myself of things to add to these lists, but it’s important to do so first without using the areas so you don’t end up limiting yourself. Then, you simply schedule them in your calendar. When you schedule the big things in your calendar, the little things can work themselves out around the big ones. This process might seem like a lot of work, but it hardly takes any time in actual practice. It’s the most productive hour I spend all week by far.
For instance, there are some things I need to block time for and others that don’t take much time at all. Let’s say that I want to spend time with someone next week (as part of relationships) — that’ll go on the calendar. However, if I am going to email or call someone on their birthday, it will go in my list manager (apart from being an all-day event in the Birthdays calendar). Either way, those outcomes are captured in the weekly list under relationships.
At the end of each day, I cross things off my list that I’ve finished and make any relevant changes in my calendar for the following day. At the end of the week, I have a list of things I completed. I log those things in my Logbook and tag it as week. I review all the weekly entries once a month, and the monthly entries at the end of the year. This way, you’ll know for sure that these things are going to get done every week.
None of the three areas are at the mercy of each other because you are devoting sufficient time to them every week. You are living now as opposed to preparing to live in some arbitrary future that you don’t even know exists. More importantly, you are being proactive rather than reacting to everyday things as they come. You are truly focusing on the essential (the important and the non-urgent).
I have been planning my week this way for a while now and it’s been working quite well for me. It’s how I ensure I have sufficient time for self, work, and relationships (in that order). Everything I do, I enjoy. If I do not enjoy it, it’s not part of my life, period.
We do not have to sacrifice our self and our relationships for the work we do (or any of the other two for that matter). By doing so, we would be undermining ourselves greatly and it’ll only be a matter of time before you feel something’s amiss without truly knowing why. When we focus on the essential things (important and non-urgent), that’s when we are living to the fullest each day, and isn’t that the point?!
Remember, the work we do is only one aspect of our lives. Besides, there will always be more work to do than we can possibly do. Does that mean we spend all our time at work? Of course not! We need to work to live, not live to work. Similarly, we can’t postpone ourselves and our relationships to some day in the future thinking we’ll live to see the day. That would be delusional and could possibly result in regret if left unchecked. We need to live our lives with a sense of urgency now as if we’ll die tomorrow and make plans as if we’ll live forever. We need to have all three to live an extraordinary life, and that starts today!