Where and how much time you allocate to activities in your life is in essence the reality of what you think is important. Many people live life each day unconscious to internalizing what is important let alone measuring if they are on track. I share a simple, strategic “What’s Important” model I have used over the last six years that in many ways has guided my life choices and how best to allocate my precious time to drive happiness. The initial catalyst in early 2006 was to improve my career plan but I quickly broadened the approach to my life.
I first started with a simple definition of my life purpose and this identified the multiple roles I play in life. I then started to identify the critical success factors that I must work on to achieve my life purpose, and realize fulfillment and happiness. As I sketched out a simple picture the model started to take shape with the life purpose in the center and the critical success factors that surround it. I then gave more thought to how the critical success factors should be ordered in a clockwise fashion. I set “Stay Healthy” as the first given that my physical, emotional and spiritual health is the most important foundation for any successful life. My role as a father and husband gave way to “Build a Happy Family” as the second critical success factor. With these two foundations in place, I could be my best at the workplace and execute strategies within “Manage Career” to drive career fulfillment and success. If I worked hard on these three critical success factors I would then use “Grow Net Worth” to fuel many of my life and family goals. I would also be in a position to help others who are less fortunate by donating time and treasure as part of the “Enrich the Community” success factor.
Each day is filled with numerous decisions including how to allocate my time. My biggest challenge has always been balancing my time between work and family. It is at that moment that I think about the “What’s Important” picture and how I am doing on each of these critical success factors. Over the years I have become more at ease living by this model and realizing when one of these critical success factors is improving or degrading. For example, you will find me running and training each day before I start my day at Microsoft because I know this is job #1. I made a job change to Microsoft in 2006 for many reasons including getting off of the worldwide travel circuit that helped me improve “Stay Healthy”, “Build a Happy Family” and realize my career goals within “Manage Career”. I am better at planning “Build a Happy Family” activities into my Outlook calendar and delivering on those promises. I even use color-coded Outlook “categories” for each critical success factor to view how I am allocating time across my weekly calendar. I think about the different choices I would have made earlier in my life if I had this wisdom but better late than never.
During a typical demanding workday, you generally do not reflect on what is important and whether you are investing your time, talent, and treasure to ensure those are realized. It is not uncommon for the short-term demands of work to capitalize my mind share but the memories of my childhood living in a divorced family and years that went by not speaking to family members quickly put life in perspective. I don’t wish that on anybody and luckily years ago I improved how I approach managing the demands of work with the other aspects of my life. I will be the first to admit that I still have room for improvement but I am more conscious of the daily choices I make and the cascading impact on my life purpose and critical success factors.
The picture provides a helpful visual to model what is important but a set of goals, strategies, objectives, measures and accountability stakeholders are required to help you make it real each day.
- Critical Success Factors – key issues that drive the ability to achieve your life purpose
- Goals – WHAT I want to achieve broadly
- Strategy – HOW I plan to accomplish my broad goals
- Objective – WHAT must be done by when
- Measures – MEASURES used to track progress
- Accountability Stakeholder – the person who will hold you accountable for your goals
Let’s return to my personal example to see how you can now build a “Personal Strategic Scorecard” to measure your “What’s Important” model and help you determine if you are dedicating the proper focus and time to realize those outcomes. I will use the “Stay Healthy” critical success factor as an example.
- Critical Success Factor – Stay Healthy
- Goal (I WANT) – Physical Health: to live a long life
- Strategies (I WILL) – Exercise at least 30 mins/day for cardiovascular health and to manage cholesterol
- Objective (I WILL take the following steps) – Run and weight train at the Pro Club each day before work
- Measure – Cardio (# of minutes/day)
Building out the information above for each critical success factor will define a strategic approach to achieving your goals and the necessary measurement system to evaluate your progress. Below you will find measures I have identified for each of my critical success factors. I often experiment to determine if I have the proper measures and make adjustments as needed.
I manage my Personal Strategic Scorecard in Excel and update the measures on different frequencies.
We all have different definitions of success and what we want to achieve in life. I encourage you to take some time this summer to sketch out your model and measures. My hope is that it will help you prioritize your life and gain timely insight into the adjustments that are required to ensure balance. We all have heard about the marriages and family life that have been ruined when we live each week and month exclusively for our careers thinking that the other aspects of our life will just take care of themselves. Sometimes we realize it but it’s too late and our life is changed forever. Your life needs a strategy, not just your career.
This past Father’s Day weekend I had the chance to read the book How Will You Measure Your Life?. I highly recommend this book to help you explore the meaning of your life and leverage the strategic theories that Clayton M. Christensen applies to life and careers. I related to this book as many parts of this Career Strategy Framework are based on strategy and theories normally applied to the business world. The theories and examples are powerful but it’s our choice to do something with this newfound wisdom.
We live one life – make every day count and guide your daily decisions and precious time using the critical success factors that only you can define. I challenge you to sketch your version of “What’s Important” and share it with those important to you. This may be the most important picture you ever create.