There are a few times in our lives when there’s a lot going on, we’re in transition, and we’re thinking of making – or forced to make – some big changes. Maybe you’ve just graduated from university and you now have to decide what’s next; you’ve decided it’s time to move on from your job; or maybe you’ve just come out of a divorce. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the different options, all the different areas of your life that you feel need attention.
Thinking of quitting your job while toying with ideas for a possible business, considering moving to a new city, looking to meet someone, wanting to get fit and lose weight… It’s exhausting to have all these ideas constantly playing on your mind and, if you’re anything like me, you’ll probably end up feeling frustrated as you fail to make progress on any of them.
There’s a tool, an exercise, that I’ve recently discovered and found to be very useful in getting an overview of what’s really important and what to do about it. The Wheel of Life can give you a visual representation of the areas in your life that need more (or sometimes less) attention, and then help you to commit to shifting your focus with a clear action plan to address that imbalance.
If you’re struggling with some difficult decisions, feeling overwhelmed or feeling frustrated at not making any progress, it can really help you to focus on the right priorities. You’ll need to block some time for yourself – or together with a trusted friend or coach. Then grab a pen and paper (old school, I know!), and here we go…
1. Identify the priority areas in your life
The first step is to define what your individual priority areas are. You can do this in terms of the roles you play (or want to play) in your life e.g. mother, wife, manager, colleague, friend, or you can identify areas of your life that are important to you e.g. family, career, fitness, creative expression, public service.
Take the time to really think about this as it’s right at the heart of the exercise. Try to go beyond the obvious, too – so if “money” is an important area, ask yourself if it’s financial security to look after your family that you’re after, or freedom to live your life without worrying about paying the bills, or maybe living a life of luxury and indulgence; if you’re looking at “career”, is it about progressing to a senior position in a large company, feeling intellectually fulfilled, or making money doing what you love?
Once you’ve identified your current priority areas – 6 or 8 is probably a good number – you can draw a circle, the Wheel, and divide it into that number of sections, labelling each piece of the pie with one of the priority areas. (In fact, why isn’t this called the Pie of Life? Or Pizza? Cake, anyone?!)
2. Give each area a score out of 10 (where you are now)
The next step is to reflect on where you are in your life today. Taking each area of your life in turn, each piece of the pie, think about the amount of attention that you’re currently devoting to that area, giving it a score on a scale of 1 to 10.
So if you feel that you’re really neglecting a particular area – maybe you’ve identified family as a priority but you haven’t called your parents in months and you’re spending all your evenings at the office – then you might put this area as a 3 out of 10. Or if you feel that you’ve been focusing on that area recently and it’s going really well – say, your priority is your career and you’ve been working late and just got a big promotion – then you might put that at an 8 or 9. Don’t overthink this, it’s not a mathematically precise exercise; it’s just to get an idea of where you are today.
3. Give each area an ideal score out of 10 (where you want to be)
Now repeat the exercise but think about how much attention you WANT to be giving each area. What would your ideal state look like? If the area is romance, are you looking to just go on a couple of dates for a bit of fun and attention or are you looking for a long-term partner? If it’s health and fitness, are you aiming for 0% body fat or just to lose a couple of kilos?
Note that this ideal score is not necessarily going to be 10 out of 10. When I did the exercise recently, I found that travel was currently at a 10 out of 10 – but I was feeling tired after a whirlwind summer of living out of a suitcase and I was longing for a bit more stability and a bit less money being spent on expensive trips; I put my ideal level at 8 out of 10 for now. Likewise, you might find that you have a low score on a particular area but that this is okay – maybe you’ve always been a social person and you find that you are at a 4 out of 10 on social life, but the reason for this is that you’ve just had a baby and you’re 100% satisfied with deprioritising your social life to focus on your new little family.
4. Identify areas that need your attention and define actions to address the imbalance
Now take a look at your Wheel and the scores you’ve given each area, and see where you find the biggest imbalances. Is there one particular area where the contrast is huge, say, you’re currently at a 2 but want to be at a 9? Are there several areas where you’re a bit average, maybe 5 or 6 and you’d like to be closer to 7 or 8? Where do you really feel that you urgently need to address the imbalance, i.e. what do you want to focus on first?
This is where it gets really interesting, as this is where you can do something about it! Ask yourself: What can you start doing to focus more on this area? What exactly will you do and by when? What can you stop doing, either by delegating to other people or by forgetting about it altogether?
Again taking the example of health and fitness, you might decide to (i) sign up to a 10k race, (ii) start running 2-3 times a week, and (iii) cut down on dessert during the week. In the case of family, maybe you’ll plan to (i) call your mum every Wednesday, (ii) invite everyone round for Sunday lunch, and (iii) commit to leaving the office by 5pm on Friday evenings.
It’s completely up to you how ambitious you are in your goal setting and your actions to meet those goals, although it’s probably a good idea to include some easier short-term action steps to feel like you’re making progress. You can also revisit your Wheel in a few months’ time, both to review your progress and to add or remove areas as your priorities change.
For me, doing this exercise helped me to get clear on what is important right now and helped me to identify a couple of areas where I really wasn’t focusing any time or energy. Already in the last couple of months since then, I’ve significantly shifted my score in two or three areas and I’m feeling much more in balance versus where I want to be.
I hope you find it useful too! If you try it, let me know how you get on…