I’m a firm believer that we need to break free of the constraints of normal life, and begin to design our own lives — to start living the life we’ve always dreamed of.
And it’s possible. Most people tend to stick with what’s safe, what they know is possible, and don’t go beyond that, because of fear of failure — or success — or because they don’t pause to take a big-picture look at life and think about what can be changed.
Do you really need to work a 9-to-5 office job? Do you really need to be on salary? Do you really need to buy luxury items, have a big house and big car, just to look good in front of people you don’t care about — and do you really need to be a wage slave to support that empty lifestyle?
Or can you live the life that you want to live — that makes you happy, that makes a real contribution to the world, that feels authentic and exciting to you?
You can, of course — I’m just one example of that in action, and there are many more.
People like me have decided to follow their dreams, to make a living doing something they’re passionate about, to take a chance and start working for themselves instead of someone else, to live a life that’s really aligned with their values.
This is called lifestyle design by some, and today we’ll look at some of the best ways to begin to design your life. We’ll call them “hacks”, after the famous term “lifehacks”, but you could easily call them tools or tricks or just “methods that work”.
Here are my favorites, in no particular order:
1. Limit your workweek. My friend Tim Ferriss is famous for his book, 4-Hour Workweek, but you don’t need to go that extreme to get the benefits of a shrunken workweek. Start by setting a limit on your workweek, and enforcing it. If you work more than 40 hours a week, start with a 40-hour limit. If you work 40 hours, try 32 hours. How can you make this a reality? By getting vigorous about making sure you’re using your time wisely — doing the tasks that really need to get done this week, not wasting time, and quitting when you reach your limit. Sure, you won’t get everything done, but you’ll get the essential things done and the other things can wait. Use the time you save to do something you love — be it spending time with family, traveling, taking up a sport, creating something new, or what have you.
2. Be passionate about your work. This is such common advice that it might sound trite, but if you aren’t doing this now, don’t wait any longer. This is crucial. If you’re doing work you don’t enjoy, you’re just working for the paycheck, and you’re wasting at least a third of your life at work. Start to look for something you’re passionate about, if you haven’t found it yet, and when you do find it … start to look for a way to make a living at it. You might need to make a slow transition until you’re ready to quit your day job, but it’s a process that’s worth the effort. You’ll be so much happier about your life that you’ll spring out of bed, hardly able to wait to start working.
3. Dare to eliminate the non-essential. Our lives slowly fill up with things that we don’t really want to do, that we think we should do but that aren’t in line with how we want to live. You can get out of these commitments — just start to eliminate them. Say “no” to people. Tell them you just don’t have the time. This takes guts, but again it’s worth it. Tell yourself that you can’t do everything, so you’re just going to do what you really want to do. You’re going to create the life you want, and make room for it by eliminating everything that’s not in that ideal life. Let go of unimportant work and communications too — be liberal with the delete key in your email program, because if you tried to do everything that people requested of you, you’d never live the life you want.
4. Control your work environment. The problem with most people’s work environments is that they’re not set up to be focused, but rather are set up so that they have no real control over information coming at them. At any given moment, you can be interrupted by email, phones, instant messages, Twitter, your Blackberry, co-workers, or any other type of communication you might use. With an environment like this, it’s hard to maintain focus and get important work done — no amount of discipline will allow you to overcome this environment. Instead, set up an environment that’s more conducive to achieving your goals — shut down all distractions and only allow yourself to check email or make phone calls or use other communication tools at certain times of day. Look for other ways to set up your environment so you can achieve the goals you’re focused on achieving.
5. Schedule the important. What are the things you really want to do with your life but you don’t seem to have time for? Travel? Family? Exercise? Reading? Writing? Starting a new business? Outdoor recreation? Whatever these things are, make them a priority by scheduling them regularly: start with an empty calendar and reserve blocks of time for these important things before anything else. Make these appointments sacred — don’t allow anything else to violate them. This will mean you’ll have to say “no” to things, and eliminate other things from your schedule, but if these things are important, you’ll schedule them first.