“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” — Ferris Bueller, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
It can be tough to make choices or optimize your work and life, if you don’t know what you want to optimize for.
Some people learn too little, too late, what really matters to them.
Others, never seem to learn.
And some seem to do a good job of figuring out who they are, what they care about, and designing their life around that.
Let’s unravel the magic and the mystery of how to figure out your life’s focus with a few handy frameworks.
My First Introduction to the Life Focus Framework
Early on in my career at Microsoft, one of my best mentors was helping me figure out my career path.
He asked me, what do you want your work life to be about?
He went to the whiteboard and started writing words that started with “F”:
Note that there are additional “F”s you can include: Faith, Family, Fitness, Feelings
He said that depending on what you want to optimize for, you could align or conflict with your goals.
For example, he said, “Developers end up at the mercy of the schedules.” He said, “If freedom is important to you, then you might want to consider the Program Manager path.”
He continued, “Program Managers figure out and set the schedule with stakeholders, but you’ll have more control over your time.”
He happened to be a program manager and this distinction on how he saw choosing roles based on what you care about or want to focus on using the “F” Framework was interesting.
Sadly, you don’t always realize what’s most important to you, until it’s gone. This is where having a simple framework can help you figure out what really matters.
The Life Focus Framework
The purpose of walking me through the framework wasn’t to lock me into a particular choice. Instead, it was about raising my own self-awareness and giving me a chance to explore categories to optimize for:
Interestingly, when I was first hired, one of the questions by the hiring manager was whether I cared about fame. I told him, no, I want the opposite of that. I just want to make impact. Unsung heroes are in good company.
It’s such a simple framework, but it does help you keep the big rocks of your life in perspective.
It can also help you realize what’s important for your career development and work-life journey, especially if you find yourself at cross-roads or if things don’t feel right. When things feel off, it could be you are out of alignment with one or more of the “F”s that are important for you.
You might find that some of these Fs are really your core values.
And when you realize that these are your core values, you have a very clear lens of how to prioritize and what to optimize for.
One of the secrets of a more fulfilling and happier life is to spend more time your core values.
This is what makes happiness more accessible to everyone in their own way.
The Life Hot Spots Framework
One of my challenges throughout my career was to better balance the big rocks in life and to integrate work and life.
I found the key to work life balance is actually work-life integration.
It’s a starter set of categories to help remind me what’s important in life.
It’s a “starter set” because you can add to it or modify the set. For example, some people add “Spirituality”, or they break up “Relationships” into “Social” and “Family”, and “Romance”, etc.
How To Use the Life Hot Spots Framework
At Microsoft, one of the main ways I help people regain their work-life balance is to focus on where they invest. I’ve used the approach for more than 20 years at Microsoft, and beyond Microsoft, to help a lot of people regain their perspective in work and life, and find better balance and itnegration.
I think of the Life Hot Spots Framework as a portfolio or areas of life to invest in.
If you underinvest in some areas, then it’s not only a problem in that category, but that will create problems in other areas of life. Similarly, over-investing in a category, could be taking away from other categories of life.
The way to use the Life Hot Spots framework is simple. You can use it in 3 primary ways:
- Scoring your life – You can use it to score yourself on 1-10 in each area, where 10 is awesome and 1, basically sucks. You can use set directions or outcomes or goals in each area. This can give you immediate feedback into areas of your life you need to work or improve, while keeping the big picture in mind, and balancing across the board.
- Setting goals – Normally, I’m a fan of SMART goals ((Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time Bound), but here I am not. Unless you have something very specific you want to achieve or change, it can be more helpful to just use loosely defined goals, at least in the beginning as you create more clarity. Plus, this leaves you open for more possibility and potential serendipity. Because these are larger areas of magnitude and meaning, and you may only have a “sense” of what you want in areas, I recommend starting with a vision or aspirations and thinking in terms of outcomes or experiences you’d like to create or a lifestyle or how you’d like to live your life.
- Setting boundaries – You can use the Life Hot Spot categories determine where you might need to spend less time or more time, or less effort, or more effort. You can setup simple boundaries such as Tuesday is “date night”, or you can set boundaries such as “Dinner on the table at 5:30”, or you can decide, as one my friends: “No limit on work during the weekdays, but no work on the weekends.” You might also decide on “minimum” investments, such as, “A minimum of 3 hours each week on fitness” (such as 30 minutes a day, six days a week, alternating cardio and resistance).
Just by having a simple framework for looking at life categories, gives you a big advantage in designing your life, more consciously, while keeping important areas of your life in mind. One helpful way I found is to simply practice telling stories of how you’d like that area of your life to be in the future, and let your Future Self help pull you forward through thoughts, choices, and actions you make today.
In fact, one of the most powerful exercises you can do is what I call Write Your Story Forward. You are the architect and the author of your life. Write a compelling story of your future and then design the choices you make that will help your mission, your hopes, your dreams, your goals, and your great ambitions comes true.
Purpose is Your Path
While I wanted to share powerful tools for figuring out what matters, I need to also make sure that you know your purpose is your ultimate North Star.
When you have a compelling WHY, it helps everything else fall into place. But not always, which is why you need tools like the Life Focus framework and the Life Hot Spots frameworks so that you remember to balance across the most important areas of your life.
Whenever you find yourself struggling in a particular area of life, check if finding or remembering your purpose helps.
Call to Action
- Figure out what you are optimizing your work-life for: Fame, Friends, Fortune, Fun, Freedom, etc.
- Create your personal Life Hot Spots framework with the categories you decide are important: Mind, Body, Emotions, Career, Finance, Relationships, Fun, Spirituality, etc.
- As a first step, score your categories. These scores can help you get a sense of where you feel you are in terms of your big picture. Remember, you are the director of your life. You are the author. You are the architect, You are the captain. If you don’t like the direction the wind is taking you, change your sails.
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