How often do you consciously evaluate the direction of your life? For some folks it’s today, once a year. For a good while my answer was “never”. If I was forced to by some major event, I’d think about where I was headed just long enough to reach a reasonable answer, then get back to fulfilling my active projects.
The project was the coarsest unit of aspiration on my mind — Write a chapter. Ship an app. Give a talk. Learn to play a song. Design a poster. Translate a section of a video game. When I thought of something that seemed worth doing, I’d make a project in OmniFocus. Like maybe if I finished enough projects, good things would happen to me on a bigger scale? Sometimes they did. Sometimes not.
This year, though, has been about consciously steering. I started a periodic review practice, which at first meant “giving myself a pep talk inside an OmniOutliner document every couple months”. After a few, though, a pattern emerged in the way I thought at this bigger scale: the quest. Publish the UX Launchpad Book. Use Time Consciously. Succeed via a Peaceful Mind. Some of these quests might involve projects, but none of them is defined entirely in terms of lists of actions. Instead they’re about how to live.
GTD-style projects are just lists of actions needed to reach a concrete goal. But quests can involve new habits, new ways of seeing and thinking, decisions about which projects to work on, and perfecting how you do those projects. Writing a book means paying more attention to the world. Using time consciously means blocking out events on the calendar to work on projects and pursuits, rather than just hopping from one thing to the next until time runs out for the day. It also means using timers to alternate focus time and break time. Succeeding via a peaceful mind means developing a mindfulness and meditation practice, which I still owe you a letter about.
So every 34 days (I love my nonstandard intervals) I sit down and check in on my quests. For as long as it takes, I write out a review of each one. How is this quest going? Are there systems or practices I can put in place to make it go better? Should it continue being an active quest, or should I consider it completed or abandoned? Have I learned anything that should go into my very special Identity, Rules, or Personal Canon lists, where I enshrine the core notions I intend to live by? This regular ritual, and the systems created and refined by it, are a way to make sure I’m always making progress toward something. That I’m not just flapping about, but improving. Day to day, I can check in to make sure that the ways I’m spending my time and energy are contributing toward some quest or another, and that none of the quests are being neglected.
I truly hope you have a lovely 2016.