I talked of ‘Creating roadmaps of where you’d like to go, as a living document’ in my previous article Work Depression: Overcoming the Negative Spiral as a method of entrenching healthy mental wellness habits, but this idea may seem to some as only pertinent for long term planning. When it comes to short term planning, however, I do have a method which I utilise in my everyday life that I would like to share with you: my life book. Many top level executives swear by ‘Structured reflection’ in the form of ‘Keeping a personal journal’ or day book for work, but, over the years, I have developed this idea into an all encompassing diary, planner and important ideas notebook which I use not only during normal office hours, but in the outside world too. What does such a life book include then? Well, if it’s an upcoming meeting, it goes in the life book; if it’s an idea for developing a current project, it goes in the life book; even if it’s a note to remind yourself to buy bread after work – you’ve guessed it – it goes in the life book.
You may be sceptical of such a meticulous self-secretarial pursuit, but I would argue that, aside from an obvious boost in organisation quality, there are a plethora of mental wellness benefits as well. Firstly, I compose my plan for the following day as the last act before I leave the office as a ‘Transition ritual’ from office mode to relaxation time. This allows me to switch off my work worries and properly recharge my batteries in the evening. Keeping a life book also allows me to avoid what Art Markman (Harvard Business Review, 2017) describes as ‘Negative goals’, whereby one ‘Focus[es] on what [you] are not going to do rather than on actions [you] will take instead’. Rather than making a vague plan not to work and inevitably, inadvertently, having my mind wander back to work mode, I have a focus for how I want and need to spend my free time. This ensures all of my outside office jobs are fulfilled and that I have enough time to further other pursuits. As a final point, having a life book shows you what you have achieved each day which can create focus and hugely boost self-esteem through indirectly ‘Document[ing] your wins’.
How then do I keep my life book? The notes and planning for each day comprise of the following:
· First comes the date. It seems a silly point for me to mention, but adding the date is the first step in ‘Creat[ing] a clear objective, destination, outcome’ for what a day’s success will look like.
· After this, I write my to do list in which I incorporate any leftover tasks from the day of writing – for example, my Tuesday list will include any jobs that weren’t fully completed on Monday.
· I then write in any meetings that I have for the rest of the week as a reminder to prepare as necessary.
· I follow in the same manner, in the next section, by doing the same for meetings, provisional or otherwise, for the rest of the month.
· Brief synopses of meetings taken that day come next: important details on who was met and outcomes to carry forward.
· After this, I jot down any useful ideas which I think will be pertinent to the coming week.
· In the penultimate section, I jot down any jobs that need doing outside of the office – for example, picking up the kids, if the car needs servicing, et cetera.
· Finally, I write in plans for free time fun – especially even trivial details such as catching up on my favourite series on Netflix. This relates to my earlier point of avoiding ‘Negative goals’.
After I have completed these sections, I leave blank space for any thoughts that should occur to me later in the day and start my commute home. Ideas might come at any time so I always keep my life book on my person to review plans and add ideas as necessary. The next day, I put my plans into action, prioritising any goals which have carried over for two or more days. The reason for this is that these are normally jobs which I am less fond of, but still need doing; this therefore helps me to keep to task on all fronts rather than simply completing the jobs which I like – a mindset we can all easily find ourselves in.
You don’t necessarily have to have a physical copy of a life book to gain the same benefits from its utilisation: you could invest in setting up an equivalent digital system. Whichever method you use, however, I would always encourage adopting some kind of system like I have described and being able to have access to it at all times. Although the idea may at first seem tedious in its adoption, I’ve yet to meet a single person I have encouraged in this undertaking that hasn’t seen significant benefits in maintaining their own life book.
Steven Brown, Work Depression: Overcoming the Negative Spiral, (Auckland: TheExecutiveAgency, 2019).  Dan Ciampa, The More Senior Your Job Title, the More You Need to Keep a Journal, hbr.org, (Boston: Harvard Business Publishing 2017). Ibid.  John Hall, Work Keeping You Up At Night? 6 Ways To Ease Your Mind, forbes.org, (New York: Forbes Media, 2019).  Art Markman, How to Forget About Work When You’re Not Working, hbr.org, (Boston: Harvard Business Publishing 2017). Ibid. William Arruda, The One Thing Successful People Do Every Day, forbes.org, (New York: Forbes Media, 2013).  Ann Latham, 3 Mistakes You Make When Planning, forbes.org, (New York: Forbes Media, 2017).  Art Markman, How to Forget About Work When You’re Not Working, hbr.org, (Boston: Harvard Business Publishing 2017).