To celebrate the 5-year anniversary of the excel of my life process with my dear friend Emma, I decided to write an update post on where the concept is at and what have been the key learnings over the past years. You can check post 1 and post 2 if you are curious about the evolution. The below image exemplifies the fact that I don’t think you should be waiting around for great things to happen to but rather see life as a creative canvas that you can mold according to your preferences 😉
You can download the templates here:
Recap of the basics
For those of you who have never heard about the excel of my life before, here is a quick summary of what it’s about:
I use an excel to set goals, define good habits and monitor progress in 3 different life areas: Health, Work and Heart. The goal setting takes place on a half-yearly basis.
On the first sheet “Overview” I do the relative priotization of the three areas for the next half year. The key here is to accept that you have a limited amount of “energy points” and can’t develop everything at once. That’s why it’s important to make sure that there is a healthy balances of 1s (=maintain) and use the 2s (=make a little effort) and 3s (=give it your all) very carefully. After doing this for a while and comparing the goal to actuals, you’ll learn how many energy points you actually have to give out. I also noticed that having kids reduces the total number of energy points 😉
On the second sheet “Goals” I write down both the goals and key activities for the different areas on a more detailed level as well as how I will monitor them. Simply having goals is not worth much in my opinion, the key here is to think through the habits and activities that will actually create change on a daily level.
The third sheet “Weekly review” needs to be modified always based on the set goals. Ideally you want to have at least 1 row – meaning one question or metric – per each development area that you’ve added to the “Goals” sheet. The questions and metrics act as a constant reminder of what you have stated is important to you and help you notice quickly if something is not working. The first section around reflection of the week has remained pretty unchanged the whole time. I actually always first fill in the below section and then do the reflection. I’ve found it important to take note of all the wins of the week – especially when you’ve had a bad week. There’s always something small to celebrate like having biked to work once after a long-term flu, having a lovely breakfast with a good friend or simply having taken enough time to rest. The questions about what didn’t happen and what I learned have also often prompted good insights and helped me learn more about myself.
Powerpoint of my life
Nowadays we also have a complementing powerpoint for the yearly and half-yearly reviews. It was inspired by Aki Hintsa’s book “The Core” and an end of year review video by Robin Sharma. This is what we use in our yearly review & goal setting sessions in January (optimally a weekend getaway to another city including good food and pampering).
Here the idea is to take a step back and first review the previous year on a high level. In addition the idea is to create clarity about your value basis and whether you are living up to it currently or if something needs to change. Finally you set the high level themes for next year. Typically we both do a first draft individually before the meeting and then finalize it after our joint discussions. This summer I also added a simply template for the half-yearly review in July.
Key learnings over the years
- Habits are the best – If you want to create any lasting change, you need habits that support it. Only by making something else first semi-automated can you start building on new skills and develop yourself further. We all have a limited amount of mental energy to push ourselves.
- Weekly review is the most important habit – This is an almost sacred ritual to me nowadays. I make sure to have time for it every single Sunday evening. It helps me stay grounded and tackle things quickly if I start drifting away from my values and preferences.
- Peer support is invaluable – It has been wonderful getting to know Emma over these years. We actually didn’t know each other that well when we first started this excel partnership, but now I count her as one of my closest confidantes. We challenge each other’s thinking, help each other see things from a new perspective, celebrate the wins, encourage each other to take on challenges and comfort each other when things are not going so well. We’ve also often used each other for accountability, like “Hey I want to now seriously eat less sugar and I promise to send you an update in WhatsApp every Sunday”, because promising something to someone else often makes it a bit easier to keep that promise. Doing this with someone also helped me hold on to this personally very important process after having a child and I am convinced that I am a much more happy person for it.
- Fun can also be taken seriously – Once Emma commented to me that she finds it really interesting how seriously I take fun 😀 To put this into context I am naturally a quite dutiful person. This kind of personality can easily lead to an overemphasis on performing duties over doing things that are purely pleasurable or fun. And it has been a learning journey for me that I don’t necessarily always have to complete my list of to dos before I am allowed to do something fun. On the positive side, you can use your dutiful self to create several habits that make sure that there is enough fun stuff in your life (e.g. meeting friends, dates, dance lessons, massage) because if they are on your to do list, you actually end up doing them 🙂
- Aim high, be flexible and practice contentment – It’s great to have goals and want to grow as a person, but often things don’t work out. What I’ve tried to explain to people is that I am the kind of person who gets intrinsic pleasure from planning things – it’s enjoyable in its own right. Yet I have absolutely no problem changing my plans if they don’t work out or I realize the goals were a bit unrealistic and this doesn’t mean that I’ve failed. Also having the overview of all the different life areas at all times helps me remember that many things are actually really well in my life 🙂
It has been a wonderful ride so far and I am looking forward to many more years of personal development 🙂