Most people I work with have a picture in their heads of what they want life to be like, but there is a disconnect somewhere between the wanting and the actual living. They get caught up in day-to-day minutiae, in habits, and in putting off in order to get by for a little longer.
The key to breaking this cycle – to connecting the dots between ideals and reality – is to live intentionally.
But how? What does that often tossed about word actually look like in actionable steps? Here are a few ideas to get you started.
1. Keep a budget.
…for where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also.
-Matthew 6:21 ASV
Your money is one of your most powerful tools, and how you spend it is often the most clear indicator of how you’re spending your life. If you want to live with more intention, you need to spend with more intention.
Know where your money is going. Better still: decide where you will spend your money based on what matters most to you. Then, pay attention to whether or not you are following through on those decisions.
I have used an Excel spreadsheet and envelopes to manage my budget, and that worked just fine for several years. I’ve recently switched over to a new system called You Need a Budget and I am in love. A little obsessed even. They have a 34 day trial.
2. Track your time.
Even more valuable than how you spend your money is how you spend your time. Obviously.
What’s not so obvious? How you’re actually spending it.
I’m convinced most of us are unaware of how much time we let slip through our fingers.
After reading 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam, I decided to log my time for a few days using an app on my phone. I kept track of how much time I spent working (and what I did when I was “working”), cleaning, cooking, exercising, hanging with friends, talking to my husband, and getting ready.
And screwing around on the Internet.
It didn’t take me long to realize that I needed to delete that app from my phone or spiral into a pit of obsessive self monitoring and criticism. BUT! That short experiment did remind me to pay more attention to the minutes (and hours) that can easily be siphoned away from what matters to me and into what’s easiest for me.
3. Plan your week.
My friend Kate recommends a Sunday Summit, a weekly meeting with yourself when you can reflect on the past week and plan for the next one. I’ve found this to be one of the very best things I can do to ensure I’m living deliberately and in line with my goals.
When I plan my week, I open up the Word doc where I keep my personal and professional goals and choose some step I can take towards at least one goal from each category. Then I schedule it into my week – I decide exactly when I will have time to actually do the things that keep me moving forward.
I also schedule in one-on-one time with each of my kids and my husband. This helps me to maintain some sense of balance among all the various things that matter to me.
Planning your week is all about putting the big rocks in first and letting the inevitable minutiae fill in around them.
4. Keep your to-do list short.
Living an intentional life is not about getting more done; it’s about doing what matters to you.
I never put more than three items on my daily to-do list. This forces me to be prioritize how I’ll spend my days – and as a result, my life. Limiting myself to three must-dos means that I am always aware that there is only so much I can do in a day, and so I have to deliberately make room among the errands and the responsibilities for the tasks that light me up.
5. Set your intentions.
It’s really hard to live your life on purpose if you haven’t put any thought into what that purpose is.
Write a mission statement. Make a vision board. Create a life list or set some goals. Get super clear and specific on what in the heck you want all your days and weeks to add up to.
If you don’t make time to decide what you want your life to be, you’ll constantly find yourself taking a look around and wondering “where did the time go?” and “how did I get here?”