You’ve used a list at one time or another, whether to remember why you’re at the grocery store, or to organize the debts you need to pay down. Lists can be a valuable tool in holding us accountable for the short-term, but most come and go. However, there is a strategy and science behind effective list making when it comes to your life goals, and it’s rooted in three simple lists that can help you reach the professional, financial, personal and even spiritual life that you envision–but aren’t quite sure how to achieve. Here’s how:
The Genius List
How many times you thought, “I just want to find a way to get paid doing what I love,” but fall short in devising a realistic action plan? Perhaps you have no idea what will make you happy—other than knowing it’s not what you’re doing now. Carol Holm, author of Take the Lid Off, suggests that every person has a potential “individual genius” in at least one area, but gets discouraged because they are unable to recognize it, assuming wrongly that their skills and strengths come just as easily to others.
For that reason, creating a genius list is a powerful exercise in transforming your career and life pursuits. Once you identify unique strengths, you’ll not only have the necessary framework to work towards a fulfilling reality, but it can impact how effectively you market your strengths, on a resume, during job interviews, and while networking.
To create your genius list, Holm suggests asking these questions:
“What am I good at that I have a passion for?”
“What am I doing when time seems to fly by?”
“If income didn’t matter, what career would I choose?”
Once you’ve established the genius list, you’re ready to develop your second life list.
The Decade List
The genius list can give insight to your passions and unique skills, but it might also leave you thinking, “I can’t make a career out of skiing, reading, making earrings” –or whatever you listed. The key to decoding the list is to recognize that it’s not always literal.
For example, if playing football or spouting off sports stats was on your list, a career in the NFL may not be the answer, but pursuing jobs that involve physical activity and sports, whether as a coach, marketer, commentator, or trainer, might be. The resulting goal you will work towards is the foundation of your second list, the “decade list.”
Holm says that in order to transform your passions into a realistic (and hopefully, profitable) endeavor, you must spend about ten years developing the skills needed to create a usable asset. The theory is actually simple: Spend enough time honing the skills you already have a natural inclination and passion for, and after a decade of practice, you’ll cross into a new level of expertise.
It’s a simple idea that can explain why so many are unhappy and unfulfilled at work: when you land on a path that you don’t have enough passion to pursue for the ten years it takes to master, you’ll give up, move on to various things, and never truly reach your full potential at anything.
The decade list will establish a clear guideline towards the activity you will focus on developing. If your passion and dream job is making and selling your own jewelry line, for example, now may not be time to quit your day job. However, the decade list will serve as a reminder to your end goal, helping you to focus on activities that will build your skills, business savvy, and exposure along the way. In a decade, you will realize a whole new level of potential in your talents, and be poised to succeed.
The Dream List
Unlike the first two lists, the dream list has no roots in reality; it’s your chance to envision life at its most ideal. Holm says to imagine that you’ve been granted ten magic wishes to make anything happen–whether it’s a new job, scaling Everest, retiring at 40, or living in an oceanfront mansion. When you write each wish, follow these guidelines:
- Word your list as if it has already happened.
- Don’t be realistic or consider the “how.”
- Don’t think about timing or a deadline.
- Don’t share your list.
“If you are feeling confident about achieving the items on your dream list, you probably didn’t set your goals high enough. If you really thought big, you will have a hard time seeing how to achieve any of the items on your list,” explains Holm.
How can you use it? Holm says the dream list is a guideline to “making many small steps during the long journey towards achievement, and keeping the momentum to the life you want going.”
Read your dream list daily to keep goals fresh in your mind. Holm also suggests getting into the habit of measuring actual achievement. “Too many times, when individuals are working towards a goal, they focus on what they haven’t accomplished and become discouraged. Instead, switch your mentality from focusing on what you haven’t yet accomplished, to focusing on what you have,“ says Holm.
Set your goals high, but celebrate your small victories along the way.
Stephanie Taylor Christensen is a former financial services marketer based in Columbus, OH. The founder of Wellness On Less, she also writes on small business, consumer interest, wellness, career and personal finance topics.