If you’re anything like me, you might like to just get straight to the “how to” part.
So here it is.
I’ll explain the backstory afterwards.
As an experiment, I’ve tried this exercise recently with people feeling stuck in different situations: intense negotiations, family troubles, stepping down from their business and assessing job opportunities.
They found it useful. I hope you do too.
Do What Matters Exercise [3 mins]
- Open up a new note on your phone.
- Title it Daily Practice.
- Write in a sub header: Do What Matters
- Then allow yourself only 30 seconds to write your responses to each of the 6 questions below in the note you just created.
[NB: I say 30 secs for 2 reasons – firstly to stop perfectionism taking over, secondly to get you up and running as quickly as possible. You don’t need perfect answers here. If you don’t know an answer just write something down. Something is infinitely better than nothing. In my experience, you’ll have a very good gut sense of what matters to you. You can always refine it later.]
Questions (copy these directly into your note)
- What are your values?
- Who is important to you?
It can be specific people or groups of people. An important note: I find people often don’t include themselves. This is an exercise in self awareness. Without you, there are no other relationships. So please make sure your name is on the list.
- What is important to you?
This can be broad or specific. They might be goals or more generalised concepts. Up to you.
- What is your purpose?
If you don’t have one, take a guess.
- What would you willingly do for free?
- What energises you?
Then check this note ideally every day or, if not, then at least whenever you’re feeling stuck.
Add to it and edit it as you see fit. Then use it to guide your decisions and actions.
[If you choose to give this a crack, please let me know how you go in the comments or contact me directly.]
I’ve found that connecting to importance is a pathway to regaining a sense of momentum. Sometimes that’s all that’s needed. Other times acceptance and mindfulness are a required part of the process too.
Bringing some definition to who I am and then reconnecting with it helps me create an internal locus of control and helps me distinguish between my reaction to the situation (which I can’t control) and my response (which I can).
When I resigned recently, I was trying to decide what to do next. I had identified so strongly with my role in my business that when that was removed, I felt I’d lost a part of my identity. I felt stuck.
“Who am I?” wasn’t a question I could easily answer.
When I did begin to think about it, there was a risk of my response becoming a philosophical swamp.
I opted for extreme utility instead.
I drew this sketch one day and it helped me to think about the situation.
Obviously, the circle in the middle represents who I am.
The radiating lines represent, at a macro level, the expression of who I am into the relationships I have in the world as a husband, father, friend, coach, founder, colleague and into various areas of my life – work, spirituality, health, fitness, social, leisure etc.
At a micro level, a line might represent the expression of who I am into very specific situations like a difficult conversation or my choice to do my work outs at home rather than going to a gym.
(I realised through COVID that the opportunity to train at home was in service of role modelling exercise for my daughters. This has been the single most important factor that has helped me stick to my strength and mobility program.)
Seeing things in this way allows me to decouple who I am from what I do.
It also allows me to choose how I engage in these various activities.
Once the decoupling became apparent, the next step was to bring some definition to answering “Who am I?”. (Some would say there is no “I”, but that’s for another conversation.)
There are a myriad of ways to do that and I’ve tried a bunch.
Values finders, strengths finders, psychometric profiling, vision building tools etc. I’ve always enjoyed these kinds of rabbit holes. Some reports really resonated. But more often, they have ended up buried as attachments in my email, never to be seen again.
The other challenge with these exercises is that they can take a long time. The time investment becomes a barrier to getting started and a barrier to putting the insights into practice. And to me, that’s where all the value is created.
So 8 weeks ago, rather than starting from a blank page, I opted to grab what I had – my values and a vision statement that I’d done in past exercises. I hadn’t created the Do What Matters exercise at that point.
I added them to a note to reflect on each day before I started work.
I found myself editing that note most days or simply highlighting parts that didn’t sit well or I felt needed updating. I also added some things like purpose and behavioural principles.
By having it editable, I’d stumbled across an empowering insight: I have the chance to change it every day if I choose; to make it more of who I am; to remove parts that no longer fit.
What my note currently looks like
This is different to how your note will have turned out. I didn’t have that exercise structure when I started this.
It absolutely captures the essence of my responses to those questions though. They’ve just been captured and rewritten in a different format.
Feel free to copy this too if you’d prefer to use this as a starting point. I’ll leave up to you.
Version 15,493 [NB: I’ll explain this next]
Do What Matters
- To build a better world by helping people bring all of who they are to everything they do.
- Love ❤️
- Gratitude 🙏
- Humility 🌱
- Exploration 🌌
- Contribution 🌅
I earn respect by being deeply connected to my family, friends, work and life; by exploring ways to bring all of me to everything I do and helping others do the same.
People say that I am humble and a voracious learner; that I integrate all parts of life; that I’ve connected them with fascinating people and had a tonne of fun together.
I build trust by doing what matters; acknowledging when I’m wrong; listening and asking questions first; sharing my stories; living my strengths and walking my talk.
The highest standards I uphold are characterised by focus, patience, reflection and action.
My legacy will be that I loved deeply and was loved in return; that I impacted the lives of my family, friends and millions globally; that I made the world a better place; that I had an impact on the grand challenges of our time; that I contributed far more to humanity’s pool than I took away.
- Committed action I am all in. I bring all of me to everything I do. It’s hell yeah or not at all. Pressure, stress, fear, vulnerability are the price of entry.
- Ideas are free, strategy + execution is everything. I pause and consider then execute fast to test and learn.
- Do what matters I manage priorities not time. Importance is my compass, as is fear. Time is non-renewable.
A few weeks after I’d resigned, a friend asked me: “How’s Toby 2.0 going?”.
It was the editability of the note that made me think that this wasn’t really version Toby 2.0.
How many versions had there actually been?
I realised that this note was an imperfect but workable definition of who I am today. And that there have been thousands of versions prior and hopefully many more to come.
I really like the idea of being an architect of who I am, so I found a calculator (link below) that would tell me how many days I’ve been alive.
Turns out it’s 15,493.
If versioning happens daily, and assuming I make it, then tomorrow I’ll be at version 15,494.
I realised that the work of being myself is never done, it doesn’t have to be perfect and I can always update it tomorrow as I reflect and learn.
Until death that is.
I find that liberating.
Other posts about transition