If your exodus from 2015 is more stagger than swagger, maybe it’s time to make like Arianna Huffington and conduct a life audit. In 2007, having collapsed from exhaustion in her LA office, coming to with a broken cheekbone in a pool of her own blood, the then 40-year-old Huffington Post founder was forced to face facts. This was no way to live.
“I realised how liberating it is to complete a project by dropping it,” she recently told Oprah. “[I’m now] able to focus on the things that I’m really going to put my energy into, what really matters to me.”
Arianna did a ruthless cull of her life goals, kissed ‘become a good skier’ and ‘learn German’ goodbye and welcomed in a shiny new perspective – not to mention two ‘napping rooms’ at Huff Post HQ (“we are paying people for their judgement, not their stamina”). She also rendered her bedroom a “device-free sanctuary”, and switches off all her gadgets and “gently escorts” them out of reach each night.
Twitter researcher Ximena Vengoechea found herself in a similar pickle, swamped by her then-role of production operations manager at LinkedIn, side-projects, dormant ideas and social commitments.
“Life has a funny way of getting in its own way: we get so busy, sometimes we forget to look up,” she wrote in a post for Medium. “That’s why every now and then it’s important to take a step back and check in: How are we doing? Where are we going? What’s important now that perhaps wasn’t before?”
Armed with 100 post-it notes, she devised a life-audit process that goes something like this:
1. Clear a space
Set aside a chunk of time for your audit (for Ximena it was a Saturday afternoon) and both physically and mentally clear it from distractions. Phones and computers off. Caffeine and sugar to hand.
2. Brain dump
Take 100 post-its and write a single wish on each one. There are no rules here – no wish too big (go to Mars? Why the hell not) or too small (must do those dishes…). Ximena says that most people stop at 30-40 post-its, which is totally fine (all the more achievable, right?), but she used 121, so don’t hold back.
3. Categorise the chaos
Ximena then sorted her wishes into themes, such as ‘professional’, ‘creative side projects’, ‘health’, ‘skills’ and ‘adventure’. “Having a birds-eye view of my priorities was proving to be strangely exhilarating…” she wrote. “I felt a rush of clarity and adrenaline as I put together a picture of my life’s priorities.” Your bigger themes will emerge, and then it’s time to…
4. Whack your wishes in a timeline
Some of your goals will be for the future (that Nobel Peace Prize won’t arrive overnight), some will be imminent (must do those dishes…), while others will be general goals for your day-to-day life. Ximena assigned each post-it one of three timeframes – ‘now/soon’, ‘someday’ and ‘always/every day’. Now is the time to look over your organised information to see what areas can be nurtured, and what can be turfed from your life.
5. Sharing is caring, people
For Ximena, this meant writing about her audit process and building a supportive community of collaborators to help her achieve her goals. She now runs life audit group workshops and one-on-one sessions. For the rest of us, the simple act of saying our wishes out loud will put those wheels into motion. And saying them to our friends and family makes us all that more accountable, while inviting others to assist us on the journey.