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  • Focus Challenge Day 3: Living in Alignment

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Welcome to Day 3 of the 5-day Focus Challenge.

(Update: Day 4 is now available)

If you haven’t yet, make sure to complete Day 2 before attempting today’s challenge. Today’s challenge is all about creating momentum towards your ideal future by making sure that you are living your life in alignment with your values.

Let’s get started.

Many people have a misguided idea of passion. They think that passion means doing what you love, but that’s not quite right. The truth is if you are looking for a job where you enjoy it 100% of the time, you’ll never find it. There will always be things that you have to do that aren’t necessarily fun or enjoyable, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do them or that you can’t gain satisfaction from them.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Management at Claremont Graduate University. He literally wrote the book on flow. His research shows that people are happier not when their life is easy, but when they feel fulfilled. So passion is not about doing what’s fun, but that satisfaction and flow actually come from being able to click in and do the things that are important and have meaning to you.

That satisfaction comes from being in alignment with your vision and values. So if you understand how what you are doing is helping you achieve your ideal future (identified in yesterday’s lesson), motivation and passion come naturally.

Where people get frustrated is when what they are spending their time on is not in line with the future they want to create. Even if you are doing the right things but have lost your “why,” it’s not likely you’ll stick with it long enough to see the results you’re looking for. But when you are in that sweet spot where what you are doing is in alignment with your dream, it’s exciting. You can’t wait to get to work because you know that every minute invested is moving you one step closer to making your dream a reality.

The Three Bricklayers

Bricklayer

There’s a famous parable about three bricklayers that illustrates perfectly what it’s like to work in alignment.

While walking down the street one day, a man saw three bricklayers working in the heat of the noonday sun. The man approached the first bricklayer, and asked the man, “what are you doing?”

“What does it look like I’m doing?” the worker replied sarcastically. “I’m laying bricks!”

The man then walked up to the second bricklayer and again asked, “what are you doing?”
“I’m building a wall,” the worker replied matter-of-factly, not even bothering to look up from what he as doing.

The man then walked up to the third bricklayer and again asked, “what are you doing?”
“I’m building a great cathedral to honor my God!” the worker replied excitedly. “It will be the most beautiful cathedral the world has ever seen!”

All three workers were doing the same task, but only the third was really living in alignment. When you are living in alignment, it brings passion and energy to everything that you do. This results in higher quality work, which obviously then translates into higher wages, better jobs, etc. So if your idea future requires an upgrade in pay, there’s no better way to get there than to start working in alignment and bringing passion and joy into what you do!

So in today’s exercise, we’re going to identify what living in alignment looks like for you.

Exercise

First, take a full sheet of paper and fold it in half. On one side, write the five things that you value most in life. On the other side, write down the five activities you currently spend the most time on. Spend 5 minutes doing this.

Done?

Now compare them and answer the questions for yourself: “Am I spending time on the things that are most important to me?”

Next, take a look at your ideal future description from Day 2. Are the things that you are currently doing (the five activities you spend the most time on) moving you towards accomplishing this ideal future? If not, list the 5 things you could do right now that would make the biggest impact in moving you towards your ideal future.

Once you’re done, let us know in the comments!

(Update: Day 4 is now available)


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  1. Done. It’s hard. I realized that I valued freedom the most and did nothing towards being really free. Clear outcome: I need to develop bias for action to get closer to my ideal future. Thanks guys, it’s worth my time (and took me way more than 5 minutes ;))

  2. I’m running a little day, but I’ve been able to do this. It’s clear that I need to spend more time with what is important to me. Thank you for this exercise.

  3. Done.
    Wasn’t able to five in each field – more like 3 (what I value), 5 (what takes my time) and 8 (things I could change). So again a helpful exercise. For those who are even more open and have shared closer to home, as others have said, thanks for doing so, as it too has helped me when I look at myself.

  4. Done!
    My 6:
    -meditate in love daily to combat judgement of myself and others (thank you Christian Davis for inspiration!)
    -Focus on focus (!). Actively train my attention span
    -stop looking at my screen when I’m bored, quit Facebook for a while.
    -try different GTD apps to find one I like and can trust works for me. Feel that I am in control (“I know what I’m not doing and ok with it”)
    -Tidy up, throw things out, use the KonMari method. “Let it go!”
    -Choose to do actively engage with my kids
    (-keep up my good routines)

  5. I am mostly working on things that are aligned to my future vision however I have recently found myself getting distracted and feeling anxious. So the 5 things that will help me to get back on track and feel more aligned are:

    1. Regularly read and keep my vision up to date to remind myself of where I am heading and why
    2. Review my plans, projects and tasks often – Use the review function in OmniFocus daily (instead of Weekly so not to get overwhelmed, procrastinate and then stop looking at it completely!)
    3. Create Daily/ weekly and monthly plans that are aligned to my vision
    4. Generate energy – Exercise 3 times a week. Be more consistent with my evening routine so that I get to bed at 9:30pm
    5. Look into courses/ material on automating stuff to make things easier and flow more easily

  6. Learned a lot about which activities give me energy and which drain it – so which things help towards ideal life or not, as well as living well now. Seeing what I value provides a great orientation and boost for working on activities that will align w those values.
    My five things to do are:
    – freeing up time spent shopping by doing online
    – seeking weekend activities that spark discovery
    – redirecting time towards writing about my wellbeing research so others know about it
    – having one tv- free night during the week and spend that time on something that gives me joy
    – book the appointment I’ve been avoiding to support better wellbeing for myself!

    Ps I learned a lot by reading what everyone discovered – thanks for sharing your plans and ongoing efforts everyone!

  7. Running a business from home with kids around requires a solid vision of what is important & why I’m doing what I do. I start my day by going over my big goals (priorities) so I don’t get swept away with the urgent.

  8. 1. Meditate in love daily to combat judgment on myself and others
    2. Focus on not letting my job, or business stress me out
    3. Know and believe that I will be a digital nomad but release the NEED to be.
    4. Quit social media and read instead. Choose focus.
    5. Call gold suppliers in my niche
    6. Study Google ads optimization techniques for upside down waterfall funnels

  9. Done. I identified the five things that I valued the most long time ago and they haven’t changed much. But I didn’t really think about them in the lens of alignment. This has provided some great insights!

  10. I spend most of my time doing routine stuff of running our business and life. It’s hard to take the time to work on other things like my personal creative business, jewelry and crafts. I get up and work in the early morning… no phone calls etc. but want to expand the time.

  11. How odd, I know I posted yesterday but don’t see it so I’ll do it again. Even my demanding career serves its purpose to provide funding for my business which would allow me to spend more time with my family. So for the most part, I live and breathe to reach that goal.

    This does make me realize that reducing my hours at work down to 40 or 45 would allow me to accomplish much more in my business and not do much to reduce my income since I’m salaried.

  12. Done. Used data from LifeCycle, which made the “how I spend my time” part easy…and a bit surprising. Also surprised at alignment with desires…wasn’t “feeling” that was such.

  13. I imagine myself improving and becoming a better person with focus on the following:
    – improving coaching skills by exercising them in every situation. Not just helping out solving problems but really under other persons problems and help them solve their own.
    – getting things done. Make sure that must do stuff is inserted in daily rituals.
    – block time for working on important changes/issues
    – have regular mastermind meetings to discuss and develop project manager skills.

  14. This simple but great exercise gives so much clarity. I was already focusing on quite the right activities, but by doing this exercise, I see that I some important things were still missing. I have a much better picture now!

  15. It was helpful, if not a little concerning, to see what I value contrasted with how I spend my time. I confirmed that I’m spending my time on things that I don’t value highly that I could replace with something I do value highly 1 for 1 in the sense of time spent. It’s also helpful to have concrete next actions I can move on now with intentionality.

  16. It amazes me that I know what I want out of life yet this exercise shows me how little time I spend making it happen. Thanks for showing me what to do during my focus blocks.

  17. another powerful and mindset shifting exercise. i’ve often thought about the values that matter most to me and ask myself at the end of the day if i’ve lived according to them as best i can. but seeing the stark contrast between the 5 things i value most and the 5 things that i allow to take most of my time put me at unease. but knowing that it’s in service of my future self as designed in yesterday’s challenge, i can breathe and make adjustments to get me closer. thanks, AE!

  18. I think being sick for the last couple of weeks has forced me to slow down and spend time on activities that nourish me rather than burn me out. I wish I could get better at slowing down before I got sick though.

  19. I am mostly in alignment, but there are still some things I should work on. I’m going to try and keep my eyes on the prize, i.e. Things that are really important to me. That may result in some things that are not really important not getting done, and I have to be ok with that. Maybe I cannot, and should not, do everything. I am the one who also decides what is important and what is not in my work, so I have to take advantage of that!

  20. Done. I found this really helpful. It took me a few minutes to get honest, but I think like many people I realized that I probably lose a significant amount of time each day either complaining about things I can’t control or feeling overwhelmed instead of taking action and moving towards my goals. I found the idea of finding five action steps really helpful.

  21. This is eye opening for me. I understood I am not that much aligned to my future self but good thing is I understood what are the five activities I can start with to move towards my goal & I can connect why I am doing taking these activities.
    Like to get up early at 5 a.m. I need to sleep around 10 p.m.
    Like to improve quality of photography business I need to do more meetings & attend more social gathering. Can collaborate with more experience photographers understand their business mode.

  22. Done. Interesting what doesn’t align. Sad what doesn’t align. But, my first of 5 steps to begin moving in that direction is a small step that could open up tremendous opportunities if I just take the time to make 1 phone call or text.

  23. I’m enjoying these challenges! What a simple and effective exercise to see whether or not your values align with your actions. Turns out I’m only partially aligned and I’ve got to make some changes so that I’m spending more time on the things that really matter.

  24. Very interesting exercises. Lately, I haven’t been taking the time to really study where I am and where I want to be so I can take steps to get there.

  25. Just finished! In general I am keeping up with my values (or at least have been lately), but I need to reduce mindless scrolling and replace that with my hobbies such as reading.

  26. Yessss! Alignment! I’m partially in alignment. I do love my job and I can recognize even the most minute tasks I do as “building a cathedral”, but I’d like to focus on prioritizing those tasks to have the most impact on realizing my values.

  27. Well…that was certainly eye opening! I only had one item on my list that I was even close to spending any quality time on. The shift from day 1 and 2 helped in that area a little. Hopefully, the new fixes won’t take too long to implement as I know this won’t be any easy or quick transition, but it will be worth it in the long run.

  28. I am living partially in alignment. Things in life have been quite tumultuous lately and this exercise has helped remind me of the things in life that are most important. Now I can focus on those things!

  29. Super helpful exercise, and one that I plan to repeat quarterly, I think. Both because a reminder is needed, but also because I think it depends on what stage we are in our business at the time, and what is needed at that time to move things forward, even if it doesn’t seem like those are the actions we need for our larger sense of fulfillment. One of my businesses is mature and brings me huge satisfaction and fulfillment. One is immature and I’m frustrated with knowing what to do to move it along. And the other is brand new for us and definitely needs lots of attention in the newer stage of business, but those are short-term needs. This exercise got me thinking a great deal about all of those. Thank you!

  30. Done. It’s hard. I realized that I valued freedom the most and did nothing towards being really free. Clear outcome: I need to develop bias for action to get closer to my ideal future. Thanks guys, it’s worth my time (and took me way more than 5 minutes ;))

  31. Done!
    I definitely am spending my time doing the things that I most value – contributing to science and patient care in my field, my family, health/exercise, relaxation, and travel.

    The problem is that I’m probably spending too much time with #1 and not enough with #2 and #4, so things are still out of alignment. Hard to balance a very demanding career with enough time at home…

  32. Time is such a valuable commodity, and I realized that while I say I don’t have enough time to do what I want, I do lose several hours a day doing things that do not serve my goals. Those extra 15 minutes spent scrolling or falling down the internet rabbit hole can easily be repurposed towards my values. I have blocked off time on my calendar for family time, exercise, hobbies, and have reorganized my iPhone to make it much more difficult to not act intentionally.

  33. This was a very thoughtful exercise to align my activities towards the ideal self. I need to put in work to be more intentional with regards to prioritization and time spent for a particular activity.

  34. I am surprisingly pretty aligned.
    I could watch a little less TV, but even that feeds into my being a novelist: primes the pump.
    I spend five hours a day working on my novels and that feels like a good balance for me.

  35. This was a difficult exercise for me because several of my values are aspirational and I really need to focus on developing them in my life. Some of my daily rituals have my some of my values and goals built in but I need to work on consistency. This activity forced me to really evaluate what my values are and the gap between where I am now and who I want to be. I have some work to do! Thank you for the exercise.

  36. This was a very helpful exercise. I think in terms of the big rocks I have managed to organize my life so that there is some overlap between the things I spend most time on and the things that are most important to me. But not a perfect alignment yet, so there is still more work to do…

  37. Hard to believe that it was almost 20 years ago that I was introduced to GTD and soon after Than and AE.
    An exercise like this one started a journey that has yielded the bounty of a GREAT LIFE and the achievement of ALL of the goals on that original Mind Map.

    Great Partner/Wife? Check
    Self Employed in my own firm? Check
    House in Costa Rica? Check
    Bucket List Travels? Check
    Pair of Beagles? Check
    Great Friends and Clients? Check
    Great Community Service Opportunities? Check
    I could go on…
    Specifically writing these goals, envisioning these goals, updating, revising and revisiting these goals WORKS MIRACLES.
    We are blessed to be part of the community of souls who know that we can create the lives we are meant to live.
    Make this a part of every day, every year (Birthdays and New Years are GREAT times to review and revise) and in a few years you will look back at your Mind Maps or Goals Lists and laugh out loud at how your journey has been.
    Namasté

  38. Are these daily challenges going to keep getting exponentially more useful because as this rate I’ll be king of the world by Friday! Such a useful exercise, thanks :)

  39. What are the 5 things I could do right now that would make the biggest impact in moving me towards my ideal future?
    1. Research my purpose in life, have a clear vision. I need help with this. Suggestions are welcome!
    2. Increase and maintain my health -> currently working on
    3. Enjoy life -> partly
    4. Declutter and clear my house
    5. Organize and keep my life organized -> currently working on (Long live AE!)

    I did not include the five things I value most in life and the activities I currently spend most time on. The outcome is that there are activities at the moment that do not contribute to my ideal future and I need to decide what to do with these. Thank you for the focus challenge.

  40. Completed the exercise. As others have indicated this is certainly giving me some pause about my day to day activities. Some of the daily tasks are in alignment with goals around growth, development and financial security for my family, but most tasks are daily activities that do not forward life goals. Need work here!

  41. Just finished the exercise. That was really insightful and made me realize that I need to cut some of the distractions out of my life that I’ve let take over my day.

  42. Based on this exercise, I declined the chance to send more abstracts to a conference I got every year (stressing myself out for very little gain/progress towards my goal). I also declined offer to take part in a study with a very senior colleague who i love to work with, but based on this exercise, this does not fit in with my life purpose. I have realized that doing more is not always (probably never) better. It is better to do a few right things than try to do many things. Thank you, Marmel and AE for this exercise and the whole focus challenge.

  43. Day3 Challenge Completed:
    My Top5 Values Vs My Top5 Daily Activities:
    (I don’t know if they should have thought in priority order)

    1) Health | Work
    2) Success | Leisure
    3) Learning | Driving Time
    4) Stability | Personal Growth
    5) Family Life | Tons of Mail and Calls

    Am i spending my time and effort on my Top5 Value to reach my Ideal Future Description?

    I lack of focus and discipline to exit the daily routine and to plan for the future I really want:

    So the action i need to take to align my values with my daily routines are:

    1) Sleep better, Eat Healthier, Workout more and better.
    2) Invest more quality time with my family.
    3) Take daily action to grow my career or to build more additional income
    4) Start to Plan& Review my +5Years Personal Goals
    5) Reduce the time devoted to improductive leisure to free more time energy and attention to the 4 point above.

    Looks really amazing how much different is take a 30 min Focus Block on calendar and pin down clearly all of these thoughts.
    I’m really enjoying this challenge.
    Cheers from Milan, Italy 🇮🇹
    Giacomo

  44. Done. It seems I am doing many things that align with my values, but still unclear on how to clear the quagmire of self employment overwhelm and constant curve balls in biz and personal life that often dismantle the plan. Goals need to be constantly re-set, refigured, scaled down, and learning how to be ok with this is such a challenge.

  45. This has been very helpful to actually do these exercises. I normally read to learn, but rarely see on paper in front of me what I’m actually thinking. I’m very pleased with this week so far!

  46. Done. I am pleased to see how much closer I have come to living the life of my dreams. I spend most of my time doing the things that mean the most to me. Thanks for the Challenge that helped me to recognize that!!!

  47. I find I do well for a few days then get lost in a series of YouTube links or watching tv. I do get back on track after a night or two. I would like to limit viewing time to an hour or less, more if a movie. An shut it off after the one thing I went for.

  48. I find that I spend a lot of time on activities that seem to make me busy, but don’t actually take me that much closer to my end goal. I’d love to explore more on prioritising and refining my ability to see the bigger picture!

  49. Done! I think the difficulty here is still being in school means Im doing things that are necessary but I definitely dont want to do lol. But one thing I value is discipline so it really means I just need to reframe my mindset on the tasks Im doing!

  50. I got a little granular on this and realized although my writing work is usually fulfilling, certain clients are not. I’d like to be able to prune the wheat from the chaff with work particularly.

  51. Done. Time spent on the right buckets but doesn’t mean there is growth in those buckets. Exercise shows gaps and lack of metrics in those value areas.

  52. Thank you, I found some things between “left side”, “right side” and yesterday’s challenge that were in disarray.

    FIXED!

  53. Between a demanding career and our business I have little time for much else. My days don’t look like my ideal days but for now, this is what I do. It takes money to build up the business so bit by bit we are reaching a time where I can stop with the demanding career and reach that ideal life I hope for.

    Some days it is hard and tiring and I’m cranky. I strive hard to have a better attitude about what I do in my career knowing that every years I’m a little closer to working for myself.

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