• Stefany Barker

Build Your Ideal Life With Strategic Thinking

Original Article on Medium


If you feel like you are living practically day-to-day or you are unsure where you are headed, and why you are doing what you’re doing, read this piece to the end.



Strategic Thinking for Lifestyle

In my experience, three to five years is the ideal framework for strategic thinking when it comes to lifestyle. For this, I recommend an “ideal day” exercise to avoid the mental blocks of precise achievements such as “I want to be a CEO” that don’t allude to why that matters to you. Write your ideal day five years out: what do you do every 30 minutes of the day? Where are you? Who are you with? How do you feel?

This is not exactly a Gantt chart of a project plan, of course, but it helps ensure that you’re mindfully working towards your ideal life and can seek out or choose opportunities that serve your ultimate lifestyle desire.

This lifestyle visualization is your North Star, your overarching guide to how you spend your time on Earth– helping you evaluate whether an opportunity is bringing you closer or further from your ideal life.

Revisit your ideal day at least once a year (once a month would be better, or even every day? why not!). It may change over time. For example, I wanted to be a digital nomad at some point and after testing it out for a couple of years, my ideal day visualization shifted. The shift came because I realized having a stable community was too important to me, both at work where I enjoyed collaborating with colleagues, and at home where I valued building deep long-term relationships with friends.

Strategic Thinking for Your Career

The most helpful framework I have found for career orientation is Edgar Schein’s Career Anchors. It’s best to find your top three anchors, then seek and select career opportunities based on what is most important to you. Below are all the anchors for your reference, and you can use your own real-life examples to rank them.

  1. Technical/functional competence — these individuals enjoy being good at specific tasks and will work hard in order to develop the specific skills necessary to complete them.

  2. General managerial competence — these individuals thrive off performing in a position of responsibility; tackling high-level problems, building relationships, and interacting with others; they require strong emotional intelligence skills in order to succeed.

  3. Autonomy/independence — these people need to be left to their own devices, and to be able to act without needing too much direction, interference or confirmation, often avoiding standards and procedures to do things ‘their way’.

  4. Security/stability*— these people seek stable and predictable positions and activities, which allow them to plan aspects of their life around, taking few risks; they are also often the individuals who will spend many years in the same position.

  5. Entrepreneurial capability*— these are the creatives within a business, who enjoy brainstorming and inventing new things, and also often seek to run or start their own business; they are different from those who seek autonomy as they will share the workload with others and enjoy individuals, including themselves, taking ownership for their work; they often get bored and seek monetary gains.

  6. Service/dedication to a cause* — these individuals always seek new ways to help other people, both within and outside the organization, using their talents; they are often found in relevant employment areas, such as HR and customer service.

  7. Pure challenge — the people are driven nearly entirely by a need to be continuously stimulated by new challenges and tasks which test their abilities to solve problems; they will often seek to move jobs when their current position becomes stagnant or no longer provides them with the challenges they need to progress.

  8. Lifestyle* — these individuals orientate everything, including their role, around their pattern of living as a whole — not so much balancing work and life, but more integrating it; they may also take long periods of leave to take part in recreational activities or balance themselves and their lives through holidays and other forms of downtime.

For example, I had an opportunity to move to Sydney to work for a natural gas company. Lifestyle-wise, it would be on point but from a service point of view, it was a ‘no’ from me. I ultimately said no, which shows the service anchor ranks higher for me, even though the lifestyle anchor is also very high. I marked my top four anchors with an asterisk(*) for your reference.

Strategic Thinking and Goal-Setting

While strategy tends to be directional and qualitative, you want to make sure you’re actively working towards your ideal life with concrete goals. Two thoughts on goals:

Overestimating short-term vs. underestimating long-term goals

It’s been proven that we tend to overestimate what we can do in 1 year and underestimate what we can do in 3. Take that into consideration when you’re setting a strategy for 3–5 years, and setting goals for 1 year. I’ve seen this for myself: the first ideal day exercise I wrote was achieved in the first 2 years instead of the 5 years I was expecting!

Having too many goals

If you can’t recall your goals instantly, you have too many goals. This goes for you as an individual but also if you’re setting goals for a team or project. My three goals for 2022 are (1) live by the beach for a couple of months to learn to kite surf (2) become a board member to practice my strategic business skills and (3) create passive income toward reaching my goal of having 7 revenue streams.

I similarly have 3 goals for my career. You can ask me these any time, I know them. It helps me prioritize and makes it easy to audit how I spend my time if I notice that I’m starting to get spread thin or have time to spare. I love to use Marie Forleo’s “prune and purge” methodology for goal-setting.

Everyday Strategic Thinking

A way I apply strategic thinking every day is by planning tomorrow at the end of each day. On my day plan I have:

Top three things to do

If I do nothing else, it is a productive day– these are the most important. They are the things that will move the needle on my three goals in life or my career.

Personal todos

These tend to be quick ones I can do when I have 2 minutes, like call my mum for mother’s day, check on my investment portfolio, pay a bill, lookup dance classes for the weekend– anything. This is the lifestyle, personal admin, and relationship section (relationships are the most important investment in life, but that is a topic for another blog post).

My appointments for the next day

I actually write these out every day so I can spend time doing the pre-reads or otherwise preparing for the meetings. It helps me check if there is an agenda and if I don’t have any topics, I can check in with other attendees to potentially cancel. Fewer meetings for the win!

Conclusion

Strategic thinking is both being intentional about your direction and thinking a few steps ahead. It’s a muscle that you can practice with the smallest day-to-day planning and your long-term, 5-year plans.

After a while, you’ll see it becoming second nature, and then, you’ll be in your ideal life and ever grateful to yourself for being intentional about your life’s direction. Onwards.

References

  • Edgar Schein’s Career Anchors by Business Balls

  • Goal setting by Marie Forleo

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