One of the key tools I found critical in my pursuit of personal growth and living a purposeful life is creating my own life handbook. What do I mean by a life handbook?
A life handbook, to put it simply, is your manual that contains anything and everything important in living your life, from your life purpose, adages, life lessons, long-term goals, short-term goals, strategies, plans, right down to your daily tasks. Just like you need a driving manual to learn driving, your life handbook is your manual to progress in life. Just as the Bible is the guidebook that reflects the doctrine and creed of Christianity, your life handbook is your map toward living your best possible life.
The idea of having a life handbook came to me over a year ago. In 2006, I realized my life passion to help people grow before I started my corporate job. At that point, I made the decision to enter the corporate world anyway for growth purposes, but promised myself to keep in mind my passion and pursue it full-time one day.
Fast forward to a year later in 2007, and what did I have? Absolutely no progress on my passion whatsoever! And it wasn’t because I had lost interest in it. It was simply because I was so busy juggling my busy work schedule and my daily life that I had no mental energy left to think about my passion at the end of the day. This was the same for most of my Quadrant 2 goals.
Besides that, I also noticed there were a lot of important things I was learning in life and they were either lost over time or stashed away in my latent memory. I wasn’t proactively leveraging on what I had learned, not because I didn’t want to, but because there were just too many things to keep up with just the memory. While I made an effort to pen things down in notebooks and documents, these were often strewn everywhere and it was a chore to get them in place.
When I troubleshooted the situation, I realized it was because I lacked a central system to support my life. If I were to create a one single document which lay the blueprint on how I could get the best out of life; If I were to refer to this document as my sole reference every day; it would help me become much more focused. A lot of unnecessary rework would be cut away. This would be the only place where I document everything noteworthy and it would serve as the guide for my everyday thinking, decisions, actions to be the best I can be. And hence, my life handbook was born.
Benefits Of Having Your Life Handbook
A life handbook is incredibly powerful in many ways. First and foremost, having this document is your key enabler to becoming a true leader of your life. It is where you get reminded of your life purpose/vision, your adages and all your goals so you can continuously steer in the right direction. Having this level of clarity gives you instant focus, helps you take command of your life and ignore everything else that do not matter. Daily to-do lists, action plans for my goals, etc were great for a start, but they only allow you to live life to the fullest within those compartments. To truly live life to the fullest, you need to see your life as an entity by itself.
Secondly, it grants you increased mental resources. Think of your brain as a mental hard drive that has only 10meg of memory. Because this 10meg of mental space is so limited and precious, you want to use it wholly for the task you are working on at any point in time (and become more productive in the process), rather than using it to store information you don’t need currently. A life handbook is like an external, unlimited hard drive where you dump every thing that you can ever possibly need so you can refer it to the future vs storing it in your mind.
Thirdly, it makes you highly organized. There are a lot of different things we have to juggle with everyday – from pursuing our goals, tackling obstacles that surface, managing across different long-term and short-term priorities, to doing our day-to-day tasks. All these makes it very easy to get into disarray. In a bid to become more organized, you may start using post-it notes, create to-do lists, buy personal organizers, etc. However, over time, just trying to keep up with these lists becomes a task in itself to upkeep, which defeats the whole purpose of using them to begin with! A life handbook, on the other hand, keeps you highly organized as it serves as the singular one central medium where you store the information you need.
Fourthly, it makes you much more effective. Have you ever found yourself looping in certain behaviors which prevent you from moving forward? Do you ever feel you seem to be stuck in situations even though you have encountered similar ones before? In your life handbook, you document lessons you gained from your experiences, so that you can always reference back to make better decisions in the future. This allows you to move forward in becoming the best person you can be rather than repeat your footsteps from the past.
What To Use For Your Life Handbook
There is no hard and fast rule on how a life handbook should be; it is up to your preference. It can be in the form of a book, a personal organizer, a soft copy, an online document, etc. I find a digital life handbook (using Excel, Word, etc) much more effective since 1) You can easily edit the information 2) It has in-built functions to organize information readily 3) It is transferable across different mediums. My personal recommendation will be a word document or spread sheet. If you’d like a hard copy, it’s great too. Go shopping for a nice book that resonates with you to get started.
Some of my clients use Excel/Powerpoint to create their handbook. Some of my clients prefer hard copy, buying folders/blank notebooks, then customizing/decorating them to be their handbooks. It’s exciting to see how each of them put together their handbook – no matter how many times I work with a client to create his/her life handbook, everyone’s life handbook always comes out differently, because it’s a representation of the person’s individuality and identity.
When creating your life handbook, bear in mind that this is just like your life’s blueprint. It should contain anything and everything that is important to live your best life. Below is a good starting point on what you should put:
- Life purpose/vision/mission (covered in Live a Better Life in 30 Days Program - Day 16: Discover Your Life Purpose)
- Values (If you have Personal Excellence Book Volume 1, be sure to read the exclusive article Discover Your Values. Also, check out Day 15 of 30DLBL on identifying your values.)
- Strengths and improvement areas
- Life adages
- Vision board (Visual representation of what you want in life. Check out Day 4 of 30DLBL on creating your vision board)
- Life goals: Long-term (5, 3, 1 year) and short-term (monthly) goals (Check out Day 3 of 30DLBL on creating your life map with your 1/3/5-year goals)
- Plans to achieve your goals
While the above may seem a bit hefty and overwhelming, there is no need for you to finish writing everything in one sitting; neither is it logical to expect that. You will find that simply writing out this document requires a high degree of self awareness and clarity on your life. Take as much time as you need to introspect upon the areas above. The handbook will always remain as a work-in-progress document. There will never be a point when it is ‘finished’, since you are constantly updating it as you live through life, get new lessons, achieve your goals and aim for higher grounds. Make it a daily habit to update your handbook every day, even if it is just 5 minutes each time.
I first started working on my life handbook in early 2008, in an excel sheet. At that time, I didn’t consciously think of this or term it as a life handbook. I just saw it as a document to put my life lessons in, so I could refer regularly for insights and guidance. Before I knew it, I was adding on to it day after day, adding to it, editing it, structuring it, restructuring it, until it became a whole manual of its own. When I wasn’t busy working, I would be laying out its bricks, chipping in little bits every day and working on it for longer periods over the weekends. It was about a couple of months before I finally felt the basic foundation of the document was in place.
1 year later today, my handbook has become a massive workbook with nearly 20 sheets chocked full of wisdom, lessons and information paramount to me and my life. Below is a partial outline of my handbook:
- My overall life purpose/vision
- My life-long goals
- 5/3/1 year goals
- My 1 year goals, break down into months
- My vision board
- My values
- My overall life adages based on what I have learned in life
- My strengths; My improvement areas and blind spots
- Things that motivate me in life
- My strategies, plans and tracking for my goals
- Daily to-do list (Updated on ongoing basis)
- Inspirational quotes
- Highlights of each year
- Reflections I get every year
- Miscellaneous information which I access frequently: My finances, my credit card info, grocery lists, etc
Your handbook should be organized in a manner that is meaningful to you and effective for your perusal. It should be a document that motivates you and keeps you going everyday. It should keep you focused on what’s important for you. Feel free to decorate it with photographs, images, graphics, and the like. I include a lot of relevant visuals for my most important goals. For example, for my healthy living goal, I have visuals of fruits, nuts, fruit/vegetable smoothies, salads and water.
Because this book is so important, remember to keep at least one backup of it. I have a copy on my computer which I access on a daily basis and a backed up copy in an external harddrive.
- Decide if you want a hard or soft copy book.
- As I mentioned in life handbook article, I recommend soft copy because it’s easy to edit. Mine is soft copy Excel worksheet. It has many different sheets, whereby each sheet is a section itself.
- If you want hard copy, it’s good too! Go shopping for a nice book that resonates with you to get started.
- Fill in your handbook
- Start with your mission statement, and go from there. Refer to sections on what to put.
- Since it’s your life handbook we’re talking about, it can get overwhelming with the amount of information to put. Don’t worry about it – just do it bit by bit. It’s not meant to be finished in one day; in fact it’s meant to be filled in and updated your whole life. Do whatever you can today, then continue on tomorrow. 2 weeks should be a good enough time to fill up the core base of the book.
- Decorate it!
- Your handbook is all about you, so personalize it and make it appealing to you
- My handbook is an excel workbook with many different colored sections. They guide me in reading. I have a vision board sheet where I plaster all the pictures of goals I want
After Creating Your Life Handbook
- Look at your handbook every morning before you start your day. With your handbook in place, develop the habit to start off your day by reading it. Start off with your purpose, your values, followed by adages in life, your long-term goals then your short-term goals. You will find that even just spending a few minutes looking through it everyday will give you immense focus and clarity throughout the day which will lead to dramatic changes in the long-run.
- Refer to it through the day to remind yourself of what you want. I have my life handbook open in my computer all the time, so it’s second nature to refer to it and update multiple times in a day. If it’s a hard copy, carry with it wherever you go. My clients carry their handbooks everywhere they do.
- Update it constantly. Start using it as the central repository for every single piece of information that is valuable to you. Whenever you come across something that is meaningful and noteworthy, incorporate that into your book. Whenever you have a new goal, include it inside. Whenever you get an ‘AHA!’, revelation or epiphany, capture it so it will not get lost. While you might find some getting used to in the beginning, in no time you will become naturally inclined to refer to your handbook every time.Remember, your handbook is a work-in-progress document. Nowhere will it ever be completed in the truest sense of the word, because your life is a journey to be discovered every day. Your handbook is an evolving tool to guide you to live your best life. Whenever you get a new epiphany/learning/insight, pen it down into the book.
- Back it up regularly. If you have a soft copy handbook, please back it up frequently (cue monthly).
Congratulations – from today onwards, your handbook will be your guiding point, your manual to live your best life.
Be sure to check out Day 17 of 30DLBL Program on creating your own life handbook.