Life planning, purpose

Using the Wheel of Life

The Wheel of life is a tool to help achieve balance in your life – perhaps a helpful antidote to the week of blue Monday!  Here I give an overview of the tool, and you can follow the link below if you’d like to try out one yourself.

The Wheel of Life It takes a 30,000 foot view of your life as a whole, both personal and professional, focussing on how satisfied you are with each area of life.  This can then form the basis for prioritising areas to improve and creating actions to help improve them. 

First, choose your segments

Let’s start with the wheel itself.  It has 8 segments. I have seen one or two with 10, but I find the discipline of having to group or prioritise things into those eight makes you think very carefully about what’s important. There are lots of examples online of different topic area to choose. In general, the areas will cover professional life; relationships; personal health,fulfilment and enjoyment; practical needs (finances, environment); and spirituality, purpose and community.  A common set is: Health, Finance, Significant other/romance; Family & Friends, Recreation/Hobbies; Career; Personal development; and either Physical Environment OR Spirituality OR Contribution to community. Another common change is to split family and friends, or include them in other segments, e.g. with hobbies or community.

When choosing your topics, be guided by what is important to you, whilst covering a wide spectrum of personal and professional needs. You might decide to leave something out because you don’t think it will change in the near future, and it’s not that important to you (for example, perhaps you’re fortunate enough to have enough money, and you don’t think the choices you’ll make in the rest of the wheel will affect this).  It’s unwise, however, to leave something out because you don’t get around to it, or you haven’t yet succeeded in changing it (for example, discarding health because you never manage to go to the gym anyway).

Your choices will also change from year to year, or in busy years, month to month, so don’t be afraid to switch things in and out as your life changes. My current choices are: Short term impact (work); Building purposefully (work); Personal development; Health (physical and mental); Friends and community; Family; Significant other; Household management.

Next, score your life

The next thing to do, is to go around the wheel scoring your life in each of the areas.  There are three common ways to do this:

  1. Score how satisfied you are with that area of your life, picking a number between 0 and 10 where 10 means you are ecstatic and 0 means you hate this part of your life.
  2. Score how good your life is in this area, this time with a 0 to 10 scale where 10 is a perfect life and 0 is a terrible one (taking an objective viewpoint as far as possible). Then mark each area again from 0-10, focussing on where you would be happy for your life to be on the same scale.  The important thing here is the difference between where your life is and where you would like it to be. So for example, two people might score 5 on the ‘significant other’ scale because they’re going on a few dates but don’t have a permanent relationship – but then one person might want to be a 9 (happily married perhaps) and the other might be quite happy as a 5.
  3. Score how good you are in each area of your life, with 10 being perfect/doing great and 0 being rubbish.

Personally I find number 2 a little complex. Both number 2 and number 3 suffer from the issue that you need to somehow create an ‘objective’ measure of what goodness is on this scale.  Number 1, I find, is a simple way to capture how well you’re doing based upon your own subjective measure of what good is.  Since this is primarily meant as a tool to help you prioritise your own goals, rather than a tool for others to judge, it is your personal view that matters.

At the end of this exercise, you should end up with a wheel of life that looks a bit like the example above.

Take action

You can imagine the wheel as though it was on a vehicle. You’d like it to be as smooth as possible: that is, with all areas at a reasonable level of satisfaction. Wildly different scores for each segment could lead to a rather bumpy ride. Take note of areas which score particularly poorly, and ask yourself how you could improve them. Set yourself S.M.A.R.T. action points, and follow through, ideally one segment at a time until a new habit has been established. As always with diagnostic tools, the wheel of life helps you identify areas of weakness or dissatisfaction, but it is your determination in taking action to improve the situation which will really make the difference.  

Check in

Finally, revisit the wheel on a regular basis, perhaps as part of a monthly or 6-monthly planning process, if you have one. Ask yourself if the actions you’re taking are improving things, and if not, think of other things to try.  And, of course, take pleasure in the areas with high scores – you’re doing well!

If you’d like to try your hand at a Wheel of Life, you can use the OxLaunch Wheel of Life tool to create and download your own wheel.


fireworks and bonfire
entrepreneurship, focus, impact, innovation, purpose

Firework, bonfire or home-fire: what kind of impact will you have?

Bonfire night, or Guy Fawkes’ night, has always been one of my favourite nights of the year.  Partly, it’s because I love fireworks – both the experience of them, and a geeky delight in the chemistry which creates them – and partly it’s because it marks the autumn, a time of year full of the winds of change. As an innovator and entrepreneur, I’m excited by possibility, and the power, beauty, creativity and startling nature of fireworks fills my mind with the possibilities of life.

Like many of you who have experienced a career change, a life change, or what might be classically called a mid-life-crisis (at whatever age!), I wonder what my legacy will be – whether my short life will shine bright, or fizzle out like a damp squib. Will any of my dreams come to pass?  Will I manage to make a difference to anyone or anything? Can I ever be as impactful as the bright colours lighting up the night sky, even for a moment?

It’s worth remembering, as you experience that moment of awe at a fireworks display this year, that there are many different contributions to make.  Many businesses, projects – and lives – are like the fireworks, new innovations shining brightly in their time, then fading away. Others are like bonfires, more mundane, but flaring fiercely with great impact; still others home-fires, burning slowly and steadily to light the path for years to come. All of these have merit: it’s up to you to decide what kind of impact you want to have, and how best to achieve it.

As we mark the passing of another November 5th, and start the inevitable race towards Christmas, what are you going to do to make an impact before the end of the year?  And are your choices taking you towards the legacy you imagine for yourself?

book review, psychology, self-control, self-management

Book review: Willpower

Willpower: Rediscovering our greatest strength

Author: Roy F. Baumeister & John Tierney

Date published: 2012

Topic: Personal success / self-improvement

Willpower is a book about just that: the self-control – aka willpower – needed to resist temptation, make good choices, perform better at work and better regulate your emotions. In it, Baumeister and Tierney argue that far from the modern belief that self-esteem is the answer, more self-control or self-discipline enables you to achieve more and be happier. They show evidence that the two factors which most predict success are self-control and IQ, and argue that unlike intelligence, it might be possible to improve one’s stock of self-control – or at least how far it goes – through simple exercises and judicious choice of use.

The thesis is an alluring one. At last, something that affects every aspect of our lives – from interactions with our families, to the decisions we make at work, the money we spend and the food we eat – that can be easily improved by anyone. In reality, the book suggests that your overall stock of willpower may not improve with exercise, but what does happen is that it’s used more sparingly for everyday tasks, leaving you more in the tank for important choices and relationships.

Baumeister and Tierney describe willpower as a muscle, which, like our physical muscles, requires glucose to operate effectively, is depleted throughout the day as it’s used, and is recharged by rest and a good night’s sleep. They suggest that willpower is expended on all sorts of tasks throughout the day, including resisting temptations, making decisions and controlling one’s thoughts, emotions and actions. Because the same stock of willpower is used for all these things, you can immediately see that conserving willpower for the most important things is key. Sure enough, those who exhibit the strongest willpower in fact expend less on day-to-day temptations and decisions. Instead, they’ve used their willpower to set up positive habits and routines which take away the need to make small decisions (‘Shall I have a shower today? When shall I brush my teeth?) or resist temptations (like the chocolate in the fridge).

From a self-improvement point of view, the book offers two main pieces of advice. One is about making the most of the willpower you’ve got, the other is about increasing your self-control stamina (i.e. decreasing your depletion of willpower for a given task) by exercising the willpower muscle.

To make the most of the willpower you’ve got, in order to make good choices, the authors bring together some classic advice that’s probably quite familiar to you:

  1. Sleep and eat well to avoid unnecessary depletion;
  2. Have long-term goals and aspirations, but then make short-term, specific actions for your to-do list;
  3. Precommit to a particular course of action (to avoid having to make the decision every single time you come across that scenario), and use implementation intention (if x happens I will do y) to think through stressful situations in advance with a cool head;
  4. Monitor your progress. For extra effect, delegate the monitoring to someone else: a friend, family members or a higher power;
  5. Invest your limited stock of willpower in creating good habits and making small changes that will make your life better overall.

To increase your self-control stamina – i.e. avoid depletion of willpower – exercise it regularly. Suggested exercises include improving your posture (straightening up every time you think about it), using the other hand for activities you’d normally do with your dominant hand, or trying to improve your speech vocabulary. In essence, anything that gets you to regularly override a habit and reform it into something else acts to exercise your willpower. Ideally, of course, this should be something you’re looking to improve on anyway, so you can develop good new habits and exercise your willpower at the same time

Overall, this book is an interesting read with a credible theses backed up by numerous examples, and if you can follow the advice you may well become more effective at home and at work. It does ramble a little – the chapters are not as structured as I would have liked, and there is some repetition – and the main benefits can probably be gained by following the 5 bullet points above without reading the entire book. However it was an enjoyable read and if you like to impress your friends with anecdotes to back up your claims – or you need more convincing of the hypothesis – it’s definitely worth a look. For me, it was preaching to the converted, as many aspects of the advice resonate as an approach that I’ve unconsciously followed for most of my life.

consistency, focus, innovation, leadership, life lessons, mindfulness, people management, sales

6 lessons from maternity leave

As I start my first days back at work after seven and a half months of maternity leave, I pause here, amongst the hustle and bustle of working parenthood, to reflect on what it taught me. Here are six of the best lessons I learnt.

Maternity leave was everything I hoped for, and yet nothing like I expected. It started with those tough first weeks that any mother will have buried at the back of her mind, when you are yourself exhausted from pregnancy and childbirth and excruciatingly sleep deprived, trying to care for an infant who is making possibly the biggest adjustment they will ever make, from inside the womb to the bright, crazy world we live in. Doing so for the first time, both you and your infant are on a steep learning curve and it sometimes feels like you’ll never make it to the top.

In fact you never do make it to the top of that curve: lesson number one is that nothing stays the same forever, or even, in fact, for a week. No sooner are you into a routine, than you’re out of it again as new developments change your baby’s rhythms. As a change-agent and innovator, I’ve always been comfortable with the uncertainty and exploration that comes with progress, but never have I experienced it in such an all-consuming way.

The second lesson, is that you are not in control. You may have read a dozen books, taken advice from other parents and determined your ideal approach to parenting, but many of your well-thought-out principles will seem impossible in the daily effort to make life work right now. Being constantly at the beck and call of another human being – and worse, hardwired to respond instantly and urgently to the slightest whimper – is a tough thing to accept when you’re used to being the decision-maker. This was tough for me, because I’ve never been good at being told what to do, but I learnt to accept it, at least for a little while. That’s probably made me a better person, and certainly has been a lesson in humility.

Lesson number three crept up on me: a gradual realisation over time that persistence and consistency reap their own rewards. In fact, you can help your child into patterns and habits that suit your household and feel like good habits for a lifetime, if only you are patient enough and never give in on those principles – just think about the end result, and wait for the wind to turn your way. That’s why it’s easier to sell something you believe in: your messaging is more easily flexible yet consistent if it’s rooted in fundamental beliefs rather than what you think people want to hear.

Lesson four is a philosophy for life: one that’s been repeated to me many times, but never so clearly. Cherish every moment. Make long-term plans, but enjoy each moment as it comes. Soon it will all be over. That golden time of just you and your baby, which at the time seems by turns interminably repetitive and frustratingly unpredictable, will soon be over: you’ll be back at work, or your baby will have grown into a boisterous toddler, and those first toothless smiles and honking laughs and clumsy grasps will be but a distant memory.

The fifth lesson has always been known to me, but never more clearly shown: the value of time. Much of child-rearing is in effect, killing time. How to get through the day having entertained the kids and, if you’re lucky, yourself; having done something educational or otherwise enriching for them; and maybe, if you’re lucky, having done enough in the way of other tasks to keep the household running. Killing time is not my favourite activity – I always want to be doing something useful – but on maternity leave I learnt to accept it, even enjoy it. Now, I’m grateful to the wonderful carers at my daughter’s nursery who are helping share that task, so that I can spend some time doing the job I love. And I know that every minute I spend working is a minute I could have spent with her, so I make it count.

Even more important than time, however, is attention. The sixth and final lesson is that focusing your attention on something is a luxury, especially in the modern world, and yet it is the most precious gift. Whether it’s my baby daughter or my teenage stepchildren, whatever else I give them, they most value my full and undivided attention. Similarly at work, I get far more done, far more effectively, if I focus my attention on the right things and concentrate. When I’m at work, I don’t think about my family; when I’m with my family, I don’t miss work. I’m not sure if I could tell you when I’m happiest, except that it’s when I’m not trying to do it all simultaneously. The gift of full attention and focus is one you should give yourself as often as possible.

Have you recently become a parent or had a break from work?  Comment below if you’d like to share the experience – I’d be interested to hear from you!