Have you ever tried to put a puzzle together without looking at the picture first? It’s a million times harder, isn’t it? With some, it’s practically impossible.
I learned a lot about puzzles by watching my grandmother. More often than not, there was a puzzle being worked on somewhere in her house. It might be on the living room coffee table or hiding under the kitchen table cloth.
She started every puzzle the same way. First, she set the puzzle box up for reference so she always could see the end goal. Then she spent time evaluating the pieces that she would be working with. She diligently divided them into edges, colors, textures and areas of the picture.
I always thought that second step was SO boring. Can’t we just START? I just want to make the picture. Now.
But, as always seems to be the case, Grandma knew best. She knew that taking the time to evaluate was the secret sauce to completing a puzzle quickly and easily.
You have to understand what you’re working with before you can build it into something beautiful.
The same is true in our lives. We all have dreams and hopes. Maybe we even set goals and have a picture in our mind of where we want to be. But how often do we take the time to evaluate and understand the pieces we are working with to make that life picture a reality?
When we don’t take time to evaluate what we have, we are more likely to complicate our lives by forcing pieces together that just don’t fit. I’ve done it many times. Mainly when I start new! exciting! projects without evaluating and realizing my plate is already full.
My Grandma simplified her task by first evaluating all the pieces of her puzzle. We can simplify our lives by first evaluating all the pieces of…us.
There is so much power in understanding how God made us, what drains us, what fills us, and what our strengths and weaknesses are. There is so much freedom in understanding our current circumstances, our time, our relationships, and our resources.
This simple step of self evaluation has the power to transform our yearly resolutions, our goal setting, our stress level..our lives. It keeps us from choosing ill fitting, frustrating solutions.
So how do we sort out our lives like my Grandma sorted out the pieces of her puzzle? I’m sure there are many ways to do it, but here is what I have done:
Step 1: Time Tracking
Just like the first step to reaching financial goals is to track your spending, reaching life goals begins by understanding how we are spending our time.
You can do this by keeping a simple log in a notebook of your activities for a day or two. Write down the time, the activity and any notes. It’s a bit of work, but you’ll be amazed at the insight you’ll glean from this one step.
I recently did this when I was feeling overwhelmed and realized how much time I spent ferrying my children from activity to activity and how little sleep and free time I had. As a result, my husband decided to take over the laundry (hallelujah and amen) to lighten my load.
While your results may vary, I promise the insight you glean about how your spend your time will be invaluable.
A few questions to ask yourself:
- Where am I spending most of my time?
- Am I getting enough sleep?
- Does any part of my daily schedule need to change?
- Am I taking the time for personal refreshment?
- Could any of my time be better spent?
- Are there any hidden pockets of time I could use to work toward my goals?
Step 2: Drainers and Fillers
The next step is to look through the above list and make notes about each regular activity.
A few questions to ask as you look through your list:
- Which activities did I look forward to?
- Which ones did I leave with more energy for the rest of my day?
- Which drained me?
- Which relational interactions drained me?
- Which relational interactions filled me?
- What activities to I need to make more time for?
- What activities should I look to delegate or delete from my schedule?
Step 3: Personality Tests
Who doesn’t love answering those little personality tests in magazines or on Facebook? There’s something fascinating about learning that so many of our quirks are actually…a thing. A thing with a name.
Names like ENFP. ISTJ. Enneagram 9 with a 6 wing. Beaver. Personality testing has it’s own language and there are endless books and blogs about them. It can feel overwhelming.
A great place to start is at 16personalities.com, a free online version of the Meyers-Briggs test, arguably the most well known personality test.
I remember learning that my personality type, ENFP, is the most introverted of the extrovert types. While we love people, we also need alone time to recharge.
That explained so much! I thought through many circumstances in my life when I felt that internal struggle of wanting to be with people but at the same time feeling annoyed by their presence. It never made sense, but now I recognize that my annoyance just means I need to step away from the party to recharge.
Step 4: Write It Down
The odds are you’ve tracked your time or taken a personality test before and don’t remember your results. As you work through each step of your personal evaluation, write down your results and keep your notes where you’ll see them often.
Keep referencing them, adding to them and refining them.
“Know yourself to improve yourself.” – August Comte
Taking the time to evaluate who you are, what you do and how you work best will simplify your goals. You’ll have a greater understanding of what areas of your life need to grow and which ones just need to go. Life will feel less like an unsolvable puzzle and more like a project that you can put together piece by piece.