Does life seem way too busy, yet at the end of the day, it seems like nothing’s fulfilling? Are you no closer to your big goals than you were when the day started?

You’re not alone! When working with a coaching client—personal or business—I often find a disconnect between her big picture and what’s going on today.

My solution? Create a life map. Life maps are from chapter one of my book Get-It-Done Guy’s 9 Steps to Work Less and Do More. They let you visualize your whole life to know what fits and what doesn’t. I’ll send you a free PDF of the chapter if you drop an email to

Create your life map today. You’ll be surprised at the power of seeing your life on one piece of paper.

Prepare Your Work Area

You’ll be listing and rearrange lots of text. I’ve made life maps using a big piece of butcher paper and little sticky notes that can be repositioned easily. I’ve also used mind-mapping programs like XMind, Mind Manager, or Curio. Software lets me drag-and-drop to rearrange text within the map. Grab a bunch of sticky notes, or grab your mouse and software, and set aside an hour to build your map.

List What’s Going On

Now list your life! List responsibilities, regular time commitments, projects, tasks, or to-dos. Put each one on a separate sticky note. You can list things as small as “respond to email from boss,” as big as “become a better human being,” and anywhere in between.

Next, draw three evenly-spaced horizontal lines across your paper, dividing it into four wide rectangular areas. If you’re using mind-mapping software, make four main branches. Label the top area or branch: vision, the next strategy, the next projects, and the bottom level tasks.

Grab each sticky note. If it’s a major life area like “become a better human being” put it in the vision area. Vision areas are timeless themes. They span years or decades of your life. Visions could include “Have a happy family,” “Be a spiritual person,” “Have a successful career.” Really big stuff.

If it’s more specific, but still very broad, like “Take a philosophy class,” put it in the strategy area. Strategies are how you’ve decided to reach one of your visions. Visions are timeless, while strategies are how your vision manifests at this moment. If your vision is to “Be a lifelong learner,” a strategy may be “Go to college.” At some point after graduation, your strategy might change to “Read six books on new topics.” The strategy can change yearly, even though the vision remains the same.

Some more examples: If “financial security” is a vision, a strategy might be “Be successful at my job so I can get a promotion.” A vision of “Have a happy family” might lead to a strategy of “Meet people online to find my soulmate.”

Smaller than strategies are projects. A project is a set of steps that helps make your strategy happen. “Go to college” strategy leads to projects like “Get good grades in high school” and “Apply to colleges.” “Get a promotion” strategy leads to project “Launch this year’s product on time.” A “Meet people online” strategy leads to the project “Learn how to read and respond to Craigslist ads.”

At the very bottom of the page, put tasks. Tasks are usually single to-dos that are part of your strategy. “Fill out application to Oxford” is a task for applying to colleges. Your product launch project includes the task “Meet with designer about product packaging.” And your Craigslist project starts with the task “Open a Craigslist account.”

You don’t need to be too picky about whether something’s a vision, stategy, or task. You can always move something around if it belongs somewhere else. That’s why you wrote these on sticky notes—because life is messy and a life map must be flexible.

Align Your Life

Now arrange your sticky notes so the strategies to support a vision are beneath that vision on the paper. Projects go beneath their stategy, and tasks go beneath their project.

For each sticky note, ask “Why is this important to me?” The answer will be the project, strategy, or vision that it belongs to. If the answer is “it just is,” it’s probably a vision.

For example, you have a note that says “Take tap dance lessons.” Why are tap dance lessons important? So you can become a Shirley Temple impersonator. Why are you impersonating Shirley Temple? To express your artistic nature. Line up your sticky notes so the vision “Express artistic nature” is above the strategy “Become a Shirley Temple impersonatior,” which is above the project “Take tap dance lessons.” That might remind you that you need a task, “Find a local dance studio.” Write it down and add it to your life map under the “Take tap dance lessons” project.

Sometimes things don’t fit. You’ve written “Create zombie costume,” but there’s no strategy it fits with. That’s a sign; maybe you should drop the project from your life. If you want to keep it, figure out the driving strategy and vision and add those to your life map. The vision might be “Have an active social life” and the strategy might be “Be noticeable and intriguing on public transportation.”

Use Your Life Map

Now that you have your life map, use it to figure out how to change your life so it aligns better. Which strategies need more projects? Which need fewer? Which major life visions no longer fit? Drop them!

You can also draw linkages to help motivate you. Which tasks, projects, strategies, or visions are on their own, not linked to anything else? If you want to keep them, identify the strategies and visions that underlie them.

Use your life map to screen opportunities. When a new opportunity comes up, notice where it fits in your life map. Adding a new project to an existing strategy is a much smaller life change than adding a whole new strategy—possibly with several of its own projects—to your life. If a new opportunity doesn’t fit your map, or requires a reshuffling of much of your life, think twice before saying Yes.

And finally, keep your life map visible. Review it regularly. It will help you keep connected to your big picture, and see how what you’re doing today fits into the overall scheme of your life. I find it’s a good way to stay motivated and excited even when doing the not-so-fun tasks that sometimes just have to be done.

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This article was originally published on Quick and Dirty Tips. It has been republished here with permission.

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