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How To Clarify Your Direction With A Life Audit

Updated: Jul 27, 2019

A few weeks ago, I was out on the world wide web looking for other blogs in this niche, and I found Adulting 201, which is run by a wonderful woman—and probably my long-lost sister—Cambria. It was through her blog post that I discovered the Life Audit. Now, being me, of course, I had to try it. I promptly stuck a block on my calendar for the following Sunday afternoon and set out to figure out my life.

What’s a Life Audit?

If you don’t want to go read Cambria’s post and this post by Ximena Vengoechea that she linked to—though you really should—here’s the gist:

As Ximena describes in her post, a life audit is like “spring-cleaning for the soul.” It reaches into every corner of your mind to pull out every dream, goal, or desire you’ve ever had. Then you spend some time putting those ideas into categories in order to better understand what’s up and what you need to be spending your time on.

The life audit starts with 100 post-it notes—or in Cambria’s and my cases, a Trello board. From there, the aim is to think of 100 wishes for your life. What do you want? Really get in there. Dig in. Explore your thoughts.

This is way harder than it sounds. That’s a lot of wishes. But it’s important to get it all out. We’re auditing your entire life here. Chances are you’ve got quite a few decades left. A lot can and will happen in that time, and doing a life audit can help you make sure that your actions are moving you toward the things you want.

Once you have 100 wishes, or whatever number you end up with, the next step is to categorize them. There aren’t any set categories that you have to use. Consider your wishes and how they might naturally break themselves up. Ximena used Personal, Professional, and Creative as her initial round of categories, before dividing them further.

After that, these wishes are also broken up into some sort of timeline. Ximena split her timeline into Now/Soon, Someday, and Always/Every day because she isn’t a fan of dates. On the other hand, Cambria split her wishes into time ranges, spreading them out based on how many years in the future she’d like to accomplish each item.

From there, it’s time to reflect. A lot comes to light in the process of the life audit, and each person gets something unique out of it. Maybe it will be a clearer direction in life, or the realization that your actions don’t line up with your values. Life audits are personal, and their take-aways will be as varied as the people completing them.

My Life Audit

Being a 23-year-old Computer Science person, Trello started calling my name the moment I saw Cambria use it for her life audit. I’d only used it for project management before, but using it for life planning seemed like a great idea. Then again, I pretty much think of my life as one giant project to manage.

So I set up my Trello board and got started.

I listed every idea and goal and wish that my brain could think of. I got so excited about the whole thing that I totally forgot about the 100 cards thing because I got sucked into doing my own thing and failed to remember that I was actually following someone else’s suggestions. Oh, well. It doesn’t matter.

In the end, I ended up with 81 cards, although I didn’t even think to count them until just now, and it’s been a few weeks since I did the audit. Maybe I should’ve pushed for the full 100, but I think the process was quite beneficial nonetheless, and I was getting antsy about the categorizing part. I love categorizing. I’m weird, I know.

Once I had all my wishes, I started categorizing them as well as putting them on my timeline. I made a list for each time period on my timeline. The time periods are Daily Life, Next 6 Months, Next 1 Year, Next 1-3 Years, Next 3-5 Years, Next 5-10 Years, and Lifetime. Since I love dates and deadlines, I ended up with a lot of categories in that regard, especially compared to Cambria’s four and Ximena’s three. But hey, make things work for yourself, right?

As for my categories, as they currently stand, I have Health, Travel, Work, Skills, Personal, and Goals. I wasn’t too worried about these categorizations, especially because most things bleed over into a few categories, but the colors make it easier to find trends. For example, most of my Daily Life list falls under Health. A lot of my wishes for the next few years are work related, and Travel and Personal dominate the 5-10 years and lifetime sections.

Here’s a shot of a small portion of my board:

My Life Audit Trello Board

How I’ve Benefitted From Doing A Life Audit

Well, for one, you’re 42% more likely to reach your goals if you write them down regularly (source). I’ve personally found this true in my own life.

I revisit my 5-4-3-2-1 goals every Monday, and I’ve since added a visit to my Trello board to that time. I look forward to it every single week. I spend time celebrating the goals I’ve achieved, reflecting on the ones I missed, confirming that I’m heading in the right direction to reach my future goals, and setting any new goals that I feel I need to be working on.

I’ll be posting a full article about how I set and manage my goals later this week, but the whole process is incredibly valuable and motivating. It keeps me moving forward, rather than wondering if anything has changed or forgetting about all the thing I wanted to achieve.

I love this Trello board because I was able to add end dates to some of my goals. I know Ximena specifically decided not to add dates to hers, but I love SMART goals and deadlines. I need to know where I’m headed and when I’m going to get there. For me, this life audit gave me a more concrete sense of what I’m working toward, as well as something to look forward to.

Life audits are flexible and customizable. You can take it anywhere you want, and in that immense freedom, I found direction. When the options are open wide and you have your whole life ahead of you, the possibilities are endless. In those endless possibilities, I was able to choose the ones that I really want, even if they aren’t realistic now.

I found power and answers in that freedom to choose anything I want, to dream big without any pressure, and to let my imagination run wild. The world is my oyster.

After that, all of those broad ideas get categorized, which starts to organize all those wishes and make them just a bit more tangible. Granted, “Visit Every National Park” over in the Lifetime category still feels pretty out of reach, but I have so much time.

The flexibility of the timeline takes the pressure off of the big goals. Sometimes it’s hard to set really lofty goals because it’s difficult to see where they might fit in our lives or how we might get to them. The life audit takes that pressure off. I don’t even have to limit myself to the next X years. “Lifetime” is a long time. It’s the longest time I’m ever going to get. I’ll get to every national park one day, but right now, there’s no pressure.

Though I’ve previously tracked my time, both for a day and for a week, I chose not to focus on whether the breakdown of my time each day lines up with the goals that I’ve set, at least for now. I can be really hard on myself when it comes to not wasting time, being productive, and avoiding procrastination. I hold myself to high standards and push myself hard.

I feel bad for wasting even a few minutes, even if I end up getting everything done that I need to do. Rather than take time to relax, I often push myself to do as much as I possibly can, and I don’t feel that comparing the breakdown of my goals with the breakdown of my time would benefit me right now. I’m working to accept that I’m putting enough work in, and it’s okay to take breaks sometimes.

This is why I chose to focus on the long-term timeline, rather than how I spend my time day-to-day. As I’ve revisited my life audit wishes, I can already see that I’m making progress toward quite a few of my shorter term goals, including some I forgot I had set. Rather than thinking about what I accomplish in a day, it suits me better to focus on what I’ve accomplished in a week or a month. I am moving forward, even if I don’t see immediate progress every day.

I can’t dwell on who I used to be and how productive I may have been in the past. Writing as much as I do now is new to me and not something I can focus on for long periods of time. Reflecting on my goals has shown me that I am moving forward and being hard on myself or pushing myself to burnout isn’t going to serve me. Doing a life audit pushed me to reflect, and self reflection is consistently one of the most valuable uses of my time.

I urge you to take on your own life audit. It’s easy to feel lost, overwhelmed, and aimless in life. If you don’t know what you’re doing or where you’d like to head, a life audit is something of a fancy brainstorming session that will help you build your life with intention. It gets the gears turning so you can start moving in the right direction. It also pushed me to really consider how I spend my time and how that relates to my life on a long term scale, which is a perspective that we don’t often consider.

Your life audit will bring you new insights. Mine became another system to plan and manage my goals. It gave me a clearer direction and a more concrete idea of what it is that I want to do. It also told me that I am on the right track, and I need to relax a little. The two people who inspired me to do a life audit came to entirely different conclusions.

No one can tell you exactly what your life audit will bring you, but I can tell you that it will give you something valuable. It will get you thinking about what you want from life and how you’re spending your time. A life audit will bring different things to different people, but no matter what, it will create more clarity in your life.

Recommended Reading:

Using the 5-4-3-2-1 Method For Setting And Getting to Your Goals

6 Surprising Life Lessons About Happiness That Were Difficult for Me to Accept

If You're Feeling Lost and Don't Know How to Get It Together, Read This Post

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