A to-do list with a hand holding a pen that would help you get your life in order.

Do you want to get your life together? What should you prioritize in your self-improvement journey?

According to Sarah Knight, there are two parts to having your life together. Part one is about figuring out what you care about and letting go of the rest, and part two is about organizing your life.

Below we’ll explain Knight’s four steps to getting your life together by focusing on what you care about.

Step #1: Have a Goal

Knight explains the first step in getting your life together is to have a clear goal. You need to know what you’re trying to do before you take steps to do it. If you’re unclear about what your goals are, she suggests asking yourself two questions: 

  1. What don’t I like about my life?
  2. What is the source of the problem?

According to Knight, a goal should provide an answer to the problems outlined in questions one and two: For example, suppose your answer to the first question is “I’m always stressed about money,” and the answer to the second question is “because I’m not saving enough and I’m not careful with my spending.” A potential goal could be “to improve my financial stability by saving more and spending less.”

(Shortform note: While Knight says having a goal is the first step, motivational speaker Brian Tracy contends that there’s something you have to do before outlining your goal. In his book Goals!, Tracy argues that before setting a goal, you need to have the right mindset: You must take responsibility for your life, be clear on your values, reject self-limiting beliefs, and visualize the future you want to achieve. According to Tracy, shifting your mindset will make it more likely you’ll achieve your goals.)

Knight emphasizes your goals should be focused on what you want to change about your life, and not what you think you should change or what someone else says you should change. Besides the fact that other people’s goals are much less motivating than your own, they’re also less likely to make you happy. For example, if you pursue a career in law because your parents believe it’s prestigious, but your passion lies in the arts or sciences, then their externally imposed goal is less likely to inspire you than an intrinsically motivated goal.           

(Shortform note: In Drive, Daniel Pink explains why intrinsic goals are more motivating. Pink introduces a concept he calls “motivation 3.0,” wherein he emphasizes three key elements of intrinsic motivation: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Autonomy is our desire to direct our own lives; mastery is the urge to get better at something that matters; and purpose is the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves. According to Pink, when these elements align with our goals, we’re significantly more motivated because the process of striving toward them instills a sense of satisfaction, personal development, and meaningful contribution.)

Step #2: Make a Plan

According to Knight, after clarifying your goal, you should create a strategy, or a plan to achieve your goal. Making a plan is about breaking down large, daunting tasks into manageable, achievable steps and setting a timeline to complete them. She emphasizes that a proper strategy incorporates both flexibility and accountability, allowing room for adjustments while holding you responsible for progress. 

For example, if your goal is to run a marathon, your plan would include smaller steps like registering for a race, purchasing the right running gear, setting up a regular training schedule, gradually increasing your running distance, hydrating, and eating a balanced diet. Your timeline might be six months to a year, depending on your current fitness level. 

The Power of Backwards Planning

Tracy (Goals!) recommends using a project-planning sheet to help achieve your goals. While his approach uses chronological order, research shows that backwards planning is more effective for long-term goal planning. Backwards planning can anticipate future steps and reduce anxiety about what comes next. For example, if you want to start a podcast, instead of beginning with brainstorming themes, start with the final goal: a launched podcast.

From there, work backwards: Decide on the number of episodes you want to release in the first season, plan each episode’s content, outline the format of the show, and determine the equipment and software you’ll need. This method offers clearer visualization of necessary steps, making the goal-reaching process less daunting.

Step #3: Prioritize

After you put together a plan, you need to prioritize. Knight emphasizes that prioritization is about deciding what tasks are most important to your overall goal and giving those tasks more of your attention, energy, and time. Prioritization is a constant process of reassessment and adjustment, as tasks’ importance can change over time. Prioritizing helps you stay aligned with your ultimate goal and prevents you from getting sidetracked by less important tasks. 

In our marathon example, your initial priority might be to purchase the right running gear. But as you get closer to the race, your priorities might shift to increasing your running distance and stretching every day to avoid injury. 

(Shortform note: In The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John C. Maxwell offers a strategy to help determine your priority tasks. He suggests evaluating each task by asking yourself three questions: 1) Do I need to do it myself?, 2) are the results worthwhile?, and 3) do I enjoy it? Maxwell argues that the answer to each of these questions should be yes for any task you prioritize.)

The Must-Do List

To help you prioritize, Knight suggests using what she calls the “must-do list.” A must-do list is a pared-down version of a traditional to-do list, focusing only on tasks that must be completed that day or that week. To create a must-do list, first identify all the tasks you need to complete. Next, prioritize them—take off anything that’s not urgent. Your final list should only include your most critical tasks. Then, complete each task one at a time, starting with the most important. At the end of the day, move anything you didn’t get done to the following day. Then rinse and repeat.

(Shortform note: In The One Thing, Gary Keller takes Knight’s must-do list to the next level: He argues that you should narrow it down to one pivotal task that has the potential to make the biggest impact on your work or life. Thus, instead of a list of must-dos, you’re left with one must-do that commands your attention. To implement this approach, he explains, you must continually ask the Focusing Question, “What’s the one thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” This question should guide your decision-making process at all levels, from your larger goals to daily tasks, enabling you to consistently zero in on the “one thing” that matters most at any given moment.)

Step #4: Implement the Plan

According to Knight, the last step is to implement the plan, or as she describes it, commit. This is where all your planning and prioritizing are put to the test. Implementation is about taking action, sticking to your plan, and making progress toward your goal, despite obstacles and setbacks. It’s about maintaining discipline, perseverance, and resilience, as achieving any worthwhile goal takes time and effort.

If you’re going to run a marathon, implementing the plan means following through with your training schedule, regardless of the weather conditions or your mood, pushing through the aches and fatigue to increase your running distance, and maintaining a balanced diet, even when you’re tempted to indulge. If you follow through with your plan in order of priority, you’ll see yourself crossing the finish line after 26.2 miles. 

(Shortform note: Before diving head-first into your goal, it can also be helpful to spend time brainstorming obstacles. Both perceived and actual barriers can hinder your progress. Ask yourself, “What might stop me from achieving this goal?” Write down potential hurdles, excuses, or fears, as well as your strategies to overcome them. Doing this lets you take control over these anticipated obstructions, limiting their potential to derail you.)

How to Get Your Life Together With Sarah Knight’s 4 Steps

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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