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Life Audit: Building Awareness
Previously I wrote about identifying your core values. If you haven’t done that exercise it please do, it will be important for the third step in this series! Today we’re taking the second step necessary to really work on our lives as an authentic whole. Today we’re going to do a life audit. What’s a life audit? Much like an audit in the financial world a life audit is a way of taking stock of everything in our lives. We do it to know what’s really there. On the surface it seems like an unnecessary exercise, surely we all know what’s in our lives? But the truth is we usually don’t. We think we know what it is that makes up our lives. But so much of it is absolutely invisible to us that it doesn’t even register.
Ever felt stressed, burned out, or over scheduled? Have you gotten to Friday without achieving any of your goals for the week? It happens to all of us. There’s never enough time for everything and it seems like there’s less time every year. The issue isn’t actually that we have less time, but that our lives have become so cluttered with things we really don’t care about that the things we do care about get squeezed out.
Naming & Measuring
The first step is to actually get a handle on what we’re dealing with. I know your life is already busy but this will take a little bit of time so figure out
when you can devote a bit of time to the exercise. If the time is broken up over a few different sessions that’s fine, it might even work better for you. You’ll need paper and pencil. Try to carry them with you for a week. Things will pop up that you’d forgotten about until you are in the middle of them. You’ll need your calendar (however you keep that) for home, work, family, etc. And you’ll need any planner or other way you track your time and activities throughout the day.
We’re going to start by making lists of everything. OK, not quite everything but pretty darn close. The key here is that we need to make sure we’re accounting for all the places that you are spending your resources. You’ve got lots of different resources and some may not be so obvious. So let’s get started. Remember, it’s fine to make notes and come back to it later, update as necessary. You probably can’t do this audit well in just one sitting, something will get missed.
I suggest that you spend a week working on this as you get time. Perhaps set aside some time at the beginning of the day to look forward to what you will be spending time and energy on, or in the evening to review what actually happened. Try mixing it up and see if that uncovers things you hadn’t thought of. The goal is to be as complete as possible so you can get an accurate picture of what takes up your time and energy.
The first and most obvious thing are those items that are on your calendar. You’ve likely got work, dinner with a friend, maybe a date or a yoga class.
All of these things that appear on your calendar should go on the list. You can group them as makes logical sense. So all the time you spend at work might get one note: work. Your exercise classes might be their own item, socializing with friends can have it’s own category as well. But it’s possible you’ve got something that really stands out, maybe you are training for a marathon in addition to your other exercise time. Then give that it’s own spot on the list as it’s taking a lot of your time, and energy.
There might be relationships that show up on your calendar that also note their own inclusion in the list separately from a group like “friends.” That’s OK, there is no judgement at this point. An item might go on the list because it’s a great positive thing or a negative. The only judgement is: does this take up my time or energy? If so down it goes.
This is a little more “fluffy” of a category, you probably don’t have a place where all these things are neatly noted down as with your calendar. But next it’s time to mark down the things that take up your energy. They almost certainly take up time too but often that time isn’t marked on the calendar, it’d dribbled out in fits and starts throughout your day in a way that’s hard to quantify. The bigger cost here is mental and emotional.
An example of something in this category would be caring for your elderly parents. You probably spend time worrying about them, making phone calls, or trying to talk them into moving into a smaller place. There’s a huge emotional toll to these sorts of things even though they don’t tend to show up on your calendar.
Good things might fall into this category too, perhaps your daughter is a budding soccer prodigy and you spend time very day helping her practice in the back yard, planning out her schedule, making calls to find just the right coach to help her work on some new skill. Just because it’s a positive thing doesn’t mean it’s not taking up a lot of your mental or emotional energy. Mark it down. These may be harder to sit down and write out easily. So here’s where keeping that list with you through your week comes in handy. As you find yourself spending energy on something write it down!
Ah the big one. If you already have a well crafted budget then you’ve probably got this handled, good for you! Now’s a great time to get a good look at what’s really going on in your finances if you’ve never done a budget before. If you’ve never done this before it might take more than a week to get a good idea of where your money is going. But there’s no time like the present to start. First sit down and list out the things you know: how much money comes in each month and the big stable expenses (like mortgage, rent, car payment, student loan payments, etc) that go out each month.
Either go back through last month’s credit or debit statement, or keep track this month and figure out where all the other money you spend in a month generally goes. You’ll have to do some general rounding off here but pay attention to utility bills, groceries, eating out, entertainment, debt payments, etc. We’re not doing a detailed budget at this point. But your money is a resource like your time, or your emotional energy and it will factor into our third step so get a general overview now of what income and expenses look like.
The Invisible Stuff
And now to the stuff that really falls through the cracks. This is the stuff that happens almost without us being aware of it. For me that’s things like
restocking the extra toilet paper in bathrooms, refilling soap dispensers, laundry, grocery runs, or meal prep and cleanup. It used to include a lot of house cleaning chores as well. In fact when my husband and I first got married and were both working outside the home we spent nearly our whole weekend cleaning the house almost every weekend. It was miserable. But we were hardly even aware of it, it was just one of those things that had to happen.
When we did a similar process to this life audit we were able to identify that formerly invisible annoyance: nearly all our free time together was spent scrubbing toilets and vacuuming, and being grumpy. We hired a cleaning service and have had one ever since, through three moves and three different cities. It transformed our marriage and our lives, that one simple thing. And that’s why this audit is important.
Again, mark these things down throughout the week. When you become aware that you are doing something that has to be done regularly and just sort of “happens” write it down. You might be surprised how many things have accumulated in your life without you even noticing!
Making Sense of It All
By the end of the week (or however long you’ve done this step) you’ll have quite a list filled with all the activities, people, and “stuff” that take your time and energy on a regular basis. Right now it’s probably a pretty messy list without much order. It’s not terribly helpful as it is. So the last step in this phase of the process is to get a handle on what’s really there in that big messy list of yours.
My preferred method is to group things by categories (work, home, family, etc) and then within those categories put things in order of just how much time or energy they require. So my horse is right at the top of my personal list because she takes a lot of time, energy, and money. I adore her and it’s all worth it, but the truth is having a horse is a big commitment. Right now we’re not applying any judgement to these lists we’re just trying to get a handle on what’s there and what is taking the most of your resources. Be as dispassionate as possible.
If you like you can put a happy face or sad face next to those things that are really life giving and happy for you, or those that you hate or wish you could jettison. We aren’t to the stage of actually changing anything yet, but it can be interesting to see how many of those sad or happy faces ended up at the top (most time/energy consuming) of your lists.
Next week we’ll sit down together and start working through those lists and making real changes to better balance your values and commitments. The next step isn’t something that’ll be done and over with in a few hours, or a few days. It’s an ongoing process which is why we’ve spent so much time preparing for it. But it’s worth the hassle. When the things we devote our time and energy to actually align with our values the result is a life lived with authenticity. It’s easier to build a life you love when you are actually devoting yourself to the things you care about most.