Short life stories – clear goals with a powerful why

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The best way to start planning your future is to make your own life vision list. Your life vision is the hope for what your life could be and what is your perception of living a full and rich life with zero regrets.

A life vision is a very personal and unique thing, but it’s something you can share with other people you deeply care about, want to experience different things with, and who support you and empower you. You should especially share parts of your life vision with the key relationships in your life – spouse, family, friends, boss, coworkers, mentor.

The life vision is your true north, a final destination to keep in mind, the sum of all different life experiences. Your vision should be huge and exciting and breathtaking. Your vision should be your biggest inspiration in life. It’s what makes you ready for a new adventure every morning. Your life vision must be greater that any problem you encounter on the path towards your goals.

To define your life vision, you should answer three simple questions:

  • Who do you want to become (your personal evolution)? … and make your ideal-self persona.
  • What do you want to experience in life (and how to enjoy it)? … and make a list.
  • What kind of a legacy do you want to leave behind (what will you create)? … and write down a strong emotional statement.

When you answer these three questions, you should have a list of 50 – 150 items. Then what? Well, first you have to understand that your life vision constantly changes. Every quarter, you should update the list by adding new items, removing some of them, reshuffling your priorities and hopefully crossing one or two items off the list.

Secondly, you can’t achieve everything at the same time. Life vision is a rough plan for decades (or for as long as you’re going to live on this planet), not for a few months. Thus the next important step when you write down your life vision is to prioritize which goals to go after.

Prioritizing your vision list

You have to be smart about prioritizing your vision list. You can’t just listen to your gut feeling or choose randomly; you have to take several factors into consideration. You prioritize items on your vision list based on the following factors:

  1. Your current life situations – for example, if you are super ill, health should become an important priority, if not number one. In the same way, if you’re expecting a baby it doesn’t make sense to quit your job.
  2. What’s currently the most important thing to you – for example, if you feel that improving your financial situation is the most important thing for you right now, you’ll be thinking about it all the time, so why not go after it anyway.
  3. What kind of opportunities are showing up in your environment – as an example, if you just got a dream job offer then that’s absolutely something you should consider. Achieving goals is not only about you but also about the support you get from your environment.
  4. What kind of key relationships you currently have – in which areas are people currently supporting you the most, what can you learn the most from the people you spend the most time with, what kind of connections you have that can help you with your goals etc.
  5. Your internal resources and external resources – they define how much you can expose yourself to new investments. The more resources you have, the bigger risks you can afford.
  6. Your greatest weaknesses – You always have some weaknesses that are preventing you from progressing in life. For example, if starting your own business would take you a big step further, but you’re really afraid to fail, you will always be stuck at your job if you don’t address your fears. These kinds of weaknesses should always be a priority to be dealt with. Your fears show you where you have to grow in life.
  7. Your yearly focus – Every year, you should focus on one or maximum two areas of life you want to really improve. Greater focus means greater progress. Thus you should always choose one life area as your focus every year, influencing how you re-prioritize your vision list. You want to make ten steps into one direction not one step into ten directions.

When you’re prioritizing your life vision, you should have 3 – 7 items that you plan to realize in the next 3 – 12 months. The next step is to develop your vision list items into “user stories” or “short life stories”.

The goal of this exercise is to describe more fully what exactly you want to achieve, discuss it with all the important parties involved and even more, to clarify why exactly you want to achieve it. You want to add all the benefits you will enjoy when you achieve the goal.

I got the idea for short life stories from agile development.

user stories agile development

User stories in agile development

User stories have a very important role in agile development. In the old days of software development, you wrote down software requirements or features. With that, the focus was on what software should be capable of doing, without a thought of why it will be used or what the experience would be.

You just crossed a requirement off the list when it was coded and that was it. In the end, often when a feature was developed nobody used it or it represented a bad user experience. What a waste. It can be the same with your vision list items. You write them down, and then nothing happens. You forget about everything.

With user stories in agile development, you make a shift from a software feature description to a story of how a user will use the feature. By describing a user story, the focus becomes to build a user-friendly software that people will actually use.

The main idea of user stories is to encourage a discussion about how a user will interact with a certain functionality. Imagining an experience, talking about it, prototyping different options and testing is what to leads to real value.

A simple user story describes very well how a user employs part of the product. It’s a description of a small chunk of value that’s delivered to a user with a certain feature. It’s a simplified use case from a customer’s perspective. Another important fact is also that each user story can be completed in one sprint.

A user story in agile development is written by using a simple template: As a <role>, I want to <goal> so that <benefit>. In other words, a user story is written in one or several sentences, and provides the answers to the most important questions: “who”, “what” and “why”.

To write a user story the right way, you need three elements:

  • A persona – who is the user, who is the person interacting, who is the one experiencing it
  • What – what is the goal, the final outcome a user wants to achieve
  • Why – motivation for why a user wants to do it, what are the benefits and motivations

All you have to do is answer these simple questions and put yourself in the user’s shoes. Then you can start coding something that really brings value to the users.

By using the role-goal-benefit template, you can make very short and sweet (or even more detailed) descriptions of what a user wants and why. It especially gives very good clarity to why a feature is important and how it provides value.

With user stories, you can brainstorm better how a feature should function for the best user experience and you can get many additional ideas for how to achieve a desired feature purpose. Interaction with other people in the planning process when writing a user story also has great value.

There is one more important thing regarding user stories in agile development. If a story gets too detailed, you can break it down to several user stories. You don’t want user stories to become too large.

In such cases, they’re called epics. Epic stories can cause procrastination and many different other kinds of working blocks, so slice and dice are always the first steps to do with big tasks.

User stories in agile development are part of the product backlog and can be a complete replacement for traditional software requirements lists. They’re usually written on post-it notes or small cards stuck to the Kanban board. As I mentioned, a team should be able to code a user story in one sprint.

Examples of user stories are:

  • As a logged-in visitor to an online store, I can add an item to the cart to make a purchase.
  • As a CEO of a company, I can create a clear monthly financial report to prepare myself for a board meeting.
  • As a blog reader, I can easily print a blog post to read it later on a printed piece of paper.
  • As a student, I can see my grades online, so I don’t have to walk to my faculty and wait a long time to know if I passed the exam.
  • As an online bookstore visitor, I can search for a book by title (exact or keywords), so I can see if the item is available for purchase and what is the price.

Share your short life stories

Short life stories – adding exactly what, why and all the benefits to your vision list

After you have a very well prioritized vision list with 3 – 7 items that you want to achieve in the following 3 – 12 months, it’s time for a more detailed definition of what exactly you want to really achieve. Applying user stories to the task is the perfect way to do it.

By writing “short life stories” based on your vision item list, you strive to achieve the following:

  • With an internal dialog, you clarify in detail what exactly is the outcome you want
  • With an external dialog with all the parties involved, you can synchronize desires, plans and goals
  • You add all the strong whys to the goal, making it your life mission and adding emotional power
  • You list all the gains you will enjoy by meeting a goal and all the pains you will avoid
  • You break down bigger goals into smaller stories if necessary
  • You immediately think of implementation and can make a plan based on it
  • It’s something you can easily visualize in your head and put on your personal Kanban board
  • It’s a great input for making a Goal Journey Map

First you should decide how big and demanding your goal on the vision list is:

  • Epic goals on your vision list – Break them down into smaller achievable chunks that can be described in a simple life story. For example, if your goal is to be fit, write one story for your diet, one for your exercise regime, and so on.
  • Goals that fit user stories – If an item is not too big and you can describe it in one user story, there is no need to break it down.

In the next step, you need three pieces of information for every vision list story:

  • Who – obviously you, but is there anybody else with whom you want to experience part of your life vision. Going on a trip with your spouse, for example.
  • What exactly – a very well defined outcome you want to achieve. You have to imagine the final scenario very well.
  • Why –you need a strong why for every one of your goals. In addition to that, you can list all the pains and gains that will add additional motivation and emotional charge to the goal.

The last step consists of writing a short life story based on all the gathered data. It can be one sentence or a few sentences. I suggest you also corroborate the story with visual elements.

Write a life story on a card, a piece of paper or a post-it note, and then put it on your personal Kanban board and make sure it’s always in a visible place. Then add pictures, sketches or other visual elements.

The main purpose of writing short life stories is to define very well the outcome you want, and add a very strong why with all the benefits. All that should motivate you to really achieve your goals and never give up.

Practical examples

Here is an example of how to do it

It’s time to look at a practical example. Let’s say that your yearly focus is career and money, since you feel like you’re lagging behind in these two areas. You have a few good opportunities available at the moment and you acquired just enough internal and external resources to go into action.

You have your life vision list and on top of it are the following five items:

  • Becoming a manager of a team in a pharmaceutical company
  • Starting an online business for additional income
  • Learning Japanese in your free time to expand the online business to the Japanese market
  • Finishing a bachelor’s degree
  • Traveling to Australia for the summer holidays

Now you develop the vision list items into user stories:

As a person with leading capabilities, I lead a team in a blue-chip pharmaceutical company, helping the company grow and achieve important R&D goals. Such a role gives me the satisfaction of using all my talents, empowering other people and growing together with my company. It also enables me to earn the money I expect and deserve.

As an entrepreneurial person, I launched my online store for food supplements in my domestic country to make additional income so I can afford a better flat for my family and can take them to a fancy dinner every month. I will also be less anxious with earning more money.

As a traveler, I visited the main cities of Australia with my girlfriend for 3 weeks during the summer holidays to see all their natural and cultural sights with the goal of broadening my horizons and experiencing a new culture.

As a curious person, I know how to speak Japanese fluently to understand their culture really well and make new friends from there. I also expanded my online business there. I will feel much better about myself if I speak one more foreign language and I’ll be a step closer to my ideal self.

As a creative worker, I graduated to have more employment options and now won’t spend my whole life feeling like I didn’t give closure to my studying years.

You can write a few more sentences to every vision item list if you want. You can make it more or less emotional or add other specifics. I absolutely encourage you to also add visual materials like photos, sketches, etc., anything that will further motivate you. Describe exactly what, why and who.

Develop short life stories

Do you want to know more about goal setting?

This article is part of the series of how to successfully set goals in the 21st century. It’s part of the AgileLeanLife Goal Setting Framework, which has the following seven steps:

  1. Define your vision list
  2. Prioritize your vision list
  3. Develop life stories for 5 – 7 items at the top of your list – specify what exactly and why
  4. Create a goal journey map to build a superior strategy and define the process
  5. Use branching and forking to stay flexible with alternative paths
  6. Organize the superior strategy on your to-do lists with a 100-day plan and sprints
  7. Mind the principles in the AgileLeanLife Manifesto

You’re at the bolded article and kindly invited to read the rest of them when they will be published.

About the author

Consulting and management coaching

Blaž Kos has managed venture capital investments over the past 12 years and participated in the development of the start-up ecosystem in the region. Today, he advises companies on growth strategies, process optimization, the introduction of lean agile methods and the digitalization of business. In addition to the Slovenian blog, he also writes an English blog, which was selected among the 50 best bloggers in the world in the category of personal and business growth.
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