One of my first ever blog posts was about creating a “life architecture roadmap”—in other words, assessing the current state of your life and identifying your desired future state so that you could create a roadmap filled with practical next steps and milestones to get there. The idea is a play on Enterprise Architecture, a discipline in which you map out the optimal way to support an organization’s operations. There is a framework that works very well in this model that can work for your life as well when you are lost and in need of some way to define concrete steps to improve your life.
This framework is the People-Process-Technology-Information framework. The idea in the business world is that any operational process that you need to perform can be broken down into these components. Not surprisingly, this works in your life as well, as you need the right people in your life, the right habits, the right tools, and the right information to improve your outcomes. Let’s break down these four components and discuss how you can use them to systematically improve your life.
The Four Components of a “Life Architecture”
The people in your life are important to your success. It’s why there are popular saying such as, “You are the equivalent of the five people you spend the most time with,” “Birds of a feather flock together,” and, “Blood is thicker than water.” You need to have good people around you that can foster your growth and support your success.
The most obvious people in your life are your family, as you will usually spend a good portion of your life with them by default (orphans, etc. notwithstanding). It’s important to build positive relationships with the people who are the most likely to stick with you no matter what happens, and your family is most likely to fit the bill. However, it might also be true that you have family members who take advantage of that and are leeches regarding money, favors, or other things. It’s up to you how to handle those situations (as every situation is different), but the basic idea is to try to be your best self, help others, and ask for it when you need it.
Outside of family, you have your social groups: friends, acquaintances, coworkers, classmates, vendors/suppliers, customers, and other contacts. Here, you will need to provide more and more mutual benefit since you don’t have “blood” as a default reason to associate. Usually, social relationships are based on mutual interests and shared experiences. To optimize this component of your life, you’ll want to identify and build the relationships you’ll need to be successful in your chosen endeavors. “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know,” is a popular saying for this exact reason, as you will make much more progress in life with support than you would without it.
This is where discipline and good habits are emphasized in most personal growth and motivational content. “Rise and grind,” “Do it, anyway,” and, “You don’t need motivation; you need discipline,” are all examples of common sayings regarding following the processes that lead to success in life. The process part of success is simply determining where you want to go and what experiences, knowledge, practice, or accomplishments you need to have and then figuring out what the best approach would be to acquire them. You can read about successful people in that area or experiment on your own so that you find it out for yourself. Once you find what works, you’ll likely adapt it to what works best for you. Some people apply their own style to a method or find a routine that helps them to better execute given their schedule, biology, or personality.
Just remember that there are some tried-and-true methods to things, but there are also usually multiple paths to the same outcome. So you are welcome to research the best approach so you don’t have to think about it or try new things on your own to get a feel for what your best approach is—even if it’s unique. The best way to determine whether to go with a standard or tailored approach is whether the benefit is worth the deviation, either in terms of a better outcome or your better enjoyment or likelihood of sticking to the habit if you adapt it. If keeping it simple makes it easier, do that; if making it your own makes it easier, do that.
Technology is more than just computer hardware and software; a gas leaf blower, for example, might be faster than raking. The idea is to have the best tools to complete your work faster, better, and/or cheaper than you would without them. Typing a book is faster and more easily edited than writing a book; using a template to write a business e-mail is faster than trying to create a new structure every single time. Your tools, templates, etc. can be optimized and streamlined just like your processes, giving you the most productive way of progressing toward your goals as possible.
Note that technology does make you much more productive in many areas, but as a result it’s also often expensive. Don’t let the lack of technology prevent you from making progress; instead, see if you can make do without the technology for now and find a way to procure it later. You can also buy used, rent, borrow, or trade tools as an alternative if you need something now but can’t justify buying new vs. other things you need to do with your money at the time. Technology is an accelerator, so use it as such but don’t let it hold you back just because you can’t compete as evenly with someone who might be using superior technology at first while you develop. You can always learn to play on a $50 used guitar while you save up for the $1,000 new guitar.
We are living in the information age. Data is transforming entire industries and driving some companies into entirely new ones. For your life architecture, this is potentially the most valuable. It is well-known that college graduates earn a higher salary on average than their less-educated peers and that the difference between one role and another in a career path is always a set of new skills that you need to develop. In your life, you need to be continuously learning. All fields continuously improve; Rock and Roll is not the same as it was 50 years ago, and neither is architecture, astronomy, automobile manufacturing, and hygiene products. Every field evolves over time, and that evolution occurs when someone gets a new idea based on a new perspective or new information. If you want to make your life the way that you hope it will be, you need the right information to make the right decisions and take the right actions.
Note that not all information is acquired externally per se; there are mathematicians solving never-before-solved problems with their own mental model, people discovering new methods through their own analyses, and even people who meditate or pray do receive an answer through either their subconscious or spiritual means (depending on your belief system). So you can gather information and use it in a variety of ways, and you can also leave any missing pieces for later while you let time, your mind, or others help you get what you need. Just remember that you don’t need to know everything; you just need to know exactly what you need to know when you need to know it so that your resulting decision or action is optimal.
Hopefully, this helps you to be able to define your life in concrete terms instead of starting with a blank sheet of paper wondering what you should write down as your goals in life or what you want to achieve. With this model, you have a list of people who help you, habits you have, technology you use, and information you are interested in acquiring. You can use this current-state assessment to see long before your future ever arrives where you’re going to end up given the current path that you are on. You can also use this assessment to see how you could improve in general (with the only goal being to be happier and healthier) or if there are things that you could specifically change to see one thing you wish were better in your life. For example, you might see that you eat junk food and don’t exercise and so that changing those two things could lead to better health even if you don’t have a specific goal in mind per se. Just by looking at your life as it stands, you might see things that you are not satisfied with, sparking the desire that is the underlying driving force behind all goals.
On a final note, this approach can lead to much more practical steps than more of a dare-to-dream-big approach because you can just look and see that you want to start reading more, get a degree, eat a little differently, practice playing an instrument more regularly, or even fit more relaxation time in to prevent burnout. This assessment can get you a whole list of changes that can be transformative regardless of what your goals end up being. It’s such a great approach for the indecisive person because you can start with things that you know for certain would be improvements versus trying to figure out something so far out in the future that it’s impossible to estimate accurately like how exactly to get to a CEO position in 30 years.
So take a look at your current state and things that can put your life on a more positive trajectory. It’s not too difficult since you live your life every day and know all of the answers, and you don’t need to have a single ambition or goal defined to get started. Just document what you have and what you could do to that current state to be more capable or successful in various areas of your life, and do them. You’ll find that adding a new habit like taking your spouse out on a surprise date once per month, taking up a new hobby, maintaining your knowledge in your field, or taking time for a weekly club meeting can do wonders for your relationships, skills, and overall satisfaction with life.