How to Create a Life Handbook

The main tools I use to get and stay organized are a life handbook, journal, and planner.

These tools have helped me manage my long-term state of being to get me where I want to go. It has helped me stay on track and clear.

Do any of these feelings sound familiar?

  • I have so much to do and don’t know where to start. I know what has to be done, but I start over-analyzing and stressing out. (ANALYSIS PARALYSIS)

  • I'm too tired to work at maximum efficiency. (DECISION FATIGUE)

  • There aren’t enough hours in the day to do what I want to do. If only I had more time, then I’d be able to do more and achieve my goals. (TIME MYTH)

  • Every time I think I’ve internalized a life lesson, I default to my old ways. (HABIT PERSISTENCE)

At one point or another, I made all these excuses. This three-part life toolkit is how I transformed stress into an activator instead of an inhibitor. Instead of starting all over again every day with all the thoughts and to-dos, every action item has a place.

This practice harnesses a few simple principles:

  1. The act of writing down sets intention.

  2. Organizing ideas makes them easily accessible later.

  3. You can build on your progress and minimize some of the major conflicts that hinder success.

  4. It harnesses every medium. Want to articulate something you can easily edit later? Into the life handbook it goes. Frustrated with your laptop? Write it down.

The result is powerful:

  • A greater sense of efficiency and productivity

  • A diversion from low-level distractions that waste extra pockets of time

  • Channeling your energy into something that builds on itself over time through very little effort

  • Feel more energized by investing in your self-development

It wasn’t always this way. I started keeping a life handbook in 2016. Before that, my preferred mode of building was through journaling (see why I write). Journaling is an excellent way to cope with emotions by creating a sense of observation of the mind; a life handbook is a powerful way to harness thoughts. Think of both methods as an extension of your mind. You’re storing figments of your imagination in an external source which can later be drawn on for inspiration or even shared with the world. After one year, you can archive the notebook, migrate it into a new year, and continue making changes. It's interesting to see how they change year by year.

That said, not everyone sees personal development as interesting, useful, or productive. This article is meant for people who see the space between where they are and where they want to be and are actively taking steps to bridge that gap.

How do I start a life handbook?

The life handbook is essentially an electronic notebook comprised of tabs/sections and pages. It contains different facets of your personal development. I personally like OneNote’s interface and find it easy to use on my laptop. Feel free to use any application that enables organization, such as EverNote. Thse tools can also help manage large projects such as a thesis, a blog, or a novel.

Here are 8 possible sections of a life notebook:

1. Overview

Use this page to call out any action items (such as projects) that can be addressed in specific sections of the life handbook. In this section, you can quickly jot down ideas for filing later. Split them up by urgency and importance.

You may also choose to include your short-term and long-term projects here as a reminder.

2. Identity

Who are you? Knowing yourself is key to knowing your purpose. Your values help you make aligned split-second decisions. This section includes…

  • Identifiers: What nouns describe who you are as a person? What nouns describe who you want to be? Examples: current musician, aspiring teacher

  • Key values: What virtues do you find important? Answering this question enables you to see whether your actions align with your core principles. Examples: open-mindedness, authenticity, intuition, integrity, courage.

  • Qualities and character: How would you describe yourself? How do others describe you?

  • Inspirational feelings: How do you want to feel?

  • Mantras: Simple phrases for meditation

  • Personality test results: I recommend the Big Five personality assessment, which is one of the most validated and standardized personality tests. Unlike the MBTI, it places you on a spectrum compared to other people your age and sex.

  • Political stance: this is interesting merely for data collection on yourself and enlightens you on your philosophy. Sometimes we switch stances over the years based on new evidence.

3. Purpose

Why do you do what you do?

  • Mission statement: How do you feel called to contribute to something greater than yourself? This page may be difficult to fill in at first, and that’s perfectly okay. For help, see defining the why.

  • Academic interests and hobbies: What do you do for fun? What do you get excited to learn about?

  • My Perfect Week: If money were no object, what would you spend your days doing? Example: producing travel videos, exploring nature, hosting workshops.

  • Elevator pitch: How can you boil down your niche into a statement that’s concise and punchy?

4. Future

  • My Best Life: One of the most powerful ways to actualize your goals is to envision and design your ideal life. What’s the difference between how you’re living today and how you want to be living? Set a beacon to strive towards. Consider what you love to do and what fuels your energy. What are your ideal lifestyle, activities, family, pets, travel, salary, location, and home?

  • My Vision Board: For more details, see how I created my vision board.

  • Goals: One-year (short-term), five-year (mid-length), and 10 year (life-long) goals

  • Aspirations: What do you want to be when you grow up? What ideas/projects do you want to run with? If you could teach a class or start a club, what would it be?

  • My Bucket List: What do you want to do, and what places do you want to visit?

5. Career

  • Career mission statement: What's your elevator pitch?

  • Key workplace values: What’s most important to you in an ideal job? Examples: flexible, interesting, opportunity for impact, good culture, variety

  • Skills and traits: Your learning styles, career strengths, areas for improvement, blind spots

  • Dream jobs and career ideas: The goal is to combine what you love to learn and do, what you’re good at, what benefits society, and what pays well. This page can also include top companies you want to work for.

  • Self-employment: What freelance services could you provide? If you could start a business, what would it be? How can you generate multiple streams of income?

  • Project or business ideas/brainstorm

6. Philosophy

  • Life lessons: Truths and personal motivators

  • Favorite quotes: Inspirational mottos and adages

  • Reflection: quarterly, end-of-year

  • Role models: List out who you admire, past and present, in science, medicine, philosophy, lifestyle, business, leadership, etc. What qualities do many of them have in common?

  • Favorite books: use GoodReads

7. Ideas

Use this section to expand on project or business ideas from the careers section. If you’re an aspiring scientist, you may wish to come up with your own theories. If you’re a content creator, you can include new ideas for videos.

8. Learning

Use this page to compile your list of books to read, topics to research more about, and questions to ask yourself.

The idea for a life handbook was inspired by Celestine Chua at Personal Excellence. Check out her blog post here.