Listen to my interview with Scott Snow on All The Hats We Wear Podcast! Here are the main talking points of our interview on personal productivity, goal-setting routines, and discovering your life purpose.

How does identifying your roles help you? What’s your process for choosing them and how do you relate your insight into your daily life?

It was three or four years ago when I first began to divide my goal-setting routine by the roles, or the hats that I wearI am a human being, a wife and mother, a lifelong student, a researcher and a research administrator, a teacher, a proud American citizen, a daughter, a sister, an artist, a writer, a quilter, a leader, a dog owner. All of these are defining roles, or hats, that I wear on a daily, weekly, annual basis. Every few years, I do a life audit that encompasses everything that is meaningful to me. I, like you, don’t prefer the SMART method of goal-setting. I think goals mean more and are more likely to be achieved when they are tied back to something more meaningful, something that has value for us and value to the world. In my life-audit, I set goals that are attached to the life roles, or the hats that I wear. The 50-year goal fantisies are fairly fuzzy around the edges, and then I build “stepping stone” goals at 1, 3, and 5 years that are going to set the stage for achieving those larger 20 or 50 year fantasies. I track my stepping goals in a daily work journal, that also contains my weekly to-accomplish list. I prefer to-accomplish rather than to-do list. It sounds so much better. I prefer to keep my to-accomplish list manageable with weekly goals so that I can see that incremental progress. My to-accomplish list, the entries in my work journal, and the life-audit are all categorized by the roles in my life, or the hats that I wear. 

I think one really important aspect of goal-setting is alignment and reassessment. Every few years you have to take a step back and really look at where you are now, and where you are headed. And sometimes, we have to realign those stepping stone goals so that we end up where we want to be in 10 or 50 years. When you organize your life by the roles or the hats that you wear, it becomes easier to create more meaningful and lasting goals. Because, I’m always going to be a mom – right, I’m always going to wear that hat. I’m a lifelong learner – right, I’m always going to wear that hat. So going back to school to get my PhD ties back to my hat of being a lifelong learner. And suddenly that goal isn’t about the outcome of getting an academic degree, it’s about the content and the journey and the process of learning. So when it gets tough – and oh boy does it get tough – this goal is tied back to a key part of who I am. And that makes it easier to preserver through the hard times. When you align goals with the hats that you wear, if you do it right, you’re baking in a personal level of resiliency that is otherwise not there.

You’re a Research Administrator and solving problems is one of your super powers. How do we improve our problem solving skills?

I think good problem-solvers are people who love ideas, who look at the world differently. They love finding random connections and can see patterns where other see complexity. We always joke that no matter what question you ask a research administrator, the answer is always “It depends.” Because there are so many rules and regulations and legislation that govern research, especially medical research, that it is hard to answer a simple question with a simple answer without including all of the jargon. The best way to improve problem-solving skills is to become a life long learner and be constantly fascinated by new ideas.

Let’s shift gears to identifying our life purpose. Discovering one’s life purpose requires hard work. How do we begin our path to uncovering our purpose?

Your life purpose is a blend of many things. A meaningful life must be valued by the person who is living it, and valuable to the world. Medical research saved my life, and I choose to live my life to the advancement of medical research. So, you might ask, why didn’t you get a medical degree? Well, the truth is, that the sciences and I never really got along. And I will never be a strong mathematician. But, I am a killer administrator. I could make checklists all day long. And that’s how I found my niche. Something I want to do, something I am good at, and something the world needed. And, to be fair, I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. But I know that I’m in an industry that I love, and I’m in a job that explores the full range of my current potential. And right now, that’s all I need. But uncovering our purpose is a lifelong task. And every few years, I do believe in career repotting. This is a metaphor for gardening your patio plants. In every new job or position that you take, you should have a plan of accomplishment and when that is achieved, you should be willing to start over again in a new position. When your professional growth stops or slows, its time to move, to pull yourself up from the roots, shake off the old dirt, and settle into a new pot with fresh soil. The pot should be bigger, but not overly big, to provide new space to grow and think without being overwhelmed. This concept of career repotting allows us to explore our life’s purpose and live more deliberately.

How do we become more effective leaders?

For me, I work mainly in advising or mentorship roles. And that’s what works best for me and my personality. I am a teacher. I am someone who looks at the individual person, their unique qualities, backstory, and their specific goals. I think you probably fall into that position as well. And these days, productivity and time-management coaching aside, effective leadership has been about finding a balance between all your roles, or the hats that you wear. Work-from-home mandates have disrupted most of the normal routine and the way we have traditionally lived our lives and it has opened up a new format for how we live our days. But it’s become so important to find a balance, find the sweet spot, in managing all the hats we wear and transitioning through those roles on a daily basis, even when we are doing all of those hat-changes in the same living room or kitchen counter physical space. Boundary setting doesn’t have to be 9 to 5 anymore. I work for a surgery department. My faculty are on-call 24/7, and it has been nice to be able to work with them at the hours they need me, while maintaining a healthy balance of my other roles.

What’s the relationship between leadership communication style and personality traits. 

I think this ties back to the previous question and how you view the world, and what type of work that you are doing. I love and recommend the Gallup Clifton StrengthsFinder Test. The Top 5 Assessment is just $20 and it was helpful to pinpoint my natural strengths and to give me some clarity. My top 5 strengths were learner, individualization, achiever, ideation, and strategic. And I think, even from this short conversation, you can probably tell they hit the nail on the head. My leadership communication style is tied to all of those personality strengths. Knowing that, helps me become a better leader.

As a life coach, I focus on self-development  – but it’s easy for life coaches to blur the line between opinion and fact. You wrote an article about happiness and backed it up with research. How can I strengthen my message by backing it up with legitimate research, resources, and science?

When doctors investigate how our bodies work and why we get sick, it is called medical research. As a Research Administrator, I help doctors develop and manage their research programs and to publish the results of that research to the public. When we publish those results, we include references to all the research that was done before us to prove that our methods and assumptions are good. The internet has a lot of information. The best way to ensure that you have a legitimate source is to check if it’s from a peer-review journal. I recommend using Google Scholar to search for topics, if you don’t have a university library. There’s solid legitimate research on just about every topic under the sun. I recommend collecting information from peer-reviewed journals.

Whenever I do a Google Scholar search for research articles, I’m brought to an abstract but would need to purchase a membership for full access. If I want to incorporate research into my message but don’t have access to a college library, what can I do? 

If the article you want is behind a paywall, I highly recommend emailing the author directly. There should always be a corresponding author email listed in the article—shoot them an email and ask for the pdf. If its an older article, or that person has moved institutions, the email listed on the article is not always valid. Another method is to search on ReserachGate. If you’re not a member of ResearchGate, I highly recommend signing up. It’s free and a lot of authors list their work on that site. And you can send a direct message to the author within the website to ask for a copy of their work. Almost 9.9 times out of 10 the author is more than happy to send you their work.  

What’s the importance of progressive elaboration in project management?

I love, love, love the concept of progressive elaboration. It’s this concept where the project begins with a simplistic idea and is gradually updated and refined into a detailed plan of execution. Progressive elaboration allows you to start small with the information that you know, and then build the project as more information becomes available. In a lot of ways, progressive elaboration ties back to assessing and re-aligning those stepping stone goals. Career repotting is also a method of progressive elaboration – slowly refining and growing your professional career to get to where you want to be.

What’s your approach to goal-setting and, as you like to say, goal-demolishing? What’s been your experience with creating SMART goals? (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, & Timely) 

Yes, as I mentioned before I don’t prefer the SMART method of goal-setting. Goals mean more and are more likely to be achieved when they are tied back to something meaningful, something that has value to us personally, and valuable to the wider world. My approach to goal-setting is to define the end-game: what is my life going to look like at the end if I achieve this goal? What about my life is going to change after this goal is achieved? I shape the stepping-stone goals, or milestones, that need to happen in order to achieve that goal. And I try to set a reasonable expectation of time to get the goal achieved. I mentioned that going back to school to get my PhD ties back to my hat of being a lifelong learner. I set two goals when I started my doctoral work: 1) to get a 4.0, and 2) to apply for a dissertation enhancement grant.

To get a 4.0 GPA. Now, in the professional world not a single person cares about your GPA. The reason why I set this goal is because I’ve never had a 4.0 in my life. Schoolwork has never been easy for me. So I promised myself that if I was going to go back to school to get this degree, that I would pay attention—be present—and truly learn. And the only way I could think to measure that, was to have 4.0. To apply for a dissertation enhancement grant. In my world, having a grant is a big deal. Typically in doctoral programs, your dissertation is not your best work. It’s whatever topic your advisor throws at you. And you do whatever you need to do to graduate. Typically, its not a good topic.

I wanted something different. I have a background in research, and I wanted my dissertation project to be something more meaningful than the average project. In order to apply for a dissertation enhancement grant, you have to have a fabulously sexy research project. And so my second goal was my way of ensuring that I fight for a fabulously sexy research project and I don’t just settle for whatever my advisor threw at me. Notice, I never set a goal to graduate. Because, for me, the goal to graduate was inherent in my decision to apply and start school.

I think this is great example what of goal-setting behaviors should look like. I went back to school because I am a lifelong learner and because I wanted to open up professional possibilities in the future. My first goal was to be present and truly learn – measured by my GPA. And my second goal was to have a fabulously sexy research project – measured by the submission of a grant application. So when you’re goal setting, or goal-demolishing, I think its important to define your goals carefully and understand what you want to get out of the experience and what you want your life to look like when you’re done.

What’s the different between a mission statement and vision statement?

A Mission Statement describes what you do. The Avengers possesses abilities beyond those of ordinary people, and uses those powers to fight evil. A Vision Statement describes what the world is going to look like, after you’ve done your thing. The galactic universe is now freed from Thanos and his evil flunkies. 

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about work life balance?

15 minutes. I have learned that there is a lot you can get done in just 15 minutes. You can walk a mile. You can do all the dishes. You can read a book to your toddler. You can answer an email. If you’re me, you can type 2 good pages in 15 minutes. For me, pandemic work-life balance is about defining what you want. I work at home now. And every day I take 15 minutes in the morning to take my house back to ‘beauty base zero’ which means, toys are in the toybox, dirty dishes are in the dishwasher, and all the clutter is cleaned up. The dishes aren’t clean and the floors are not swept, but visually, my house tidy. And that’s the environment I choose to live in. Work-life balance is about making those choices about what matters most and finding a way to touch all of the points throughout your day. Even if you wear a hat for just 15 minutes a day, you can make that incremental progress—that progressive elaboration—that will help you achieve work-life balance and achieve your goals.

What is auto pilot brain and how does it affect our productivity?

Brain scans have revealed that your mind switches into “autopilot” mode when you are doing routine tasks or when you allow your thoughts to wander aimlessly. Autopilot is helpful when you need to do routine tasks quickly, without conscious thought. It’s also a beneficial ‘break’ or ‘time-out’ for your brain. Example for me would be the 10-key on my keyboard – if I’m putting in values for research spreadsheet, my fingers can enter those numbers without my brain. But, there are other times when autopilot is counter-productive. Full awareness and engagement in the moment is important for living that meaningful life. Especially during the pandemic, the monotony of our lives can turn our brains to mush and we carelessly slip into autopilot. But it’s important every day to be on the look out for those new opportunities, if you’re paying attention you might discover something new. These moments should never be wasted in autopilot.

How do you use a bullet journal for productivity and creativity?

My commonplace bullet journal is my life journal and my work journal. Studies have shown that when you write a goal down, you are 42% more likely to achieve that goal. If you were 42% more likely to get a million dollars in your tax refund if you sang Happy Birthday before you turned in your taxes—you would do it. So it’s just silly not to write down your goals. And, if your going to write them down, find a way that is meaningful to you. You don’t have to be super fancy. Just find a method that works and make it a habit. One thing that I do for my to-accomplish list is to use a graduated checkbox method. I start with an open box to mark my to-do list item. If there is one slash, I have started the project. If there’s two slashes, I’m almost done and I’m just waiting on something. And if there’s 10 slashes and the box is completed filled, then I’ve completed the item. This graduated checkbox method helps me to switch back and forth between my many hats while keeping track of all the incremental progress that I’m making on my various goals.

Is it true that Millennials are more motivated by their core personal values than career advancement?

For me, that is a blended truth. My career is motivated by my core personal values. I would never work somewhere that I felt my values were dishonored. But, I also value achievement. So, for me, it’s a complicated blend of both. I mean, the dream would be high career advancement in a job that aligns with my core personal values. And I work every day to achieve that goal.

What’s one action our listeners can take to live a more purposeful life?

The key to creating meaningful life goals and living a more purposeful life is self-reflection. You have to really understand your life roles and define those fuzzy 50-year fantasies – but to also understand that life changes, roles change and our goals need to be flexible. Maybe you got laid off during a global pandemic, maybe you got on chance to travel the world, maybe you got an opportunity to go in a direction that you didn’t expect – your goals need to be flexible enough to allow for these opportunities.

I think when we talk about living a more purposeful life, people try to make things more black and white. This is my goal, this is my time limit. End of conversation. But I think there’s value in that fuzzy gray area. There’s value in leaving room for growth and change and reassessment. So, one action listeners can take to live a more purposeful life is to leave some fuzzy room for growth. Reassess and realign where you’re at every few years. Living a purposeful life is an ongoing conversation that you’ll have with yourself for the rest of your life.

So, continue the conversation with yourself and check out my blog, iDoGrants.org.