Interior Cartography: orienteering from your place of origin

Eliza Metz is the leader of the ArtScouts and a ninja podcaster for an anonymous knitting podcast. Stranded in the land of corn and cows for now, she dreams of the day she'll call the mountains her home again. She's going to be taking over the Tuesday slot, offering advice on getting your life back on track.


Before you set out for any journey, whether it's a family vacation or a spiritual quest, you first need to know where you are. It stands to reason, then, that my first step on this trip toward motivation and life organization would be to stop, take a look around, and document my own "map". Oddly enough, as simple as it sounds, taking a good hard look at things isn't always easy. When I did so, this past week, I noticed upon review that there were a lot of areas about which I wasn't overly honest. Not because I didn't WANT to be honest, or intentionally glossed-over, but because I'm just too close to them to see them accurately.

My process was pretty simple. Feel free to follow along. I took out blank hipster PDA cards, and labeled them with the seven major areas of my life, as I see them: Social, Home, Health, Relationships (Family) & Relationships (Friends) in one topic, Work, Creative, and Spirituality. I laid them out on the table, and started thinking about each in turn. How satisfied with this area am I? I then assess each area. On the front of the card, put your current level. Give this your best estimation. On the back of the card, write out what you think needs to be changed, so you have it in one convenient place.

In my social category, for instance, I gave myself a six out of ten. I've got good friends that I see regularly, but I'm not so good at staying in touch with them, and if left to my own devices, I tend to hermit myself away. I stay away in order to focus on other areas, too, which is how I've done things in order to balance the time factor. I'd like to change how I approach social functions somewhat, so I docked points for those.

Once you've completed your assessment, print out some of the tabbed PDA dividers located here on the site, label them with the appropriate life categories, and file them in your PDA. Now, forget about these categories and your ratings for a few days. Give yourself some time to rest and give your brain a few days to gain extra perspectives. After a few days, go back to your cards and make any adjustments. I even recommend you ask a good friend for feedback, since sometimes your assessment of your life situation may be a little too harsh or lenient. Another pair of eyes is always a good thing.

Next, it's time to get to specifics of your life as it is right now. I am a very visual person -- I'm one of those for whom if it's in a drawer, it no longer exists. Out of sight is truly out of mind. So I knew, when I sat down to make my initial plan for getting things moving again, that it was going to need to be something that I could see every day, and make changes to as things progressed. Therefore, I took a large piece of old wrapping paper, unrolled it on the floor and created a Mind Map of what I needed to do now.

Essentially, mind maps allow us to visually represent the nebulous nature of thought. Start by placing one small topic in the center of the paper. Now circle it. And then you branch out all sorts of thoughts and feelings and images about that topic that comes to your mind. Everything branches out like a flow chart until you end up with a strange, organic construction that kind of looks like a paramecium of actions on paper. It allows you to go in multiple directions at once (which is good for those of us for whom logical progressions like an outline are too constrictive), and keep it all visible, in one page. You can add pictures or resources right to the map, each in its own bubble, as well, to keep track, and as you complete things, you can cross them right off or highlight them to show they're done, adding to your sense of accomplishment.

My map is huge. I've got my hands in so many different "pots", so to speak, that my map started to look like a porcupine very quickly. From the center "bubble" of "WHAT DO I NEED TO DO NOW", the seven life areas branched into their own bubbles. From there, I went into specific project bubbles, and from those, the specific action bubbles.

For example, CREATIVE had a branch that said ARTSCOUTS (a project I'm working on, on a bi-weekly basis). From the ARTSCOUTS branch, several bubbles branched saying things like "website" or "members kits", and from those, were specific actions I need to take.

The whole map evolved -- and is, honestly, still evolving as I go -- into a more accurate picture of the physical actions I need to take in order to clean up the projects I already have on-tap, and to get moving on the things that I've been slacking on in order to obsess over the undone actions so far.

The final step in getting my "road map" ready for travel, then, was to whip out next action cards from my DIY Planner kit, and write down at least one, if not more, of the actions I need to take, making my mind map portable and easy to update. I had one "next action" card for each of the seven categories (or more, if there were more actions than card), which I then filed under the appropriate tab in my PDA.

I know it sounds like a lot of work. Busy people rarely want to take several hours out of their lives to work on something that will, essentially, just leave them right where they are right now. But while it looks like you're in the same place at the end, you're actually miles ahead -- because you then know where you are in your world and your life, which makes planning and goal-setting a thousand times easier and more accurate. That few hours can save you from going in the wrong direction later, when you make your goals.

This week, I want you to take a few minutes to do some assessing of your own. Take it in baby steps if you need to, doing fifteen or twenty minutes at a time, in-between other tasks. Or focus on one area of your life to work on, like Work or Spirituality and move on to each area of your life after getting the whole picture of the one area. When you're done with your assessment, place your map somewhere you can see it, and get your tabs and cards ready to go.

Next week, we start planning how to get there, and we'll set our waypoints along the road. And I can guarantee you, the rewards are better than some cheesy snow globe or souvenir keychain when you're done, too. You'll be closer to becoming the person you want and get organized along the way.

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definitely appreciate the

definitely appreciate the opportunity to follow you along as you get back on the bandwagon of being organized and under control of the direction your life is going in, as someone who got 'on,' but was overzealous about it and thereby immediately fell back off. I particularly think that the visual organization and the willingness to work in large format and then condense to your portable will help me, as I am very much a hands-on, visual thinker. the small 3x5 card or the 8.5x5.5 page in the planner is all that much more effective when you can remember the image of the huge, messy, truthful mindmap at home that created the to do list. it also lets me make the crazy, overpowering, all inclusive object but then encourages me to pick a few, important, doable tasks off of it for the day, so that I don't feel constricted between the dreamer and doer... thanks again!