Midway through the journey of her life—or, at the very least, midway through 2014—Ximena Vengoechea found herself in a forest of work, social life, side projects, and ideas she had not yet executed. A product operations manager at LinkedIn, Vengoechea, 28, had recently moved from New York to San Francisco. She felt a great sense of momentum, but was overwhelmed keeping track of everything she wanted to do from advancing at work to traveling the world to writing and making art and doing more public speaking. Then there was perhaps her biggest question: “What’s most interesting to me now and am I working towards that?”
“I’m interested in process and how that affects people and productivity,” Vengoechea said recently during an early morning interview at a cafe in San Francisco’s Mission District. “I think it’s important to know your zone, when you’re most productive, when you feel most creative. Those are all things I think about for myself.”
She realized that the system she’d developed to keep track of her goals—color-coded Stickies arrayed on her computer’s desktop—was becoming unwieldy. So, one summer Saturday morning, Vengoechea came up with a new system. It would help her to separate short-term goals from long-term ones, to define daily intentions and prioritize her time. It would also force her to be ruthlessly honest with herself in figuring out what mattered and what was just a passing fancy.
She called it a Life Audit. Doing it changed her life.
The first thing Vengoechea did was go acoustic. She put away her phone and her computer and got out a package of Post-it Notes. “I like physical things,” she explained. “When you go to analog, you’re not distracted. It’s just you and some Post-its and a pen and it’s really scary.”
For the next few hours, she wrote down every goal (one was: write something that goes viral), every pie-in-the-sky hope (visit all seven continents), and every essential habit (call home more). Vengoechea kept writing until the Post-its ran out. By the end, she’d written 121 separate notes, each representing a desire or need. “Then I was like, ‘Okay, this is probably fine,’” she said.
In fact, it was better than fine.
“It was great because it was all out of my head,” she recalled. “That was a lot of pressure relieved already. It’s like a brain dump. You’re like, I feel good I got that out there, but now what?”
During the next phase,Vengoechea organized her notes into loose clusters of categories. She created columns for Health, Finances, Relationships, and other big picture themes that emerged from the thicket. These categories would help her see the different areas of her life more clearly and how her individual goals connected and aligned.
From there, she began organizing them by time: What could she achieve in the next few months? What was a long-term goal? What could she do that day—or every single day going forward?
“I had all these things I wanted to spend my time on,” Vengoechea said. “But I was like, ‘Whoa, when will I find time to do this?’” That’s when she started charting out her day, budgeting her time so that she could focus the right amount of attention on each area of her life.
Once she’d organized it all, she took a photo and decided to write up a post about it on Medium. The writing helped her to process what she’d learned, but more critically, having other people read it would hold her accountable. “I thought it was important to share it. It helped me and I thought it would probably help other people,” she said.
Something about Vengoechea’s Life Audit resonated with others. Over 100 people recommended her Medium post and she started getting emails from people who’d done their own Life Audits. “The feedback was really positive,” she said. “I had friends text me images of their walls, which was really nice.”
As if she didn’t already have enough to do (121 Post-Its is a lot, after all), Vengoechea now wants to help others to do their own audits through one-to-one auditing sessions or Life Audit parties. She’s even toying with the idea of creating a kind of “Life Audit in a Box” to help spread the method further.
For Vengoechea, the biggest change has been the way she’s reevaluated her time and her goals for the better. “I’ve always been pretty good at making time for things that matter to me,” she said. “What’s been nice has been going back and seeing that I accomplished these things.”
Six months after her audit, she’s already seen some results. She’s using her time better. She did write a piece that went viral, a post on LinkedIn called “How to Introduce Someone,” that was liked 700 times and viewed by 63,395 people. She has traveled more: Right after this interview, she went to Hawaii for the holidays and unplugged a little. As for calling home, well, we can all resolve to do that more often.
“At this point, I’ve definitely internalized the bigger themes I’m after. I’m shifting my mindset,” Vengoechea said.
She’s also thinking about doing another audit, to make sure she’s still on track. After all, as she noted: “January seems like a good time to do that.”
We will be testing out Vengoechea’s life audit exercise for ourselves as part of a new habit challenge. Join us and Vengoechea for a discussion about it on Friday, January 16 at 11 a.m. ET.