Monday, 1 February 2016

My RAGE Model for Personal Development Planning

Over the last few months, I've been working on a concept I've come to coin as the "R.A.G.E model", which stands for:
  • R Reality
  • A Aspirations
  • G Goals
  • E Expectations
I am using this model to map out a plan for my own self, as part of my own personal planning. I am sharing this experience because it maybe useful to others, since the topic of finding a work-life-balance affects us all. The years come-and-go so fast, that we're so busy being busy, just living, surviving, making ends meet, meeting your current commitments, heads-down in work, rush-rush-rush, that we really don't take the time out, to pause, reflect, look deeply within ourselves, to map out what really makes us, us!! There's a lot of material on this subject of work-life balance, and stress - I opted for finding my own path, which I'd like to share...

I came across the concept of defining Aspirations vs Expectations vs Reality from another coach, colleague and friend. I mulled over it for a while, and then later coined up RAGE, to go further than just highlighting Aspirations vs Expectations vs Reality, but also include Goals to help make sense of the Aspirations & Expectations, keeping it real.

In this post I share an exercise of how I was able to identify the different streams of my life, prioritise them using rough quantitative formulae borrowed from agile product management like weightings to balance priorities, culminating in a future plan for tracking my goals going forward. This exercise required a lot of self-reflection, introspection, deep's about making sense of all the noise, including understanding my circles of control / influence, being self-critical and at sometimes a little harsh (with priorities) on myself, example: Is being a husband more or less important than being a Father, Is being an Individual (self) more important than being a Sibling?? and so on.

The end result is a tangible personal plan that I can use to track my progress from 2016 onwards. It is far from complete though, the next phase is actually implementing my plan, and monitoring my progress throughout the year. I intend doing so using a personal-kanban-style Trello board, culminating in time-tracking to measure the distribution of my time across my different personas (topic for another post).

I believe this tool is useful to both life and work. At the end of the post I share some of my ideas where I think this tool can add value to different work/life scenarios.

Please have a read, let me know what you think!! And if you're interested in a template to get you going, let me know.

How does RAGE work?

It's about understanding your situational context - YOU as a person, currently, are being pulled in many directions, how do you juggle all the things interesting to you as a person, plus give enough time to your work, family, friends, etc. What is this thing called "work-life balance"?? How do you know if you allocating enough time to the things that are important?? What if you're wasting (or spending too much time) on something that is essentially of little value or consequence to you?? What matters most to you as an individual?? 

Often this comes down slicing your life into two major categories: (a) Personal & (b)Professional. For each category, there could be further sub-categories, or topics. I call these Personas, and for each persona, I define Top-Level Subject as a sub-category.

In my case, my current reality, consists of 22 high level personas split between my personal life, and my professional life. I am being sliced in 22 different ways, only in 2016, and I've not included any higher level aspirations, like big dreams like travelling the world, owning a porsche, meet Bill Gates, get invited to the World Economic Forum, work in Silicon Valley or Run a StartUp in New York City :-)

I will explain the personas breakdown in the next section. This section talks about what RAGE actually is. It essentially means, take a particular situation or topic from your persona, and analyse the following areas:

  • Reality - What is the current status of the situation? What is currently preventing you from reaching the aspiration / goal / expectation?
  • Aspiration - What is your ultimate wish to accomplish? How does it look like? What does it mean to you and why?
  • Goals - How / What would you need to do to get to the Aspiration? How would you break it down? What milestones do you set yourself that will eventually reach your aspiration? Techniques like using specific measurable goals, something with a tangible outcome helps here, or it can be a story - the future vision.
  • Expectations - Based on the goals you've set, what expectations do you have (can it be quantified like a level of confidence, or percentage completion by a certain date, etc). Is the expectation too high?
In addition to the RAGE criteria, an Action Plan for each topic helps in cementing a plan that you can use to track progress against meeting your goals. It is also useful to keep track of how your expectations will change over time, taking snapshots of progress and re-evaluating yourself through your own personal retrospectives.

Personas & User Stories

Personas are about describing how you split yourself up - i.e. we as people have many stripes: 
You as a .... Individual Self, Husband, Father, Brother, Friend, Colleague, Teacher, Business Owner, Family-Man, Son, Daughter, Grandfather, Uncle, Social Worker, Community Member, etc, etc.  
So we have many commitments, relationships with people and business entities (including rights to meet), that demand our time, energy and focus - how do we organise ourselves so that we focus on the things most important and useful to us? How much investment should we put into relationships over self-joys? What is each Persona really about? What does it mean to be a Father, an Employee or a Friend?

Before I delved into my RAGE criteria, I had to understand myself: Who am I? What makes me Me? How do I slice myself currently?? And for each persona, what am I really trying to achieve as an Aspiration for that Persona??

I'm going to be brave and share my own persona list with you. Who knows, there might be something common in your own life, and you might share similar persona aspirations as I :-) ?? This is just capturing my current reality, and not looking into the future with dreamy eyes of who I could become (that ship has sailed long ago or has it?).

The table below shows the Personas for me, read as "Me as a..." split between my Persona & Professional Life, for each Top Level Subject area. For each topic, I borrowed a page from Agile user stories, taking the form of [As a....] [I would like to...] [so that ....] [...get something of value]

My Personas
(Me as a…)
Top Level Subject
Being a Brother
As a brother to four siblings, I need to grow our relationships & support structures (including continued financial support), so that our family unit appears strong and united, always.
Work Social
As a colleague in a work environment, I must nurture and grow authentic & sincere relations (not shallow, superficial hello, how you - but genuine relations), so that I am recognised as someone who values people and interactions, working together on projects, and when not working on the same team, I am a friend that offers a listening ear, advisor & mentor to colleagues as needed. Social interactions & sincere relationships in the workplace matter a big deal.
Community Member
Community Forum
As a member of the community forum, I must spare my time, resources and energy in committing to the good causes, so that ultimately we have a peaceful and safe neighbourhood for our families.
Home Affairs
As a family, living in any country, I need to sort out all Home Office requirements, so that we may live free in the country of our choosing.
Family Time
As a father and head of the family, I would like to invest my time, energy, love and passion into my family (wife, kids) so that we can nurture relationships, grow together and create a strong family unit, paving the way for a healthy, stress-free life going forward.
Lifestyle Choice
As a person living on this earth on borrowed time, I would like to make lifestyle choices, so that my family can live in the best situation & circumstances possible, that promote a safe, meaningful and promising future, where life is beautiful on all fronts.As a family, we would like to evaluate our lifestyle choices, our preferences and situational circumstances, and make changes (if required) to help us attain our ultimate lifestyle that satisfies our happiness criteria.
As a father, I must spend time with each child, building up a unique, loving and caring relationship, so that my children have good memories to take with them, such that they become successful (happy, content, confident, mentally, physical & emotionally strong) human beings.
Social Network - Being a Friend
As a friend, I need to maintain, nurture and grow authentic and sincere social connections, so that people see me as a trusted person they can turn to, so that I have a support structure in place for me & my family (and of course reciprocate to my friends).
Home Owner
Home Improvements
As a home owner, I need to continuously maintain the state-of-repair, redecorate & keep the property up-to-date, so that we not only enjoy the living space, but also be ready to sell (and make a profit), if and when we decide to leave.
Marital Relations
As a husband, I need to fulfil the rights of my wife, taking the relationship to new levels so that my marriage is successful, rock-solid, and future-lasting.
Health & Fitness
As a person I would like to reach levels of fitness & good living, so that I may lead a healthy & enjoyable life, with minimal medical issues
As an individual with interests outside of work / family, I would like to pursue my hobbies (Cycling, Writing, Art, Inventing) so that I have an outlet for my creative interests, and that I get joy out of doing so.
Wealth & Finances
As a person I would like to reach financial independence (by pursuing multiple investment streams) before retirement age, so that I don't stress when I'm retired (or in death) so that my family are taken care off financially. Must be within the realms of halal investments tracking as close as possible to Shariah.
Giving Charity & Helping Needy
As a person with extra means, I would like to help more in Charity (Sadaqah, Compulsory Zakaat, Lillah) so that I fulfil the rights of others (within my family, friends, workers, community, local and world), and in keeping with the guidelines of Islam
Motor Vehicle
As an individual with specific requirements for transport, I would like to invest in a new car soon, so that it is more reliable than my current one, and satisfies all present as well future usage needs (4x4 off-road, bikes, family-adventures, etc.)
As a Muslim / human being, I want to reach a level of spirituality that allows me to be content and at peace with the world, so that I may live life, according to the way of life of Islam, as a Muslim, and a Sufi, tolerating & living in peace with all beings (not matter what belief system others may so choose). I would like to elevate my spirituality so that I am at peace with myself, others around me, the world - so that I don't go chasing illusions, accepting the reality of the fragility of life (there is more to life than career, business, etc.)
Being a Child
As a son, I must cherish the remaining years with my mom, spoiling her, comforting her, taking care of all her needs, so that I fulfil the rights of my mother, set an example of caring so that my kids can learn from, and to show my appreciation to mom for her love, patience and support all these years. To maintain the Islamic & Indian traditions of taking care of ones parents.
Being a Son/Bro-in-Law
As a son-in-law and a bro-in-law, I must grow these relationships stronger, so that family are content with our life situation, and so that there is harmony overall. To being someone they can trust, count-on, and rely in times of need & support.
Being an Uncle
As an uncle to 12+ nephews and nieces, I must be a good role model, offering advice, help, financial aid, coaching and mentoring so that these kids have a decent chance of succeeding in life.
Blogger / Writer
Blogging & Writing Papers
As blogger, I need to take my writing to the next level, so that I gain personal satisfaction out of it, of not being afraid to create my own art, especially when "it just might not work".
Business Owner
Consulting Business
As the owner of AS3, I need to establish the brand, grow a client-base, and run this company as a real-one, so that I get valuable life/work experience from this venture.
Consulting - Client to MCA
As a consultant to MCA I must consistently deliver value, exceed client's expectations, so that my engagements are maintained, reputation remains in-tact, and overall ensure my client is happy with my performance, such that there is a pipeline of work always available.
Client Engagement Options
As a consultant, I need to diversify my clients engagements, so that I can manage risk and survive, as well as broaden my network within South Africa or overseas.
Service Provider Partners
As a consultant, I would like to take my relationships with other SPs to the next level, exploring opportunities for partnerships, joint ventures, etc. so that I improve my chances of success.
Knowledge Base
As a consultant, I need to keep abreast and up-to-date, with topics I specialise in, so that I gain the knowledge & ability to apply new tools & techniques to improve the outcomes of my engagements, and so that I personally grow my toolbox as a professional.
Job Hunter
Employment at Specific Company of Interest
As a job hunter, I must find a role & company that I like, value and will enhance my career experience, so that I climb up the ladder on my professional journey onwards & upwards - ultimately to fulfil my ultimate career aspiration (awesome company, awesome brilliant minds).
Potential Innovator / Entrepreneur
Product Development StartUp
As an aspiring entrepreneur, I must push forward on my ideas, take chances & risks on a startup, so that I can ultimately say I've tried this (possibly failed) and learnt a lot in the process.
Potential [Company] Employee
Permanent Employment, exit Consulting
As a potential Employee, I would like to attain a senior management position in an area I can add value, so that I build my career & increase my network profile (in line with my aspiration of finding awesomeness).
Programming - Software Development
As someone who used to enjoy coding (and was quite good at it), I need to keep my technical skills fresh, so that a) I don't become a dinosaur and b) to enjoy the feeling of creativity again, c) so I maintain my closeness to technology streams.
Software Professional
Seeking out People for Learning & Growth
As a software professional, I would like to learn & grow, seek out individuals, companies and interactions, to reach heights of excellence, so that I can not only enjoy the profession, but take me to new opportunities & experiences. I want to surround myself with people that motivate me, journey together to grow to the next level.

Phew! So that's over 20+ ways I must split my time up... Now for the next part, surely not all personas hold the same level of importance in relationship to another? There must be some way I can make sense of all of this by prioritizing the personas I'm most interested in...

Interestingly enough, my brother recently called me to help with the local school's governing body, they could do with my help. I said unfortunately, this topic doesn't occur on my focus areas for this year, I am filled up with other commitments, and may possibly consider that request for next year (i.e. Me as an active member of a school governing body). Now what is more interesting though, is I could add an activity under my Persona / Brother subject, and be able to support my brother indirectly helping in improving & strengthening our relationship, thus taking me closer to reaching my aspiration of increasing family bonds with my siblings!

So it certainly helps to have laid out your personal map...

How I ranked my Personas ...

At first I wrote down all by RAGE criteria for each Persona/Subject, and then prioritized my list based on the importance of the Aspiration alone. Then after much thought, I decided to get more closer to something I can actually implement, I need to treat personas differently. I had to come up with some way of weighting & ranking one persona against another. In doing so, I could then arrange my plan according to rank & importance of the persona itself.

So with this in mind, I created at 22x22 matrix of all the unique Persona / Subject Pairs, and went across from left-to-right, passing a value judgement when comparing one persona against another. For example, starting with Personal-Individual, going across and compare: Is being an Individual more important that being a Husband? and so on...

If a persona was more important in relation to another persona, it would get a value of 1, otherwise it would get a value of 0. I built in intelligence to track that if a value was 1, then the opposite relational-comparison, down the matrix, should return a value of 0.

I chose, for the first iteration to go the mutually-exclusive route - to keep things simple, and make the numbers balance. Of course, I could have went there OR route, meaning "If a persona is the same OR equal in importance" - this actually does make sense in reality, but I chose to park that formula because I'd just spend a good couple hours implementing the mutually exclusive rule, and I just didn't feel like reworking the formula again.

Anyway, the mutually-exclusive rule is useful because it drives home the point of distinguishing one persona against another, in true black-and-white, no grey in between. I either make a call or not - a simple forcing function that allows me to drive my behaviour changes going forward.

So this is how my relational matrix ended up:
Ranking Personas
Having entered the 1s & 0s, I then summed each row, and came up with a total. Then used a heatmap to identify the personas by rank (the higher the ranking, the darker the colour to red, the more important the persona).

Interestingly enough, the Persona that came out on top is my spirituality, followed closely by me being a Husband!! Prior to the exercise, I had prioritized my spirituality as something in the background, so this exercise brought to surface how important this topic is, since Islam is a way-of-life, and after much thinking and relational comparison, it appears on the top of the list (bringing to surface that my spiritual dimension is very important, which I've been neglecting for some time now).

I as a Husband on the other hand, did have prominence before the matrix, however, I would not really have put it as number one, because I was thinking more about my personal individual aspirations in terms of career & business, ahead of the family stuff (often taking family relations for granted and not investing adequate time and energy in those relationships to elevate them to the next level)!!

So this exercise has certainly given me something to think about! If only there was more than 24 hours in day ;-)

Difficulty Levels of Aspirations

In addition to getting a view on my relational-personas ranking, I wanted a way of ranking aspirations by importance. So I chose five levels of aspirations, and assigned a weighting (for points-scoring) to each one:

Level of Aspiration Aspiration Weighting
1 No Brainer - Absolutely Doable
2 Within the realms of Doable
3 Doable but with some Effort
4 Difficult but not Impossible
5 A Nice Dream - Stretch BHAG?

Like my formula in the ranking matrix, when I ran these numbers in the overall ranking plan, I got to thinking maybe I should reverse the weighting. If I really wanted to make some hard changes, I should instead focus on the most difficult things, and aspirations that fall within the realm of doable should be ranked low, since I have a level of confidence in achieving the aspiration.  This really is a matter of choice, some people prefer to focus on "low hanging fruit" since it is really motivating to knock-things off your TODO list building up momentum and confidence to tackle the harder, more challenging stuff...There is the risk of choosing the difficult aspirations that one gets bogged down and demotivated, leaving little time or lost time on the more doable aspirations...

Aspirational Importance or Happiness Index

In addition to having a view of the relative difficulty of achieving the Aspirations / Goals, I added another filter for defining the importance of the aspirations. Again, not all aspirations are equal, some are more important than others, so it made sense to rank the importance of aspirations, giving each one an arbitrary weighting:
Importance Levels Importance Weighting
1 Not at all Important
2 Slightly Important
3 Moderately Important
4 Very Important
5 Extremely Important

I was in two minds about adding another criteria for a Happiness Index - the idea was to quantify the level of happiness. Trying to answer the question, In reaching my goals & aspirations for a given persona / subject pair, what will be the resulting happiness index, i.e. how happy would it make me as a result??

Measuring happiness index has become somewhat of a fascination of mine, which I'm still experimenting with. I had this idea about Personametry (how nice if there was a device that could that?) so I am still trying to define my happiness matrix. For starters, I have been tracking two topics using a Trello board: One board for tracking my Happiness at Work and another board for tracking my Mood/Happiness at Home. The jury is still out on this...

So I decided that Level of Importance implies a level of resulting happiness. If I set something as Extremely Important, it implies a similar, if not equal, level of happiness. Hence I don't need another number.

Ranking Formula

Using the above quantitative techniques, it becomes possible to rank and sort the RAGE list by order of priority, using a simple points scoring system:
Persona Ranking x Importance Level (Happiness Index) x Aspirational Type
This is similar to user story sizing in Agile/Scrum - the higher the points, the higher the ranking / importance, and therefore should get your focus & attention.

Bringing it all together - the Personal Plan

I am using Excel to manage my RAGE list. With the Personas & Top-Level Subjects identified, for each subject, write down the Aspiration (e.g. I would like to complete a road race this year). Having identified the Aspiration, now work towards breaking down the Aspiration into one or more Goals (e.g. To enter 5 seed races by June, To ride 50km every weekend). Once the goals are identified, think about the Expectations - how confident am I, what's the probability of achieving this goal?  And as a final step, turn some of those goals into concrete actions.

Below is a snippet of my own plan - it has been ranked by highest story points, and I've also indicated the probability of delivery (in terms of my expectations of realising the goal / aspiration). This is just a first pass based on the simple, doable aspirations (I am actually going to change it to focus on the BHAGs Big Hairy Ass Goals)...
Snapshot of my RAGE Plan

Visualising the Persona Map

Whilst I've created a way to numerically rank and prioritize each specific Persona/Subject pair, and I can now focus on say, the top ten aspirations / goals, a table with numbers (as above), might appear to be a little misleading. I wanted a way of seeing the spread, and weighting of the rolled up Personas, one level up - this view is created from totalling up the points ranking (planning priority), giving a cumulative total for the main Persona/Subject pairs - basically a single view of how my life may end up being spliced:
How I'm being sliced up - TreeMap

Next Steps (Post initial sense-making)

Now that I've mapped out my life's demands for 2016, and have a reasonable idea of what my commitments and focus areas are, in relation to both life-and-work, I can now start planning to deliver on these goals. Using Excel is cumbersome, so I'm going to look at using Trello or Smartsheet to track and measure progress...I am also going to look at creating a schedule or a reminder system to help me monitor and track my progress to reaching my goals and ultimately my's a start!! I've also set up a personal Kanban Trello board to track any new topics for aspirations...I am also thinking of using HarvestApp timekeeping to start measuring amount of time I spend in each Persona/Subject pair.

I have shared my map with my wife - it's important to include the people in your life, their input is valuable as it provides different perspectives. It is also useful because this sharing opens you up to others, and makes them appreciate the challenges you're facing along the many facets of your life...

Of course this list can't be static, it needs constant grooming, refining and simplifying. I am currently grooming my list, rolling up similar personas, since the level of detail of the first draft is a bit too granular. Constant feedback, and updates from further introspections will happen, as well as, new ideas for aspirations must be tracked as well (you guessed it, I have another Trello board to track my new aspirations ;-)

Other Areas of Use

Apart from using this technique / tool for your personalised inventory checking, I believe this exercise will benefit others in areas such as:

  • As a student out of high school, settling on your future life choices can be daunting. So many choices, so many people with advice. You can use this tool to make sense of your options, and prioritize accordingly.
  • As a student just graduating from college, you too have to make choices around your next career aspiration. How do you choose the company that best meets your aspirations? What factors play a role in prioritizing? Use this tool to help you decide.
  • As an entrepreneur or small business owner, you're faced with many ideas and options to take your business to the next level, so how do you make sense of the next area to focus, which direction is going to add the most value??
  • As a person with ideas, or managing your product roadmap, how is one idea or feature more important than the other? In the same way as I've used personas, you can use the same deep thinking questions to help you sift through competing ideas - and prioritize by rank and value.
  • As a line manager, you have to manage people, set their goals and objectives. Wouldn't you like to use a more meaningful approach to setting objectives and expectations?? Using this technique will not only bring clarity to your team, but is bound to improve the relationships going forward (your team will look forward to defining meaningful objectives instead of seeing the appraisal process as a pain).
  • As a worker, you have many responsibilities, projects and tasks to take care of - how do you prioritize your work, time management and also do stuff that not only ticks the done boxes for tasks, but also help you grow in the company as well??
  • As a parent, how do you manage all the ideas, aspirations and goals you're setting for your children? Are you doing too much? Are you focusing on the right areas?? 
  • As a project office, how do you prioritize and manage the tens of projects under your portfolio? How do you value one project over another? 
That's a few areas just top-of-mind, I'm sure there's more...

Feedback / Coaching

If you found this topic interested, please share your comments on this blog.
If you're interested in learning more, or would like a template of the tool to use in your own life mapping and planning, let me know. I am glad to help out, to the point of running a coaching session taking you through this journey!!!


  1. I find it extremely useful and applicable.

    Fortunately I am in a good and manageable state.

    I am keen to engage further, well done!

  2. Very interesting Muhammad and potentially quite useful. Can you share the templates with me? Think for general use it will need to be simplified or some guidelines for simplification established. NB. If you can get the happiness answer from this analysis humanity will be eternally grateful.:)

    1. thanks Santjie. I will work on a generic template and share with you soon...the world really needs a happiness index algorithm ;-))

    2. Dear Santjie,
      I created a generic model for you to use, check out my post from this morning. There's link to download the template. Hope you find it useful!!

  3. This looks familiar :-) I like that you introduced the binary system to make prioritizing everything easier. Thank you for sharing this...