Dec 2014

Start playing your roles

Effectiveness is doing the things that get you closer to your goals. Efficiency is performing a given task (whether important or not) in the most economical manner possible. Being efficient without regard to effectiveness is the default mode of the universe.”

– Tim Ferriss (author of The 4-Hour Work Week)


If you’re like me, you think being productive means always being busy and that being busy always means you’re being productive. You think more work will always produce more results. You dream up potential work to do when the load gets light, and only later wonder what your goals really are, where the time went, and if this is really what you want to do with your life.

If that’s not you, feel free to check out now. I won’t be offended by it.

But if you do feel like you just go-go-go, give-give-give, and question your motives and ambitions in the few moments you have time to breathe, then I’d like to share something that has helped me over the last few months.


Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz, has recently launched several new resources, including a conference, small group materials, a life-planning course, and a branding agency. In an interview on Platform University, he laid out a one of the best processes for implementing a marketing strategy I’ve ever heard. I tried it and saw immediate results with a campaign I was running for an event.

Because I found his process so helpful, I decided to try out his online course Creating Your Lifeplan. The basic idea is that we are all living a story, so why not determine what yours is going to be? This involves three main things: (1) finding redemption in the problems of your past, (2) being in healthy relationships, and (3) doing work that matters.


What I want is to focus on now is the last two, Relationships and Work, that combine to create ROLES. In his course, Miller asks you to write out all the roles you play, such as father, mother, employee, artist, blogger, etc. He then asks you to answer this question:

“What roles am I meant to play?” Or more specifically, “What are the roles only I can play?”

Then you must choose only five from the list you made. These five will become the roles you will focus on. Not that the others will completely disappear from your life (you may always have an inner dancer that will come out at a moment’s notice when the right Ke$ha song comes on), but they will naturally take up less of your time. This will free you to focus on the roles that matter most.

What is great about narrowing it down to five is that this doesn’t require you to make an impossible choice about THE singular thing to base your life on, especially for someone as highly and broadly interested as I am. We don’t live that way, or shouldn’t live that way at least, with only one thing we let ourselves care about and work on.

The final step is to find a project to work on in each role you identify. I connected especially well with this part, because I hate meeting people while just standing around at parties, and would much rather work alongside someone to get to know them. In the roles that are highly interpersonal, like father or spouse, having work that matters to do together is really valuable.


Recently, I’ve been caught up in a constant state of restlessness, driven by a desire to be productive and achieve results. But that hasn’t delivered much fulfillment beyond checking items off a list. I don’t just want to aimlessly put in work, wear myself out, and check items off a list. I want it all to matter. Choosing five roles helps me to identify what matters most, sharpen my focus on them, and then give even more with the space I’ve carved out for those people and projects.

Here are my top 5 (I am also looking to identify projects for each one).

  • Boyfriend to Colbeigh
  • Editor/Cinematographer
  • Businessman/Marketer
  • Friend
  • Spiritual Man

I may feel some remorse for giving up my former lives as a hardcore sports fan, musician, actor, speaker, athlete, political activist, screenwriter, and sound engineer, but I can’t be all of those at one time. And because I’ve greatly limited my involvement in them, can give much more of myself to the five I care most about.

The story I’ve started telling myself: Stop just looking for results and start playing your roles.


What are the five most important roles you play?

What are some roles you need to let go of to leave more energy for these top five?

How can choosing your five most important roles help you increase your effectiveness?


[Edited and enhanced by Caleb Waggoner]