In our work with battle hardened change leaders, I often hear muffled cries of distress emerging from underneath an ocean of obligations, tasks, and competing priorities. I myself am frequently seasick from the chaotic waves of larger than life commitments. In our current age of dire need for positive change and infinite opportunities for engagement, a lack of clarity on our priorities often results in over commitment and overwhelm. Unfortunately, states of overwhelm reduce our capacity to function and deliver on our commitments, including our own well being and happiness.

So what’s to be done? How can we as individuals face the crises of our times with both care and effectiveness? How can we ride this sea of overwhelm instead of being caught in it?

While the answer to this question will be entirely unique for every individual, I’ve found a pattern at the core of the activities of those who have built a boat for themselves in which they can stay afloat on the constantly shifting waters of demands.

This pattern is an individual practice of strategy. Strategic planning for individuals produces explicit and requisite strategic priorities for one’s life that determines which projects we will commit our resources to.

Strategy is the question of how we get from where we are towards where we’d like to be. It’s actually a conversation all of us already have with ourselves, just often not explicitly and comprehensively enough for the answers to deliver the value they could. And the answers to how I’m going to get from where I am towards where I want to go are an ongoing, evolving process, best revisited as necessary by the tensions that you are surfacing for your own life.

So here’s a short primer on a practice that I’ve found enables me, and the change leaders that use it, to ride the sea of overwhelm.

To begin with we need to have a clear idea of where we’d like to go, Desired State, and where we currently are, or Current State. And it’s helpful to begin with where you’d like to be, the Desired State. We could spend a lot of time exploring our Desired State, and if you struggle with overwhelm, likely you don’t have the bandwidth for a time intensive exploration. So what I’ve discovered is minimally sufficient framing for our Desired State which relies on an understanding of your Vision, Mission and Values for your life. Vision is the difference we’d like to make in the world as a result of our presence and contributions. Mission is the work we’d like to do to bring that Vision into reality. And Values are the principles within which I intend to conduct my life and work.

How you can get started:

Getting started with your own strategic priorities I recommend going through this exercise.


  • Identify your Vision, the difference you’d like to see made in the world as a result of your presence.
  • Focus into your unique work in bringing that vision to life, keep in mind this doesn’t have to be your work for your whole life, just for now.
  • And remember that depending on your Vision, you may not be able to bring about the Vision by yourself, you may need to rely on Key Partners of various sorts to bring this about.
  • Clarify your Values: what principles do you choose to abide by that align with your moral backbone and give both weight and lightness to your steps?


  • Walk through your Current State, see the questions above.
  • Identify the gaps between Current and Desired State.


  • Take those gaps and write clear strategic initiatives.
  • Identify at least one metric for each initiative against which you can measure your progress.
  • Post these initiatives in multiple places visibly, reference them daily with respect to what you choose to put your time and resources into.
  • Observe the ‘resistances’ you have to putting these initiatives into action, and inquire into those competing commitments to gain traction.

And if you are looking for further support for building this boat that can keep you afloat, check out our online course for change leaders, Mission Traction: Build Skillful Means for Effective Change, where you’ll get a hands on, peer supported opportunity to learn skills like these which deliver mission traction.