Whether you want to focus on one thing at a time or simultaneously pursue multiple goals, make sure you like the life you’re creating.
The choice to do it all
We’ve talked more than once on the show about the idea of identifying what’s most important to you and focusing your time, energy, and attention on that.
We’ve considered the principles Greg McKeown discusses in his excellent book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (e.g., TPW032 – Choose What’s Essential, Eliminate the Rest) — the idea of less, but better, for example.
We’ve discussed Gary Keller’s book, The One Thing, and his concept of refining our goals and tasks down to the one essential thing.
I do believe, personally, that a more peaceful and productive life will come from eliminating commitments and activities and focusing on the few most meaningful things. Spreading myself out over multiple areas is a recipe for stress and a feeling that I’m not giving adequate attention to any of them. I need white space in my calendar to feel good about my life and to be at peace.
But that’s me.
Others prefer to fill all their days with activities in the multiple areas that are important to them.
When we talk about these ideas of finding the “one” thing or pursuing only the “essentials” and cutting other things out, there are those who object, who say it’s not workable for them. And they have reasons why–reasons that are meaningful to them. They have lots of ideas, lots of things they want to do and accomplish, and they feel they’re all essential.
I would never suggest they shouldn’t pursue everything they’ve identified as important, but there are some things to consider.
Human beings can’t do more than one thing at a time. Our brains are not meant to be focusing on more than one thing at a time.
Furthermore, time, energy, and attention are finite resources. There is only so much you can do in a day, week, or month, and the brain can only focus for a finite period of time.
That being said, I don’t believe one approach to goal-setting, to goal-pursuing–to life–is better than the other, or best for everybody. We are unique human beings, and we get to choose. It’s about creating the kind of life you want. Nobody can tell you what that should be or has to be. I just encourage you to be intentional about it.
If you’re the type of person who likes to pursue multiple goals at the same time, thoughtfully consider these questions.
- Do you want to fill every day and hour with tasks for the various goals, etc.?
- Are you willing to sacrifice sleep, self-care, time with friends, to accomplish ALL the things?
If so, that’s okay. I’m not saying you can’t. If that’s the life you want, then go for it. Love the life you’re living.
Develop the skills of organizing your time and materials and space so you can maximize every minute. Also, be sure you’re okay with making slower progress on each goal, project, or task than you might if you focused on each one at a time.
But if you’re tired, constantly feel behind, and stressed, perhaps you’d like to consider a different option.
If you feel like you’re not staying on top of things and making satisfactory progress on the various projects, or if you want to have more margin and/or peacefulness in your life, then consider making changes by choosing one or two, rather than many, roles or goals or commitments to focus on in this season of your life.
Remember: Saying “not now” does not mean you’re saying no forever.
If you want to narrow the field
If you have lots of ideas and objectives on your mind, and you’d like to narrow your focus for a while, consider the process suggested by life coach and author Brook Castillo:
Brooke Castillo’s Do-Goals process (click on the link to hear her podcast episode where she describes this process in detail)
- Spend 10 minutes writing down everything you want to do and accomplish. Don’t judge, don’t edit, don’t censor yourself. Just brainstorm and write for 10 minutes.
- Go through the list and choose the top 3.
- See if other things on the list can be categorized under one of those top 3 as steps to achieving one of those top 3.
- Ask yourself: “If I were to accomplish these three things, is there anything on this list that I would be able to eliminate?” If accomplishing the top 3 renders other things irrelevant, cross them off the list.
- Pick one of the top 3 to focus on and start taking action on. What goal will you have achieved in the next 90 days? Write it as a “90-day measurable outcome” toward that goal.
- Write down every action you’ll need to take in the next 90 days to accomplish that 90-day objective. She says, “write down every single thing that you have to do, that you need to accomplish, that you need to delegate, that you need to learn about, the steps you need to take, everything, as much as you can write in as much detail as possible.”
- Put that list in order of execution, and then schedule a time for each of the actions you’ll take in the next 2 weeks, and the 2 weeks after that, and so on, until all the actions have been scheduled on your calendar.
- Then follow the plan.
Other options for narrowing your focus for a time:
- Focus on one thing for 90 days, get some momentum and systems in place, then switch focus to another. During the 90-day focus period, you can still take small steps on the others as time and energy permits, but only as they permit.
- Set some things aside until a different stage of your life. Remember, ‘not now’ doesn’t mean ‘never’. So maybe your house won’t be spotless, or you won’t get project X done as quickly as you wanted to. We make tradeoffs in life.
But if you want to do it all . . .
If you want to keep pursuing multiple goals/commitments (e.g., job, side hustle, hobbies, etc.), then absolutely go for it. Use your task management/calendar management skills to make the time for them all. Especially important for those who are pursuing multiple objectives at the same time are:
- Use block scheduling – Block out time on your calendar for focused attention on your priority project, but don’t forget to also schedule time for relationships, self-care, etc.
- Break down projects into the smallest possible actions and schedule them – Then keep those commitments to yourself. You can accomplish the most amazing things one tiny step at a time.
- Get an accountability partner or a coach, or join a mastermind group – find one or more people to help hold you accountable.
- Get help with the parts that don’t need your personal time, whether it’s help with household tasks or help at the office. What needs to be done but doesn’t have to be done by you? Get help with that.
- Celebrate small steps and slight progress.
Take back the power over your own life
There is a variation on those whose lives are multi-faceted and very full because they don’t want to choose . . . it’s those who say “I don’t have a choice . . . I have to do all these things . . .” This is a recipe for feelings of powerlessness.
The truth is, we always have a choice. We might not like the consequences of a choice, but we don’t have to overload our schedules. Whatever your life looks like now, take ownership of it: this is a choice I’m making (and maybe for very good reasons). The great news about this is if you don’t like the results, you can make a different choice!
If you’re feeling discouraged or overwhelmed or hopeless about ever getting a handle on it all, talk to someone – a friend, a coach, people in a mastermind group . . . if you feel you have no one, write to me. I’ll help if I can.
Wise advice from Susan in the community:
“It might be time for a review of what you are doing and make a cull if necessary or delegate some of the tasks to others. I would also do some self reflection and see if I am taking on things to please others or functioning out of the need to be needed. It’s a bit of an ouch question but a good one to at least consider. I bunch things up so that overall my tasks are in a similar field and help contribute to each other. So I don’t take on anything new if its has zero similarities or overflow into areas I’m already working in. In this way I am getting maximum value for my effort. Regarding “urgent vs important,” I find that scheduling really helps here. Make appointments on your diary for yourself to get ahead and get important stuff done. If someone comes to you with an urgent request, look at your diary. If you have already scheduled important work just let the diary answer for you “I’m so sorry I am already fully booked that day but I can do next Tuesday at 10.” Often the urgent will disappear when you are not so available. It’s a tough balance and when we work from home and in freelance non profit situations there is an assumption that we are very free and therefore can and should respond to all urgent matters. Seldom are they all important.”
What do you think?
Are you a person with multiple interests and commitments? Can you prioritize them and set some aside, to simplify your life and direct your best energies to the ONE thing that matters most? Or if you want to keep pursuing multiple goals at the same time, how do you do that? What tools, strategies, approaches work for you? Please share them in the comments section below this post or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group, or send me an email.
- Brooke Castillo’s Life School Podcast – Episode 86 Do-Goals
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