I’m going to repeat one of my main points from yesterday, because I’m not sure it came across clearly:
Successful people are focused. And focus means choosing one primary goal at a time, to the exclusion of all others.
Of course, you are doing all sorts of things every day. Many of them have nothing to do with your primary goal. Life happens. That’s obvious. There is nothing wrong with doing all sorts of things that aren’t related to your primary goal. But if you have more than one primary goal at any given time, you are diluting your efforts and slowing yourself down.
Please notice that I’m not talking about having multiple “things to do” every day. It’s a given that we all have many “things to do”. The question is how many “primary goals” we have. When I look at my list of “things to do” for today, I had:
1) My daily Simplelogy routine to set my daily task list
2) Several sessions of email
3) A couple hours of consulting time
4) A language-study session
5) A writing-practice session
6) Several hours of work on my book proposal
7) A bit of annoying personal accounting
8 ) Some reading in a magazine (background research)
9) Some revisions to my web site
10) A bit of work on a software library I’m writing
11) Blogging (right now)
Of these “things to do”, #1, #2, #3, #7, #9, #10, and #11 were just things that needed doing that had nothing to do with my primary goal. (My primary goal right now is to write a Snowflake document for my next novel. When I finish that, my primary goal will immediately shift to writing the proposal for my next novel. I am focusing as much of my time and energy as possible on writing that pesky Snowflake.)
#4, #5, #6, and #8 DID have something to do with my primary goal. In total, I spent 4 hours and 35 minutes on my primary goal, which is not bad at all.
Now imagine that I had 3 primary goals. So in addition to wanting to write a Snowflake document, maybe I ALSO have a primary goal of writing a cool new software product AND a primary goal of building a shed out in the yard. Then instead of having 4 and a half hours on ONE primary goal, I’d have had an hour and a half on THREE primary goals. And you can’t get much done in an hour and a half.
I’d also be splitting my mental energy three ways. In all likelihood, I’d be more excited about one of these than the other two, so two thirds of my productive time for the day would be spent on things I was LESS excited about. That’s not good. Your primary goal should be the thing you’re MOST excited about. (In Simpleology 101, this is called a Major Target. In fact, you have a long-term, medium term, and short-term major target. What I call a “primary goal” is that short-term target–it’s the next really important thing you want to get done.)
Honestly, I don’t think you can have more than one thing that you’re MOST excited about. Whatever that is should be your immediate primary goal. If you have more than one, you are diffusing your mental energy and splitting your time.
Now a few of you made comments that I’d like to respond to:
My assumption is you are focussing on one primary goal during a set time period – is this correct? And that your goal has been scraped away until it is small enough to be called more a task than a goal? I ask this because I have several “projects” that have deadlines, and if I focused only on one project, to the end that the others are left undone, then I would not keep my commitments. Yet, if I work at each project a bit at a time I am more likely to get them all done by their deadlines. To do this I have to break the projects into a series of tasks. I’m assuming my ‘tasks’ are the same as your ‘goals’?
Randy sez: What I call a “primary goal” is a short-term project (something you can achieve in a few days to a week or so) and it should be the thing you’re most excited about. This is the thing you should be pouring all your excess time and energy into. Of course, there are always long-term projects that need time put into them. For example, I am doing consulting more or less continuously. But that’s for somebody else. It’s not for ME. My primary goal is something for ME.
Well Randy, I’m all for focus and I’m going to look at Simpleology. It’s true that all people who are really great at something are very focused on it and don’t worry about developing weak areas that will only improve to mediocre at best. That being said, as a mother first and writer second, there must be two primary goals.
Randy sez: Being a mother is just part of your life. Being a writer is too. Neither of these is really a primary goal. A goal needs to be specific and concrete and objective.
You probably have a long-term target to “get your novel published”. That is a good solid goal. It’s very specific. (You want to publish a novel, not just write some words.) It’s concrete. (A novel published is concrete, not abstract.) And it’s objective. (It can be verified by anyone that you published the novel or that you did not.)
Likewise, your medium term target might well be to “develop your skills in writing a character.” Again, that’s a good goal, and it’s a subtask of your long-term goal. It might take a few months to do that.
A reasonable short-term target (a “primary goal”) might be to “read Dwight Swain’s book on characters and apply it to your current book idea.” You could do that in a week or so. It’s a good goal, IF you spell it out and then put your energy into doing it. If you don’t clearly specify your goal, you’re likely to not put nearly as much energy into it, and it might take six months to go through the book, simply because you never clearly stated it as a target and never focused your energy on it.
A good time-management process would have you clearly spell out your long-term target, medium-term target, and short-term target. Then it would focus your attention on getting the short-term target (your primary goal) completed as quickly as possible.
I’m sorry, but I gotta defend some of us MT’s. If someone is using the phrase ‘multitasking’ as an excuse for not getting much done, then they aren’t really multitasking, they’re just spinning and twirling. Also, as a MT I’m more likely to complain than brag about it. My busy home and my office admin job require me to do multiple tasks at once.
There may be some misunderstanding about the term. If someone professed be working on multiple GOALS at once, I would agree that they’re not going to get much accomplished.
Randy sez: Multitasking is fine when you are dealing with “just normal life”. You gave an example of about ten things you can do all at once. Those are all fine. They’re normal everyday tasks. My comment was about people who want to “multitask” on several different “primary goals” at once. And that is a prescription for defocusing your efforts. But you noted that in your comment, so I think we are violently in agreement. 🙂
To be effective, we need to spell out our targets, long-term, medium-term, and short-term. Of course, we can have many of these in mind for the future. But at any given time, we need to be pursuing exactly ONE short-term target with high intensity. This is the one I call the “primary goal” and it should be whichever thing you are most excited about (or which is most pressing on you).
I promised yesterday to talk today about “taking action.” This is extremely important.
One problem I see a lot is people who are “working on it.” That is most always a statement that nothing is much getting done, but it sure would be nice if that task would just sorta solve itself. Let’s be brutally honest. “Working on it” is a dodge. It’s fuzzy. It means almost nothing.
Whenever I hear myself saying “I’m working on it,” I’ve learned to ask myself exactly how I’m working on it. Have I broken it down into a series of steps I know how to do? Am I taking action to actually do those steps? Or am I taking action to learn how to do those steps?
There are really only two actions you can take:
1) Doing a task.
2) Learning how to do the task.
A successful person is a person who takes action. “Thinking about it” is not taking action. “Working on it” is not taking action. “Doing it” is taking action. “Learning how to do it” is taking action. Nothing else is taking action.
Homework assignment: Is there some project you’ve been telling yourself that you’re “working on” or “thinking about”? Are you REALLY taking action on it or are you not? This is a tough question, but it’s one I regularly ask myself, because it cuts through the bull.