Lately, I have been struggling to accomplish anything I set out to do.
I want to do a lot of things. Yet, I accomplished nothing.
Do you have the similar experience and struggling as well?
Let me tell you the single trick I use to get better.
Focus on one thing at a time.
Sound simple right? But simple is not easy.
In this post, I’ll cover:
- The fallacy of having many goals
- Paradox of Choice
- Elimination of Choice
- Why one thing at a time?
- What if I get bored!?
- How to get started?
The fallacy of having many goals
I wanted to do a lot of different things, even though I only have at most 8 hours per day (excluding work and sleep).
Throughout the last few weeks, I’m not satisfied nor proud of the work that I did. I’m always struggling about: “What should I do now?" whenever I have free time.
My inner self is constantly prioritizing the things that I wanted to do.
So given that scenario guess how’s my progress for each goal looks like?
Not great. My focus and time is distributed across different things and I ended up not feeling satisfied with my output.
Paradox of Choice
Have you heard of Paradox of Choice? This is a perfect example for that.
When we have too many goals set out for ourselves, we have inherently fallen into the prey of having too many choices.
When we have too many goals, that are equally important, nothing is important.
When nothing is important, every single time, we have to go through the inner conflict, to decide what we want to work on that particular day.
We also have more noise, which required more cognitive effort to prioritize our goals everyday.
To make things worse, to “feel accomplished”, we try to work a bit on everything.
When that happen, our attention span and effort are spread across all the goals we have. Remember the saying:
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
In short, having too many goals make it harder for us to prioritize and focus on on our goals.
Elimination of Choice
When that happen, we need to start to say no to ourselves.
… the answer to all future distractions is “no” until you finish what you started. It’s saying yes to one thing, and no to absolutely everything else.
Derek Sivers sum it up pretty well in his article, “Saying no to everything else”.
When we are overloaded by all the possibilities we have in our life, and we can’t decide, it’s time for us to stop deciding. One last decision we need to make is just pick the one thing that:
- excite you the most, or
- you’ll feel the most regret if you didn’t do it
And start focusing on doing that one thing.
Why one thing at a time?
First and foremost, by focusing on one thing at a time, I have less context switching.
I can get into the flow easier, and hence have a better focus in the activity. With laser like focus, I get to accomplish my goal earlier as well.
By focusing on one thing at a time, I’m also 100% clear that this is the right thing to work on. Since, I have done the prioritization with myself when deciding the one thing I want to focus on.
Once I have completed the one thing, I repeat the process of prioritization to decide the next one thing I would like to focus on.
To sum up, by working on one thing at a time:
- I prioritize my goals ahead. Hence, no more time spent every day to decide what I want to do.
- I have less context switch. I focus on one thing every single day.
What if I get bored!?
Focusing on doing one thing the whole month is hard.
You might get bored with the tasks on hand easily. You might just want to switch to work on a different thing.
When that happen, it’s important to understand the why.
Why do I get bored? Is this still the thing I really wanted to do? If so, why do I feel bored?
Take some time, to think about it. It’s crucial because it helps us to understand what we really want. Know thyself, they said.
There could be a couple of reasons:
- The thing you are focusing on require intense effort. It’s more mentally/physically draining. Hence, it’s not feasible to work on it every day the whole month. For such scenario, you want to balance out your day with something less intensive.
- You just can’t work on a single thing the whole month. You are so curious about everything where you can’t stop yourself to get your hands dirty.
Practically, while I advocate you to focus on one thing at a time, you can apply it differently according to your context.
- If focusing on one thing the whole month is hard, start with focusing on one thing every week.
- If focusing on one thing the whole week is hard, start with focusing on one thing per day.
- If focusing on one thing the whole day is hard, start with focusing on one thing per hour.
- If focusing on one thing an hour is hard, start with, stop multitasking on whatever you are doing.
- For each week of the month, spend a week to write, and another to build your side project.
- Instead of writing the whole week, you spend your time writing on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. On the other days, you spend your time building your side project.
- Instead of focusing on writing for a day, allocate an hour where you focus your time on writing.
- I always have some YouTube video playing in my monitor when I work on something (even at this time of writing, I have a YouTube video playing in my monitor). One small change is to just stop having the YouTube video playing and focus on a single task at hand.
Did you get the idea behind?
I’m scoping it to different time aspect above, but you can also apply it by category. For example, focusing on only one hobby project at a time instead of having 2-3 hobby projects, where you end up shipping nothing.
How to get started?
A straightforward way to get started is:
to say no to everything and say yes to the one and only thing that excite you
as mentioned in “Elimination of Choice” section.
If that’s hard to do the above, here’s a more structural approach:
- Get a paper and write down all the things that you want to do.
- Figure out your evaluation criteria for your prioritization. For example, happiness, value, knowledge, financial, or a mixed of these. But the simpler the better, especially when you just get started.
- Based on your criteria, choose the top 2-3 things that ranked the highest. That is if your criteria is about happiness, pick the 2-3 things that bring you the most happiness. (Why 3 things, because I’m assuming you’ll probably get bored doing the same thing the whole week)
- Scheduled the time blocks to work on the 2-3 things throughout your week. We choose weekly here because, at this stage, we probably don’t know ourselves that well and our prioritization might be wrong, so by limiting to a week, the worst case is you spend a week of your life to try out something that you think is valuable for you but turn out not to be valuable as you thought.
- Rinse and repeat from step 1 to 4 every week.
Other tips and tricks:
- Ideally, focus on one thing per day. However, if you are the type of person that get bored doing a thing a day, at the very least try to focus on one thing per hour. This largely depends on the thing that you want to do. For example, when I started building the habit of reading, I scheduled a 20 minutes time block to read every day and it works out well for me. However, if I want to learn a new programming language or to build a side project, 20 minutes is not enough to get me in the zone and get stuff done.
- If focusing on a thing per hour is hard, just try to avoid multitasking as the very first step. This is what I have been trying out for this week and it work pretty well for me. Even sometime I do multitask, the frequency of multitasking is reduced.
Here we are focusing on a weekly schedule instead of monthly. Once you get better and understanding yourself and the process of prioritization, you can apply the practice on monthly. But it would not be 100% similar to the process above.
Does this mean I have figure it all out? Hell no. It’s a simple trick, but also a hard one to stick with. It takes practice and reflection over and over again until you find the process that work for you. Give it a try. Who know what it will lead to?
Imagine how your world will become, if you just stop multitasking (on things that shouldn’t be multitask).