Many Goals, Not Enough Time? How To Choose What To Focus On
Disclosure: some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This does not result in any extra cost for you, but it does mean that I make a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Nowadays, many of us share a drive to do multiple things, which is fully understandable. We must quickly adapt to new circumstances, honing a range of skills and characteristics to meet the demands of the modern world. Most people you meet, therefore, have multiple goals and passions. There’s the grades to get, our dream career, creative projects, messages to spread, marathons to run, travel bucket lists, just to name a few.
An advantage of having multiple goals?Well, first and foremost, they intersect and contribute to each other in indirect ways. For example, blogging as a hobby can boost your career. It builds communication skills and helps you become a better writer, while familiarising you with current trends and affairs. The benefits of reading and independent learning are pretty self explanatory. The same thing applies to diet and fitness: excelling throughout life is much harder if you neglect your physical health.
What I’m trying to say is that the aspiration we label ‘personal growth’, ‘success’, ‘intentional living’ involves variety. Each human being has more than one thing to offer the world, and needs to take part in numerous activities outside of whatever their main priorities for ultimate emotional and physical wellbeing. But, we must be mindful of thinking in all or nothing terms. We must ask: where’s the boundary between a healthy number of goals, and complete disarray? How do we make sure everything we do has a tangible benefit and does not stem from us overestimating how much the world expects?
Sure, it would be great to be a rocket scientist and a business owner and a poet and a chef and a fitness guru at the same time. Scrolling through social media, it seems many people are. By now, however, we know the disparity between Instagram and real life. And I’d identify poor focus – trying to do too much at the same time – as one of the main reasons why goal-seeking efforts end in uncertainty and mediocre results. Malcolm Gladwell theorised that becoming an expert in anything requires 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. Certain studies and evidence disagree with this rule, but the fact that you need to practice, practice and practice to become good at something is close to common sense. And finding even 5,000 hours to invest in fifteen different things would be a challenge to say the least. I’m not saying you should strive to be an expert in everything you do, but having a concise number of specific, meaningful goals you’re wholly passionate about beats jumping all over the place and overwhelming yourself.
You may be someone with an overarching, decisive goal (such as completing a university course or earning a promotion at work), but unsure of which ‘side hustle’ to focus on in your spare time. Or, you may not know what to do with your life, fearful of eliminating anything incase it holds ‘the answer’. In either case case, there are several strategies and decisions you can implement to simplify prioritisation and fix the chaos in your life.
Now, this post is not about finding your life purpose (aka, the ‘cornerstone goals’ I will talk about in a moment), which is a whole ‘nother question. It’s a rough guide for anyone who voluntarily puts too much on their plate and wants to achieve better results by narrowing down to fewer areas. Doing so, however, can inch you closer to understanding the general direction you want your life to go in!
By the way, if you struggle with setting meaningful goals, you can make the process much easier by focusing on ‘SMART’. To learn more about this and get a free SMART goals printable worksheet, click here (affiliate link) and start changing your life for the better.
Identify your cornerstone goals
As a starting point, remind yourself of your biggest priority for the upcoming months and years. This should quickly jump to mind: is it finishing school or your degree? Is it landing a job offer or maximising your career prospects? Is it running a marathon and raising money for charity? Chances are, activities related to this goal will cover most of your schedule, everything else falling into place around the edges. Merely stepping back, recalling what matters the most has a grounding influence whenever life gets hectic and trivialities begin to take over.
Think about the ‘why’
Decide whether you’re going after your goals or taking part in certain activities for the right reasons. First and foremost, never allow what anyone else is doing to dictate your own goals. For example, just because all your friends and favourite social media influencers are starting podcasts, does not make it compatible with your personality and who you want to be.
Use a journal or a plain piece of paper, write down your goals and any endeavours that take up a noticeable portion of your time. Next, think about why each one is important to you. Pinpointing something that isn’t feels like a breath of fresh air, takes a weight of your shoulders and quickly makes room in your day for meaningful activities.
‘Something that makes you money, something that makes you happy, something that keeps you fit’ (and something that helps others)
The ‘three hobby rule’ is not as fixed as it seems. Multiple things can fall under each category. And they frequently overlap. For instance, finding a source that brings both income and emotional fulfilment is a lifelong goal for many people. Similarly, there is an undeniable link between physical exercise and emotional balance.
The reasons for picking and adhering to a certain goal can be complex, but use this principle as a guideline to determine your ‘why’. Sometimes, we must take on less than ideal jobs for an income stream, or study for a less than enjoyable test for it to boost our future prospects. Likewise, hobbies that bring us enjoyment are crucial for inner balance, much like getting regular exercise. Notice that I’ve added ‘helping others’ as another motive: the less you expect in return, the better! Roughly focusing on these four factors will help you identify and eliminate goals without a tangible benefit.
Speak to other people
At the end of the day, you’re responsible for the shape your life takes over the years. People can give mislead advice, guided by their own prejudices as opposed to an accurate view of who you are as a person. After all, no one understands you better than you, which is why we’re told from a young age to ignore anyone who tells us to give up our dreams and/or what makes us happy. The views of others shouldn’t undermine something you fully believe to be worthwhile.
There have been times, however, when I wish I’d listened to other people and accounted for multiple perspectives when making decisions and choosing what I want to do. When stressed and living within the confines of your to-do list, it’s hard to think clearly. In general, with so many options out there, most can agree on how hard it is to narrow down dreams and aspiration. Choosing to give something up is tougher still. Whether trusted family members and friends, a personal coach or a teacher, talk through your worries with someone. Chances are, you’ll gain new insights and see how your life fits together from an objective perspective.
Journal and reflect with honesty
Journaling is the ultimate tool for improved self understanding. Writing things down makes sense of our thoughts: you may not even know that you’re feeling directionless until you’ve stated the fact explicitly. Moreover, I can’t think of a better way to practice honesty and escape self-censorship than in a notebook that no one will see other than yourself. Focusing on the ‘whys’ as detailed above, reflect on your goals, passions and what you would like to characterise a typical week once any distractions are removed. I’ve used my journal numerous times to say to myself: ‘I just don’t think I enjoy x and y anymore’, and took steps from there to change my life accordingly.
Reduce, don’t eliminate
Life changes, people change. Old interests may fade into the background on their own, or you may consciously divert your efforts elsewhere. Undoubtedly, most of us have let go of a pursuit for various reasons: whether it’s no longer compatible with who we are, or unrealistic, or too time consuming in light of bigger priorities. But it’s not always necessary to delete something from your life in its entirety.
The alternative solution? Reduce and stay flexible. Keep the goal/interest in mind, accept that it may not get the same attention as your broader objectives, and reintroduce it whenever your schedule allows. For example, I’ve always loved art and sought to improve skills. Being clear about my priorities, however, I don’t have the time to draw and paint on a regular basis. But instead of making art a thing of the past, I’ve become good at spotting opportunities to revisit the passion. For example, during quieter periods in life when I find myself with a spare hour or two in the evening, I’ll take out my art supplies and fulfil my creative urges. Or, I combine art with my other interests, such as blogging and even organisation (which explains my love for bullet journals as simultaneous artistic outlets and productivity boosters).
Look to the future
Think within a bigger timeframe. Is your current routine, and what you do sustainable? What will your life look like this time next year – how may your priorities change? If you feel overwhelmed by the quantity of your goals, what will happen if even more unavoidable tasks arise?
To give a personal example, my decision to venture outside of food on my blog stemmed from the fact that I won’t have time for food photography once I start uni. This freed up extra room in my schedule and gave me the opportunity to write about other topics I’m interested in.
Once again, start by reducing if you can. I, of course, did not quit blogging altogether, but chose topics that are relevant to and compatible with my life. If you have lots of goals and interests outside of your cornerstone priorities, and find yourself burdened, a forward-looking mindset should help you recognise which ones have genuine longterm potential.
Listen to your heart and intuition
Cheesy, I know. Even I want to roll my eyes, despite being responsible. But listening to your heart can work, and does not mean ‘ill-considered decision making’. Oftentimes, if something feels wrong, if it no longer brings you the same enjoyment as it used to, that feeling is there for a reason: perhaps, the beginning of a broader realisation? And after following the steps above, like considering your whys, listening to others and thinking about the future, the answer could present itself as if ‘out of nowhere’ – despite the evidence built into it.
In prioritisation, I admit I’m not the best at listening to my intuition when compelling arguments persist on both sides. But our inner compass is not random. Reasoning and experience guide our hearts in the right direction. Dismissing the latter when narrowing down your goals proves rather counterproductive.
I love how many opportunities the world offers to anyone, in light of innovation and improved public access to knowledge. This, however, makes careful prioritisation even more imperative to ensure we’re headed in the right direction and don’t stand on the spot, mistaking business for productivity. So, let me know in the comments: are you someone with a lot of goals, and what do you do to balance the various aspects of your life if that is the case? What would you consider to be your number one priority for the next five years?