The Best Kept Secret to Getting things Done (part I of III)


“Not every goal deserves the time and energy required to accomplish it.” ~Ken Wert

A reader recently asked me to write a follow-up to my post on overcoming the gravity of inertia by addressing the issue of follow-through. She shared that her particular challenge is less about getting the ball rolling as it is about keeping it rolling.

But before starting, I have a confession to make: I’m a much better starter than a finisher. I’m good at taking action on new ideas, excitedly diving in head first, creating initial momentum, until, well, until I’m no longer motivated to continue. Then I stop.

Why do I do this? My answer may surprise you.

Which Michael Do You Want to Be?

“The game is my wife. It demands loyalty and responsibility…” ~Michael Jordan

There’s a reason Michael Jordan is Michael Jordan and not Michael Phelps or Michael J. Fox or Michael Jackson. His name became synonymous with basketball because basketball is what he focused all his time on. He lived and breathed it. He married it. His philosophy was first on the court and last off the court.

There is no way possible for him to have been a successful actor and a record-setting Olympic swimmer and the King of Pop and the best basketball player to have ever graced the court.

And yet too often, we try to be everything to everyone in our own microcosmic worlds, adding more and more to an already-overcrowded plate of interests and responsibilities.

Michael Jordan could have swum laps instead of work on his free throw. But he didn’t. He could have practiced his moonwalk instead of work on his dribbling or his iconic tongue-wagging, spread-legged slam dunk. But he didn’t. He could have taken acting classes instead of practice with his team. But he didn’t. He streamlined his life behind the one thing he would become great at.

Life is a Series of Trade-offs

The critical lesson here is that while we may be able to become almost anything, no one can become everything.

Life truly is all about trade-offs. When we choose to use our resources (energy, finances, time, whatever) in one way, it means we have to sacrifice other ways that same resource could have been used. Our time and energies are not limitless. By choosing to focus our lives on one thing, we’re simultaneously choosing not to focus it on everything else.

A Wise Mother’s Wisdom

My Mom had a simple philosophy that served her (and us) very well. She realized she didn’t have the time and energy to be a great Mom and keep a spotless house. So she chose to be an amazing Mom—taking us and half the neighborhood to the beach, the park, leading neighborhood parades and spending tons and tons of time with us, reading, talking, playing and being deeply interested in our lives—and reconciled herself to a less-than-perfect house.

Mom sacrificed an immaculate house for a warm and loving home where she was always available to her children.

That’s an extremely important lesson to learn.

If you’ve filled your life with an endless stream of tasks on an endless stack of to-do lists, setting goals to learn, start, overcome, become and develop this, that and a million other things all before lunchtime next Thursday, you will end up sorely disappointed and maddeningly frustrated.

Sometimes less is infinitely more because by doing less, we’re freed up to spend the time needed to actually complete the things that matter most to us.

Some things never get done because they shouldn’t get done—not that there’s anything inherently wrong with doing them, but that by doing them, you’re taking time away from your core priorities.

Learn to let go of the need to be everything and do everything and become everything to everyone. Loosen your proverbial tie and take a breather from perfection.

Then, just maybe, you’ll have some left-over energy to do one or two things exceptionally well (or, perhaps, simply complete the project at the top of your to-do list).

Practical Tip

So if you have 10 things you need to finish and you’re energies are so divided that you’re not finishing any of them, cross 8 of the items off your list and move one of the remaining two to next week to focus exclusively on the only task left on your current goal sheet. Now go to work on that one. Every day. Until satisfied or the task or goal has been accomplished.

Then repeat indefinitely.

Bottom Line

The first lesson to finishing anything, is to first choose what you are willing to give up trying to finish at all. When time and energy is so diluted in the stream of too-many-things that nothing gets done, you know its time to take a scalpel to your to-do list and start removing superfluous layers. Prioritize what you must finish (the non-negotiables in your life) and get comfortable with the prospect of not finishing everything else to clear the path for those things you are most passionate about.

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