Does it ever feel like you are trying to accomplish too many things at once? It’s a common feeling—we rush from one task to another, sometimes leaving things half done or, if completed, done with less than our best efforts. In my reading, I happened upon an interesting concept: if we want to do things well, we generally are able to do only three things at a time.
Trying to accomplish too many things at once is a classic multitasking problem. Studies have shown that paying attention to multiple items at the same time leads to distraction, lack of focus, and diminished results. This can also lead to mental fatigue as we rush, mid-thought, from one seemingly important email or project to another.
Setting big goals is great; accomplishing more than three things at a time can be difficult.
I am certain that most of our readers understand the importance of setting goals. By simply writing those goals down, we are more likely to reach them. Add careful planning and we can accomplish a high percentage of our objectives. Granted, we also have to put effort into making these goals happen; it’s our personalities and work ethic that drive us to meeting our goals.
Studies have found that it takes 10,000 hours of practice or work to become a master of a subject (Malcolm Gladwell writes about this in his book Outliers). That translates to roughly 4.8 years of work at 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year. There are no vacations for the dedicated who wish to achieve master level of their subject or skill.
Can you imagine attempting to become a master-level cellist (like my wife) in 4.8 years while working full time, married, one kid, attempting to reach FIRE, and attempting to eat nutritious meals and exercise? Maybe you are also active in your church or volunteer with local charities. Trying to balance all of these would be daunting to me.
What about work/life balance?
There is no one who will argue more enthusiastically than I will for setting big goals and continuously striving to improve our lives. Becoming financially independent and debt free were major milestone goals for Dianne and me, and they required many hours of our time.
We create our goals based on seven broad categories: health, marriage, emotional/spiritual, family, friendships, financial, and hobby/play. The order of the importance of these goals can change from time to time. What is important is that we identify at least one item in each category and focus on that over a three-month period. This is our attempt at achieving a balance between work, life, and goals.
The challenge becomes apparent when we attempt to achieve many large goals at a time. Let’s take a look at a case study. For this exercise, our subject is:
An employee, a hiker, a passive income business owner, married, two children and family, striving to become FIRE, enjoys sailing.
He has worked in a couple of industries and has become successful and rewarded for his effort. He built a passive income business that has spanned 30 years. His focus has been to become financially independent and retire at a much earlier age than the typical 9-to-5-until-65 career path.
In his spare time, he used to spend time sailing with his wife in the San Francisco Bay. That chapter of his life changed when he moved to a “landlocked” state.
He is married with two grown children. The oldest child graduated college while the youngest is starting this year. His father passed away at age 73 and his mother is confined to a nursing home due to Parkinson’s. Each visit to his see his daughters and mother requires a 1,400-mile round trip and time away from home. He makes this trip five or six times a year.
This person put his focus in career and properties, which may have contributed to a divorce after 20 years in his first marriage. He is committed to not making the same mistakes again. However, over the past two years, he was extremely focused on paying off debt—to the detriment of his health.
Now the emphasis seems to be on completing all the remodeling projects on a downsized home. Can he achieve that goal without letting another area suffer?
Disclaimer: The person in this case study is yours truly.
What happens when you spend your life attempting to do everything?
Big goals are important and worth achieving. However, trying to reach too many at a time can lead to disastrous results. Something will suffer. I have seen some top business achievers flame out in other aspects of their lives.
Trying to do everything well will take a toll on your body over time—both mentally and physically. Are you eating all your vegetables in a well-balanced diet? How about the 30 to 60 minutes a day of exercise that you promised yourself? Have your New Year’s resolutions already vanished? Do you feel that you even have time to take care of your body?
When you look in the mirror, if the reflection you see that of a 30-something in spirit? In this photo, the person still feels young yet his body has moved on. Time slips away so quickly—I can attest to that personally!
How can we find some balance?
The very nature of goals is being future-focused. For example, I wish to achieve early retirement. There are many steps that will need to happen, many that involve years of future-oriented tasks. I would argue that by breaking those goals into small steps, one could convert them to present-moment events. For instance, today I am writing this post and working on getting a quote to add additional gutters and downspouts to the house. I am also working for my employer, having lunch at home with my wife, calling my youngest daughter later today, and going for a walk. I am attempting to do small things that are part of my bigger seven categories of goals and objectives.
What I will not do is walk or type or read email while talking to my daughter. I am not typing this article while talking with people from the home repair company. Multitasking is the best way to do many things poorly. It also does not allow a person to put his or her full focus and energy into the task. Distractions can do the same. Years ago, I took all the audible alerts off my computers and phones. A short distraction can set you back even longer than the time it takes you away from a current task, because when you return to the task you have to re-focus and re-gain momentum.
Check out this video on distractions in conference calls. I believe many of our readers can relate to this video. BTW, don’t miss the Solitaire game!
This is a lifelong challenge for me—attempting to be productive when I’ve taken on too many things at once. I try to keep myself in check by reflecting on the “three things” rule and hitting a mental “reset” button to help me regain my focus and perspective.
For Dianne and me, this year will bring many different projects and goals: reaching our FI, finishing our remodeling project, and one or both of us leaving our employers. Next year will not have FIRE, debt, or remodeling as goals. Instead, camping, travel, health, and family will become the top priories. We shall see how that transition works for us. My goal is to stay focused on no more than three of these at a time.
How about you? What has your experience multitasking taught you? How many goals do you actively work on at one time?
123 photo copyright : grazvydas (Follow)