Monday, January 20, 2014

Doing more by aiming lower

Think back to your last long weekend (perhaps even the one that just concluded).  In your mind, you probably had a long list of things you wanted to get accomplished.

How many of them did you complete?

If you're like me, most long weekends and holidays end up as a "lost weekend," where you accomplish far less than you hoped.

Part of this is because humans tend to be overly optimistic; even the most organized and strong-willed would struggle to live up to their excessive ambitions.  But a significant factor in our lack of accomplishment is the anxiety we feel.

Take this past weekend.  On Friday night, you probably felt like you had oodles of time in front of you.  What a good time to rest and relax!  Of course you didn't get much done.

Then on Saturday, you still had an entire two days ahead.  A good reason to live it up.  Sure, you could get started, but there was still plenty of time to catch up.

When Sunday rolled around, the worry probably set in.  Hmmm, there's a lot on the to-do list, and now there are a whole bunch of other errands that need to be done.  Each time you thought about starting on your list, you probably felt daunted, and so you put it off.

Today (Monday), panic set in.  This morning, for example, I felt nearly overwhelmed when I contemplated the ruins of my ambitions, and to boot, I started receiving a series of text messages and emails from people with additional requests.

And so it's Monday night, the holiday weekend is gone, and the list is just as long as ever.  What went wrong?

I'd argue that I could have done more if I had aimed lower.

We seem to assume that ambition drives accomplishment.  As the old saying goes, if you aim for the moon and miss, you'll still land among the stars.

Never mind the fact that this is terrible astronomy; it can also be bad advice for procrastinators.  Sometimes, aiming lower leads to greater accomplishment.

If I had simply set a single goal (say, writing a good blog post), I probably would have tackled that goal much earlier in the weekend.  And energized by my success (and feeling like I was playing with house money), I might have tackled another goal.  And then another.

The world judges you based on your accomplishments, not your ambitions.

It's too late to follow this advice this weekend, but hey, there's always President's Day!

1 comment:

Greg Kemnitz said...

I have a close relative who has this problem in spades. He wants to lose weight, so he declares that he wants to be a triathlete. Shockingly, after a week or so of intense working out, he gives up, and ends up doing neither

I say "how about losing 10 pounds"? And then five more? And five more? And then he gets annoyed with me frankly because it's far cooler to say "you're working out for a triathlon" than to say "you're trying to lose weight".

In other words, far too many of these "shoot the moon" goals are about status-seeking and talking points than they are about actually doing them.