Duff O'Melia

Stop the Sprint

I recently learned a few lessons about planning and achieving long term objectives.

I used to do very little planning. I’d spend all of the available time I had on a daily basis working away at both short term and long term objectives. I’d just work and work and keep on working and have no end in sight each day. As you might imagine, this lack of planning approach didn’t work. I worked my tail off and never felt like I had achieved much.

Then my wife Kelly helped me to understand that it would be much better if I broke my day down into time slots. Each time slot was an amount of time I desired to spend on each goal every day. A basic time boxing approach. So there were time slots for Bible study, for consulting, for trading and learning about the stock market, for creating businesses, etc. If I didn’t get too much done during a time slot, that was ok. I did my best that day using the time I had available. I didn’t need to keep beating myself up about not accomplishing enough. I was spending the time I had intended to spend, I was living consciously, and I was living my life with a long and steady marathon pace that worked.

There have been weeks though when things didn’t seem to work out very well. Last week was one of them. I think I’ve just now realized why. You see, last week was a busy Soapbox week. I released a new feature that bloggers started talking about. (CenterNetworks, TDavid, Schulzone, TheStuffedDog, and my friend Rafe) There seemed to be so much that had to get done. So I bulled through and did those things. I was really enjoying it and it was stuff that was fun to do. I had started sprinting to accelerate the “creating businesses” goal because that’s what needed to be done that week. This sprint was at the expense of the other goals. That extra time I spent sprinting had to come from somewhere. I knew at the time what I was doing but I justified it by saying things like “it’s ok… I’ll catch up later…” Or, “sometimes these things take precedence…” Whatever. It boils down to not sticking to the plan.

I was able to make a ton of progress in one area of my life. But the other areas were neglected. So I got to the end of the week and felt like I couldn’t keep up with things. I felt like life was so hectic and overwhelming. I felt like I wasn’t accomplishing the things I had set out to accomplish. Some of the balls being juggled were hitting the floor. All of these feelings were completely justified because I HADN’T accomplished the things I had wanted to. I HADN’T made some progress toward each of the objectives. Some of the objectives were completely abandoned on a given day. Zero progress on that objective.

This “sprint on one goal at the expense of others” is not a good idea for me. It worked much better when I took a disciplined, long term approach and completely time boxed each of my activities for the day. Then I always got to the end of the week feeling like I was juggling all of the balls successfully. I was taking a step each day toward each of the goals. No balls were ever hitting the floor. No feeling of being overwhelmed. No feeling of a hectic life. I had taken the finite amount of time I had, broken it up into sections, and worked for each of the sections. I did the best I could with the time I had been given.

My friend Joe said it well – ‘Long lasting self-discipline is better than doing things in spurts that ultimately don’t stick.’ Joe was talking in the context of losing some weight. I think it’s a generally applicable principle of goal achievement.

Another realization I had was that there are things on my daily list that MUST get done and there are things that are nice to haves that I really enjoy working on. I realize now that I need to completely finish the must-haves before even thinking about the nice-to-haves. If I do them in the other order, the time slots for the nice-to-haves often get extended leaving less time for the must-haves. I think it’s a much better approach to finish the must-haves first and then know that anything else I accomplish that day is gravy. It’s almost like I need to work on the must-haves to deserve the opportunity to work on the things I’m really looking forward to doing. I’m working toward that reward which makes the must-haves more enjoyable.

I’m no longer going to justify the sprint. The marathon approach seems to work better.