Goals: Can you have too many at once?
Goal-setting can be an important part of achieving success. But like anything, you can overdo it.
Setting and pushing toward goals has been an incredibly positive and powerful part of my life over the last several years. Goal-setting and progress toward goals helped me build The Simple Dollar, helped me get out of debt, and helped me build a successful marriage and a strong connection to my children. It helped me write two books, take on leadership positions in the community, and build a wonderful group of friends that I value and rely on.
That type of perspective makes goal-setting sound like an unbeatable approach to life, but, just like anything else, it’s really easy to mis-use goals.
The easiest way to misuse them? You have so many goals that you’re not really able to move forward on any of them.
If I were to sit down and list out every goal I dream of achieving at some point in my life, I could fill up bookswith those goals.
If I were to designate all of those goals as active goals, I would never achieve any of them because of the sheer effort needed to make all of them happen at once. I would be spending so much time figuring out the next step on so many projects that I’d never move forward on any of them.
My solution is simple. If I have a goal I would like to achieve in the future, I simply write it down as a “someday” project. I have a really long list of those goals and projects.
Most of the time, I have ten or so different ongoing projects and goals. This is just about the perfect number for me.
What kind of things am I talking about? One is being a good parent. Another is being a good spouse. Yet another is keeping up with my writing for The Simple Dollar. Yet another is working on a book I’ve been writing.
Some of these are long-term goals – things that will last my whole life. Others are shorter-term goals – things I want to achieve this year.
Each day, I try to have one thing on that day’s to-do list from each of my active goals and projects. This way, I know I’m moving forward on each of my goals.
If I find that I’m not able to move forward on each of these goals each day, I relegate one or two of them back to the “someday/maybe” list. If I find that I have some extra space in my life, I’ll go through that “someday/maybe” list and pull up a new goal, plotting it out for the future.
Sometimes, I’ll decide that one of the goals I’m working on is no longer really important to me. If that happens, I’ll swap it with another “someday/maybe” goal.
Regardless of all of this, I only spend my time focusing on those ten goals/projects. Other than simply jotting down the idea, I generally don’t waste a moment thinking about other goals during a given day.
Now, each week, I do spend some time playing “catch-up” and going through my goals to make sure I’m moving in the right direction with each one, and that’s when I’ll make the decision to swap goals. Outside of that, though, I try not to think about it at all and instead focus on completing my to-do list for the day (and generating tomorrow’s list).
This process keeps me focused on goal progress above everything else. A goal is useless – even distracting – if you’re not moving forward on it, so I strive to keep my goals separated into ones I’m actually working on and ones that I’m not even thinking about.
This has worked really well for me over the past several years.