How to Achieve What Matters Most

what matters most

For most of my life, I have impulsively jumped into new projects. Ideas about things I want to accomplish are constantly swirling in my head. I want to learn to cook, take improv classes, and workout regularly.

I want to do it all. Mixing this inclination with a lack of follow through led to a long list of unfinished goals for me a few years ago. I excelled at getting started. When the motivation faded, I would quit a project and shift my focus to the next shiny project.

The frustration from this cycle propelled me to make changes. Over the next few years, I developed the habit of focusing on one goal at a time and making massive progress in one direction.

Failure isn’t fatal, but failure to change might be.

– John Wooden

Focus on the most important thing

About five years ago, I had a long list of projects that I was working on at the same time. The list included improving my personal finances, eating healthier, studying for my professional designation, and reading books regularly.

I didn’t make meaningful progress in any direction. I didn’t study consistently enough to pass my exams. I started working on my finances every few months but didn’t follow through after the first couple of days.

I was producing many “Incomplete” grades in my life. I was trying to do too many different things. Every goal was my highest priority. They were all a level 10 in importance. I didn’t prioritize or push off any projects for a later date.

Our society sends us a constant stream of messages that tell us we need to do it all now. We need to consume more information, check more email, and work longer hours.

We can combat the pressure to do it all by consciously taking a step back to look at the big picture. We can design our lives in a way that facilitates the achievement of what we want the most.

Our mind is scattered when we try to do too many things. Our thoughts are dispersed, our energy is diffused, and our actions are all over the place. We make small progress in many different directions.

When I decided to make significant changes in my life, the first step was to figure out the most important thing. Not the five most important things. This was a big change for me. I started going deep on one goal at a time.

Make massive progress

When we focus on our highest valued goal, we consciously decide to ignore many other interesting opportunities. We direct our attention to what matters most to us. We make massive progress in one area.

After my change in mindset, the first goal I tackled was eating healthier. I read many articles and several books about nutrition. I created a detailed plan that included a list of foods to cut out as well as a cheat day that helped me stay committed in the long run.

Eating healthy was the most important goal in my life for an entire year. Today, eating healthy most of the time is effortless due to the habits I developed. Once eating healthy was on cruise control, I tackled the next most important goal, which was improving my personal finances.

I achieved my most important goals by diving deep on one goal at a time. When we fully commit to a few goals and put off other goals, we can follow through more effectively and with less friction.

When we finish the goals we are currently working on, the other ones will still be there. We can pick them up at the right time.

Making consistent progress on our most important goal propels us to continue to take action. It fuels and motivates us. This cycle of action, progress, and motivation drives us to achieve what we want. We can’t make that consistent progress if we’re juggling too many projects.

People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully.

– Steve Jobs

Reap lasting rewards

We continue reaping benefits years after accomplishing most goals. Four years ago, I focused on improving my personal finances for three months. My finances are still running smoothly and automated with minimal effort. I’m still reaping the rewards from the three months of work I did years ago.

By focusing on one thing at a time until crossing the finish line, we take advantage of the cycle of success. It seems like highly successful people have more hours in the day than average achievers. It’s like they unlocked cheat codes that allows them to get more done. The reality is that each time they achieve a goal, they learn lasting lessons and skills.

We don’t learn these valuable lessons if we leave most of our projects unfinished. Instead of growing, our lack of progress would lead to doubt and frustration. We would have cycled through many projects without producing changes in our routines, beliefs, and results.

In the road to accomplishing goals, we build habits and mindsets that make it easier to accomplish the next goal. We gain skills that equip us to reach the next level. At each new level, we have more tools, strategies, and tactics we can use to overcome obstacles. The rewards from focusing on the most important thing last a lifetime.

How do you focus on doing the right things instead of trying to do it all?

19 thoughts on “How to Achieve What Matters Most”

  1. Hi Jose,

    I think you bring up some great points here. Focusing on one thing at a time is important, not just for long term goals (ie changing habits) but for daily activities as well. I think you would agree that the idea of ‘multi-tasking’ is not usually productive.

    The key, in my opinion, to concentrating on one big change is to not get discouraged. I think that’s why I used to try to do too many things at once in the past; if I started losing momentum with something I’d pick up something else. This, of course, led me nowhere.

    You mentioned that when you were changing your eating habits you allowed yourself a cheat day that helped you stay committed. I think that’s a great way to help focus on one achievement at a time: even when you get discouraged or slow down, have methods in place to adjust your plan and reward yourself for hitting certain short-term goals. This way it stays easier to not get distracted by another completely different goal.

    Thanks for this post!
    Eric

    1. You added some great insights in your comments. Focusing on 1 big goal at a time only works if you have a system in place that pushes you forward. Rewarding yourself for short-term achievements and building in strategies that help you stay committed when you face obstacles are crucial. I like to think of these other methods that help you stay motivated as redundancies to your system. They are margins of safety in your system that drive you towards progress, no matter how hard things get.

  2. Thank you. I’ve recently written a blog entitled ‘the myth of multi-tasking’ which tries to illustrate we aren’t actually supposed to continually multi-task. Your blog underlines the next step I need to consider in my life, focusing on one goal at a time. Like you I flit from one activity to another as enthusiasm takes me and always with the best of intensions of improving myself of circumstances. What I need to do in commit and focus on a particular activity; do one thing well instead of trying to do several things badly.

  3. Solid advice Jose – thanks. I wonder if in 5-10 years we will all wake up to realize the “get it all done”, “multi-tasking” “take on the world” myth was just that – a myth. I too am learning to focus on 1 personal and 1 professional goal at a time and it is working. The best part is I can actually see and feel the results much faster!

    1. Thanks! I agree. I’m starting to see more stories about the negative effects of multi-tasking, but modern society still largely pushes us to get it all done. It’s great to focus on 1 big thing and see results instead of trying to juggle 10 different things.

  4. This was a solid article!
    It’s so true that lack of focus can really stifle one’s progress.
    I’m implementing the law of focus to my personal development blog and everything else is secondary and not as important.
    Great post.

  5. Hello Jose!

    I’ve heard it time and again and after reading your article, I’m convinced it must be true.The most successful are people are the ones who know how to focus on what’s important.

    The Olympic athletes usually have singular sports which they focus on excel at. And the world class musicians and artists also concentrate on singular trades. Focus is essential if one wants to get to the top.

    Thank you for sharing! This was, indeed, an insightful article.

    Cheers!

    1. Thanks! Great point. When it comes to athletes, we praise their singular focus in 1 area of life. Yet, when it comes to our own personal and professional lives, many times we wear busy-ness and trying to do it all as a badge of honor. The most successful people turn down good options to make room for great options.

  6. Very nice blog post. As a writer, I am learning this lesson. I write in different genres and two languages and it’s very difficult at times. This year I decided to be more proactive. I wrote more specific goals for the year and I write short term goals every two weeks and revise. Writing down my goals and
    keeping track of what I do has helped me a lot. I see that I’m achieving what I set out to do, so far! I liked it so much, I posted it on my twitter. Keep it up! Much success.

  7. Sérgio Rodrigues

    This article resonates with me. I used to trying set goal for each area of my life – health, finance, career, and so on – and ended up overwhelmed with so many tasks to do.

  8. Hi!
    Jose

    Thank you for your article.
    i am trying many things at a single time and i cant successfully completed even one think.

    so from today i am starting one goal at a time.
    thanks a lot.

  9. Really good article. I thought you were writing about me in the first few paragraphs. I need to get control of this and take your advice of “one at a time”. Maybe then I will actually get somewhere.

    Thanks Jose!!

  10. Great post,it’s all about finding your purpose and then going all in on that purpose.

    Focus and purpose leave to results and fulfillment right?

    Thanks for the post and I will be back for more, keep up the good work too!!

  11. I love this quote,”We can design our lives in a way that facilitates the achievement of what we want the most.” Your way of thinking is exactly how I am able to exercise regularly, eat healthy, and keep my finances in check.

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