The Biggest Mistake We Make With Our Time

Most of us focus on the wrong thing(s). One of the key differences between highly successful game players and their opponents is the correct focus in training and play. The larger goal is to win a competition. Good players understand they need to focus on specific objectives that will qualify them for the tournament. Then, they can focus on what they need to win the tournament. They accept that they may lose a lot of practice games while staying focused on improving their skills. And this may include skills like reading their opponents or even identifying distractions and improving their focus.

To use our time effectively, we need to know three things:

1. What’s the overall goal or aspiration?

It may be to feel secure — physically, socially, financially, or all of the above. Or we may wish to feel we are contributing to a better world or a better life for our community. On a narrower scale, it may be to master a particular skill or problem. Or receive recognition from a particular group of peers. (“You like me! You really like me!) Or simply find peace and contentment in our lives.

When we choose what to do with our time, we need to keep focused on our ultimate purpose. And ask ourselves, how does this action, this time help — or hinder — me in reaching my larger purpose? Maybe carpool duty does help you improve lives in your community. Or obeying lockdown restrictions helps us assess what really does matter in our lives and develop a new focus and new, more effective ways to achieve those goals.

2. What’s my primary goal or purpose today?

Just as players understand there are incremental goals to the larger goal, we need to identify and focus on those steps to our larger aspirations. And we usually need to break these down into doable, bite-sized goals. If you find yourself unable to complete your daily To-Do lists or progress on an important step towards your goal, check out how SMART your goals are.

Understand that our immediate priorities may change. But our largest aspirations or values rarely change. When the call came that my husband was in the hospital, my immediate priority changed — but not my largest life goal. Even when a friend calls to say she needs to talk, my immediate priority may change — but not my goal of building strong connections.

Due to the pandemic, I’m not going anywhere. I was supposed to be in Portugal right now. But that isn’t happening for the foreseeable future. In fact, the health experts are saying I’m not going anywhere until at least next summer. So my immediate — and mid-range — goal is to focus on Making Time for What Matters and my creative projects. But my larger goal of connecting with others and developing a meaningful life is the same. Same destination, different route. (Boy, do I miss traveling.)

However, if we find our own immediate goals constantly pushed aside by other people’s demands, we may need to assess what’s happening and why. But that’s a topic for another post (coming soon).

3. How am I spending my time and is it the best use of my time right now?

The best way to do more of what matters is to be aware of what you are doing and why. Often, we find ourselves doing things simply from habit. Or because it’s easier than a more productive task. Or because something in the back of our brain is stopping us from being “more productive.” When you start working on a new task, ask yourself, what am I doing, and why?

And before you start beating yourself up for wasting time, be sure you are wasting time. Sometimes there’s this niggling suspicion that what we’re about to do is the wrong thing. We may call it intuition, inspiration, or gut feeling, but we should listen to it. What’s triggering it? Fear? Or unconscious knowledge that we’re missing something. Or is it simply that our brain needs to make a clean break between Project A and Project B to shift focus.

I’m decidedly goal-oriented. I start a project or task and just keep going until I’m done. Then, I need a total break before tackling the next item on my To-Do list. Even writing this post. Each time I started a new subhead topic, I needed a “snack break” to refocus. Several years ago, I did presentations at writers’ conferences entitled “Finished Chapter One, Ate a German Chocolate Cake.” Fortunately, I’ve switched to carrot sticks and dry roasted almonds.

So what’s your focus?

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