A few years ago, I was in my final years of completing university. Like many, I had big plans after graduation, all of which required competitive grades. One summer after the school year had ended, I took it upon myself to try and catch up on my studies, as well as prepare for the upcoming year.
I laid out numerous goals that I wanted to achieve by the end of the summer. I wanted to review everything that I had learned so far as an astrophysics major, as well as new topics that I would be learning the following semester. I also wanted to put on some muscle mass, learn how to code, create a commonplace book, and also read several books.
Unfortunately, by the end of the summer, although I had done a lot, I did not achieve anywhere near as many goals as I had planned. In fact, I never fully completed any of my goals. This ended up being the case the next summer as well.
Around that time, I had read The Power of Less, by Leo Babauta. It’s a great book on minimalism, and it highlights an important lesson that I think everyone should learn, one that I had eventually learned myself after those unproductive summers.
In The Power of Less, Leo Babauta summarizes his philosophy on minimalism as follows:
Identify the essential
Eliminate the rest
He goes on to describe 6 principles that follow from the above:
Choose the essential
Of those 6 principles, the one that had the biggest impact on me was focus:
Focus on just a few things at a time. Set goals for yourself, so that you know when you have achieved what you set out to do, and can continue onto the next goal.
Try to pick at the most three big projects in your life, and to stick with them until the end.
— Leo Babauta
To focus means not only choosing a small number of goals to focus on, but also having the discipline to not be tempted to try and start new goals before your current ones have been completed:
It is very tempting when you are working on something, and you reach a roadblock, to start something new. It gives you a boost in motivation and makes you feel good, but in reality you are procrastinating. Learn to recognize when this happens, and refocus yourself to your main tasks.
It will be hard, but every time you find yourself wanting to start something new, think about all the other things you have started, and have not yet finished. Do those instead.
— Leo Babauta
What I learned after those summers was that I was trying to focus on too many goals at the same time. It felt like I was being productive, like I was achieving a lot in a short period of time, and it felt good.
In reality, I was being inefficient, and setting myself up for failure. I realized that I would have achieved more if I had focused on just one or a few goals at a time, as opposed to trying to focus on everything all at once. Instead, my approach should have been to focus on just a few things at a time.