In general I am in favor of having important goals in a variety of areas of life. You should set goals for your work life, your family life, personal growth and for any other important role that you have (see my previous post on setting short term goals). Having these various goals allow you to pursue a rhythm in life; one that will allow you to make consistent progress towards all of these goals.
The paradox is that in order to achieve all of these goals you will need to have periods of imbalance; times when you get out of rhythm and focus completely on a major goal for a short period of time. During this time you will need to allow yourself the freedom to leave other goals for the short term to put all of your efforts into what is immediately important.
I am just coming out of a three back-to-back periods of focused imbalance. Towards the end of January an opportunity came up to significantly expand my home business affiliate program in a short period of time. The only catch was that it required that I drop almost everything else for a couple of weeks. By doing that, I was able to achieve more in two weeks than I would have expected in two months. Following that period of imbalance towards my business goals, I had a couple of weeks of focus that was required for the volunteer work I do as part of a church’s leadership time. I turned from there to a period of imbalance towards my job as a professor. This semester I took on an ‘overload’ where I teach an extra course for extra pay. To do this well, I took a period of focused work on class prep and marking.
Success Comes in Spurts
When pursuing goals of any sort you can count on the fact that success comes in spurts. In some projects a spurt is required to get momentum started and get moving forward. In some projects it is a final spurt towards the finish line that is needed. School is built around spurts (exam time and when term papers are due), most jobs are built around spurts (busy season, year end etc.), and even pleasure activities are built around spurts (set vacations).
You can see this in athletics as well. In some sports a burst at the beginning is the key to building momentum that carries through to the finish. The 100 meter sprint is probably the best example of this. It is the early momentum that the runners create that carries them through to the finish. In longer races, such as the 10,000 meters there is usually a gradual build up before a surge towards the end. In professional team sports, we also see this spurt towards the end – called the playoffs. However, before the playoffs many teams will have a spurt period where they go on a several game winning streak to help propel them into the playoffs.
The fact that success comes in spurts is not a bad thing; in fact it is part of the way we are built. Spurts allow you to use an increased level of energy and carry a higher level of excitement for a short period of time. This can be followed by short periods of rest and recovery. Further, if you have a number of areas in your life that at various times require a short spurt, simply changing focus can help provide another burst of energy.
Know what you are doing
One of the keys to effectively having a period of focused imbalance is to know what you are doing. You need to be deliberate about the fact that you are taking a period of time to be focused on one goal over others. It is very easy to slip into a period of imbalance by accident. This occurs when you end up focusing on one goal at the exclusion of others, but you do not do this on purpose; it just kind of happens. When this happens your period of imbalance is likely not very focused, and it can have extra negative effects on your other goals. You want the move to being a period of imbalance to be a deliberate decision because it is the best thing for your life as a whole.
It is important that if you are taking a period of focused imbalance, and doing it deliberately, that you don’t feel guilty about the goals you put to the side. It is easy to feel regret and dwell on what you are not able to do for these other goals. You need to remember that you are leaving some goals for the short term because of an opportunity to advance your overall long-term goals even further.
Of course all of this implies that that you have long-term overarching life goals. If you don’t have a vision for what your life should look like, you will not be able to make decisions about when you should take a period of focused imbalance. Start by setting long-term goals for what you want your life to look like. This vision should guide your short-term goals and the decisions you make about how to pursue them.
Keep all your goals in sight
During a period of focused imbalance it is important that you still pay attention to all of the goals you have, even in the areas you are temporarily putting to the side. This helps you to keep the long-term in mind, but also helps you to always have other important goals in your conscious. There may be places where your goals overlap and something you are working on can carry over towards another project or goal.
You should review all of the roles in your life on a weekly basis. Do your weekly goal setting, even during a time of imbalance. Use this opportunity to deliberately consider each goal, remind yourself about why they are important, and consciously consider whether you should continue in the period of focused imbalance.
Keep your minimum activity level
Part of this process is recognizing what your minimum level of activity is for each of your life roles. Some roles will be things that you can completely set aside and do nothing, but likely most of your goals will need a basic level of activity even when you are in a period of imbalance.
Many of my roles require this minimum level of activity. For example, my job as a professor requires that, at a very minimum, I prepare for and teach my classes, and have suitable office hours. There are some things that I can put aside for a short period, but teaching my classes and holding my office hours are part of my minimum activity level.
One of the areas I “dropped the ball” over the past few weeks is with my minimum activity requirements for this blog. With the focus on this blog being only a handful of months old, I had not gone through a period where focused imbalance took me away. Because of that, I had not built in the minimum activity requirements for this blog. My minimum activity requirements for this blog should have been, and will become, a minimum of two posts a week. That means even during a period of focused imbalance I need to take the time to write, even a little. Knowing my minimum activity level also frees me up, during those times, from promoting the blog, writing guest posts etc.
My period of imbalance allowed me to complete or make significant progress towards several of my goals. Because life generally moves in spurts, it is important to acknowledge the need for periods where most of your attention needs to focus on one specific goal over others. Be prepared for this by having clarity over your life goals so that you can make deliberate decisions about your activity when you need to. Keep your goals in sight at all time and be sure to keep your minimum activity levels and your periods of focused imbalance will help you progress rapidly towards your goals.
Danny Gamache – The Success Professor