In today’s world, many of us are spoiled for choice. We have so many options and avenues we can pursue. You’d think that would be a good thing, but in reality it tends to be more of a burden. Along with all of those wonderful options comes a large amount of indecision. We simply can’t decide what we want to do. We don’t want to pick. We want to do it all, right now, this minute.
Of course this isn’t very practical. One of two things tend to happen at this point. One, we analyze the crap out of our options. And that’s all. We just spend all of our time trying to pick what to do that we don’t end up doing anything. This is what they call analysis paralysis. We become so consumed by picking that we can’t pick.
Barry Schwartz has a great TED Talk (below) on this phenomenon and the many other problems that are born from choice.
The second outcome is that rather than making a decision and picking a direction, we try to do everything we want to do at the same time. The result? A train wreck of failed projects and wasted time. There’s just no way we can start 5 different projects at the same time and actually be successful.
We don’t inherit an identity; we get to invent it. And we get to re-invent ourselves as often as we like… when you wake up in the morning, you have to decide what kind of person you want to be.
I love this insight from Schwartz. It’s spot on and also points to the inherent problem with the world today. It’s so easy to re-invent ourselves and our identity. What’s hard is picking a path and sticking to it. Lucky for us, there’s a third path we can take that is much more practical. So the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed and can’t figure out what to do, follow these steps.
1. Stop and Breathe
Before you do anything else, just stop and take a breath. More often than not, we got lost in our heads with plans and decisions. Over-complicating choices and finding confusion rather than clarity. Instead, just take a step back from everything. Give yourself a moment of quiet before diving back in.
This simple step will help you find some grounding and think more clearly when it comes to step number 2.
2. Think Long Term
For some reason, our generation is plagued with short term thinking. We overestimate what we can do in a day, stuffing our to do list with endless tasks. On the other end of the spectrum, we underestimate what we can accomplish over a week or a month or a year. The point is, we need to re-evaluate how we think about and use our time.
I fully understand wanting to do everything. I struggle with this constantly, as my generalist nature is acting a fool on the regular. What we all need to realize though, is picking one of your many options IS NOT preventing you from doing the others. If you want to do 5 things, you can do them, but sequentially, instead of concurrently. That is the power of long term thinking.
By being patient and having some foresight, you can accomplish all of your goals and more in the long run. Putting in a few years on one idea or goal at a time will actually translate into meaningful results. This is so much more efficient then trying to do everything at once.
Moreover, understanding that you’re not actually denying yourself your other options, but just delaying them, helps put your mind at ease.
3. Review Your Options
Once you accept this way of thinking, the question becomes, what should you do? How do you actually choose? There are a number of ways to do this, from evaluating your ideas to thinking about how you make decisions.
More importantly, you need to pick a path and stick to it. Not for days or weeks, but months and ideally years. If you put in a couple years to write a book, you’re actually going to create and finish something that you’ll be proud of.
On the other hand, if you try to write a book, launch a startup, and start freelancing at the same time, you’ll hardly make any progress. It may still be fun, but it will be equally frustrating when you don’t see tangible results.
I know I make it sound simple, but it’s anything but that. I struggle with sticking to my decisions on a daily basis, always wanting to chase the shiny new idea, instead of struggling with the work in front of me. But the truth is, that’s where the real value is going to come from. Despite years seeming like forever, they tend to come and go, faster and faster. The best part is, after a couple of years, you can move on to the next idea on your list, almost like a reward for your discipline.
On a side note, while it’s important to commit to a single idea, it doesn’t mean you have to let go of your hobbies or side projects. Having that diversity is important and it has a positive impact on your quality of life. The difference is, now there is a clear distinction in how you spend your time. The path you choose gets priority. It should get your attention every single day. As long as that happens, everything else has it’s place as well.
In the end, choose a path and stick to it, for years, not days. Your other ideas will still be waiting for you when you’re done, and the results of your patience will make it all worthwhile.