The times that I find myself most likely to be distracted (read: not to doing what really matters) are directly related to the times when I have not clearly defined my goals.
Goals give me a sense of purpose and clearly set out what I need to achieve. Not having goals makes it easier to reason with myself that opening a new tab for Reddit for 5 minutes won’t matter. The problem is those 5 minutes turn into 45 minutes. 45 minutes of pure focused work is a lot to waste.
I try to start each day going over my goals for the day. I’ve found that just looking at and thinking about my goals for five minutes each day before starting any work (that includes checking your emails in bed still half asleep) is a great way to come out of the gate strong. It doesn’t leave any room for CNN, Hacker News or any other distractions you’ve convinced yourself are actually worthwhile.
I generally have three sets of goals (which I maintain with trello, a list for each set and a board with these three lists for each product I’m working on).
- Short Term Goals – Generally 1-2 day and are probably more attune to tasks.
- Medium Term Goals – Generally 2 weeks in the future
- Long Term Goals – Anything longer than 2 weeks.
The categories are intentionally vague. The real benefit comes from simply writing down your goals. Personally I’ve found that placing strict restrictions on your goals almost never works. I know whats really important and what needs attention first, I don’t need to write it down. I just need to write down the actual goals.
Setting goals is of utmost importance when you are working in a somewhat independent environment, whether that be as a freelancer or consultant or entrepreneur. In a normal 9-5 job your goals are generally set by those paid more than you. In that case you and your bosses know exactly what you need to achieve and you are accountable to them. It is important to set goals and it is important to be held accountable to them. Even if that means telling your spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend/sister. Make yourself accountable to someone or something. For some people being held accountable to themselves is enough.
(Note the screenshot is an actual trello board I am using for a project I’m working on)