I’ve been thinking about goals after they came up multiple times in coaching and mentoring conversations this week.
More specifically, I’ve been thinking about what happens when people take on too many goals simultaneously. This is something I commonly see with New Year’s Resolutions. People have a goal of losing weight, learning a new skill, getting a raise, investing in their relationships, etc.
And in my experience, not many people complete their New Year’s Resolutions.
I think part of this reason is that they have too many goals on the go.
Here are five reasons why it’s better to minimize the number of goals you’re working on simultaneously.
Having fewer goals increases the likelihood of success
I mention this first because this is the primary reason people set goals.
When you have fewer goals, you’re more likely to succeed. The following four reasons dive deeper into why this is the case. I call this out explicitly here to keep the big picture in mind.
Having fewer goals increases focus
When you have fewer goals, you can better focus your resources.
Instead of spending a few minutes on each of your goals each day, you can spend all that time focusing only on your most important goals. Instead of distributing your energy across multiple goals, you can be all in for those that matter. Instead of juggling your attention and memory on many goals, you can ensure you’re focusing your mental capacities where they’ll produce the most impact.
You’re more likely to succeed at your goals when they get more of your time, energy, and attention.
Having fewer goals minimizes waste
You waste less of your resources when you’re working towards fewer goals.
The more goals you’re working towards, the more context-switching you’ll have to do. And context switching eats up our time and energy, which is wasteful. Having too many goals also often means that we’re less intentional about our efforts, which means that our resources are being used for less important things. And having more goals also means making more decisions. How much time should I spend on this goal versus that goal this week? I stumbled upon some free time–which goal should I focus on?
These things result in spending our resources on things that don’t move us closer to success.
Having fewer goals leverages Pareto’s principle
Pareto’s principle is the observation is that often 20% of the efforts produce 80% of the results.
When we prioritize our most important goals, we focus on that 20%. This allows us to move quickly, efficiently, and iteratively towards success. When we have too many goals, much of our effort goes towards the other 80%, which produces only 20% of the results (which is a less efficient use of our resources).
This is why being intentional in prioritizing our goals is so helpful.
Having fewer goals helps to build up positive momentum
So much of success comes from mindset.
When we have many goals, we’re more likely to encounter failures. And when we do succeed, we haven’t necessarily succeeded at what’s truly important to moving us in the direction we want to go. This can make us feel stuck–like we’re not making progress.
As we’ve discussed so far, we’re more likely to succeed when we have fewer goals. And when we succeed, we know we’re doing so at the most important goals. This makes us feel good about the progress we’re making. This gives us a sense of positive momentum.
And that positive momentum can help fuel continued success in the future.
To be successful, be intentional
Being intentional about where we focus our resources is key to success.
They talk about this in the context of wildly important goals in The 4 Disciplines of Execution. However, I see similar principles elsewhere. For example, in Building a Second Brain, they encourage people to cap their number of active projects. And a common project management practice in tech is to limit work in progress.
If you’re looking for better results, it could be helpful to look at your goals and see if you can focus on only the most impactful ones.