How to focus so you work on you most important goals?

I saw this question on Hacker News, and I tweeted my observations about it. However, I also wanted to have it here in my personal space on the Internet.

I must clarify how I think about goals first. Goals are mere intentions or dreams. I don’t think they mean much if you don’t do anything about them. Actions are the only signal of whether a goal is important or not. The idea is, “don’t look at what I say; look at what I do.”

There are lots of things I’d love to do but only 24 hours in the day. This means goals only get done when I make time for them. Time is scarce and finite. I have to deliberately carve out time to do what I care about otherwise, it just won’t happen. Time is always the bottleneck.

How do I make time?

  • I am the most “productive” when I get to bed early, and I wake up early. I have a job, so I try to do all my (personal) stuff before I get to work. These days I go to bed at ~21:30 and wake up at ~06:30. This gives me around 2h-3h of time to do my stuff every weekday. This habit makes the most difference in my output. 
  • Every Sunday, I plan my week. The objective is mostly to have a sense of where I can find time for my stuff. The time I allocate for myself varies per week because of errands, plans with family/friends, etc. I also write down my “weekly goals,” but that is mostly just to set the direction of how I’d like to use the time. 

The exercise above helps show how limited time is. There is only so much you can do. Therefore, my list of goals is rather short. Given I can only do a set of things, I try to make sure they at least matter to me.

What tools do I use?

  • I keep a todo list. I use Todoist for this. I only use it to avoid forgetting about stuff. Every day I add tasks for the things I want to accomplish (work and non-work) and assign priorities. 
  • I keep a notebook, both paper and digital (i.e., Evernote). The notebook is my second brain: ideas, work in progress, notes, book highlights, journal, plans, etc.

There isn’t anything groundbreaking here. Making time is the thing that makes the most difference. There are no magical morning routines or productivity hacks.

Half the work is showing up. When you show up, you end up figuring everything else eventually. The score takes care of itself.

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