Are you truly working towards your goals each day or just busying yourself with things that seem important? One of the biggest mistakes you can make when it comes to pursuing your dreams is to get distracted by non-essential activities, or what I like to call “noise.” Noise can clutter the mind and take up precious hours in your day that could otherwise be spent in pursuit of your ultimate goals.
The noise that I speak of is not obvious daily distractions like social media or office happy hours. No. This noise is far more difficult to detect and something that usually disguises itself as productive work. But the key to reaching your goals faster lies in your ability to detect and filter out this noise from your daily habits.
What do I mean by all this? Here’s a story to explain.
She Thought She Was Being Productive
My girlfriend Pema lives with me in Brooklyn and we usually work side-by-side for a few hours each day at home. We’ve gotten into the habit of reading our goals for the day to each other every morning after breakfast.
Pema has an exciting goal of getting accepted into a Ph.D. program for psychology and the majority of her days are spent trying to improve the quality of her application. To get into a good program she has to do well on the GRE, get recommendations from reputable professors, and gain lab experience – among other things. It’s a complex process with many layers of goals all leading up to the ultimate goal of acceptance to a program.
One morning she was telling me her goals for the day and mentioned that she planned to study statistics for three hours. I scratched my head and thought back to the previous days of that week. Every day that I could remember she had put aside 2-3 hours to study statistics. I had one question for her: “WHY?”
When I questioned her on this, Pema came up with a million reasons why studying statistics was beneficial. She told me she was learning important information that would help her do well once she got in the program. But it sounded like she was getting ahead of herself. We dug a little deeper and uncovered that studying statistics would not help on the GRE’s or improve her Ph.D. application. So why was she carving out the majority of her day to study it now?
After further digging, we made a few critical discoveries. First, we realized that she was doing the statistics work because she told herself that it was related to her ultimate goal. This was true in part, but the problem was that it wasn’t essential to her goal of getting into a program. In fact, she would need to study this stuff again after she got in. We also discovered that she was studying each day because she loved it. Pema has been in academia for much of her life and studying feels natural to her. When she’s studying, she’s in her comfort zone.
That morning at breakfast, Pema saw for the first time that the statistics work was “noise” that was cluttering her days and slowing her progress to her goal. She had been doing the statistics work because it was challenging and seemed productive but, in relation to her goal of getting accepted, it meant very little. While we acknowledged that studying was still a healthy habit that should not be eliminated from her life, we both saw that she had to deprioritize it and focus on the essential activities that would get her into the Ph.D. program.
From that day on, Pema restructured her days so they contained more essential actions that would lead to her goal and fewer activities that simply seemed productive. She had broken through the noise that had been slowing her progress and had developed a clear vision for what she needed to do each day to attain her goal.
How To Escape The Noise
For much of my life, like Pema, I was distracted by all the noise in my life. At every turn, I confused busyness with productivity. For example, I spent two years building my blog and trying to perfect my online marketing skills. But I realize now, that all I ever wanted to do was coach people. I didn’t need a fancy website and online marketing scheme for that.
Today I have several systems in place to make sure that I’m able to cut through the noise in my life and focus on the essential items each day that will get me closer to my business and life goals. One of those systems I’ll share with you now.
I’ve found that every day there are temptations that can lead me to non-essential activities. Because of this, I needed to create a way to remind myself every single day to stay on track. Therefore, using the Reminder App on my iPhone, I set up a recurring reminder for every day at 11:00 AM that asks me “Are you being productive towards your goals or just inventing things to do?”
This simple question, triggered halfway through my morning, is my daily check-in to see if I’m staying on task. Without this question, like Pema, I too could find myself working on things that aren’t getting me closer to my dreams. For me, it’s a simple solution to a complex problem. This question has helped me to succeed in sales and build a thriving coaching business. It can work for you too.
Try implementing this system today and watch how over time your energy and productivity slowly shift towards what matters. This will be one small tool to help you break through the noise of your days and focus on the essential activities you need to do to realize your dreams.