Can You Spend Too Much Time on Your Goals?

May 30, 2017 Eric Mann 0 Comments

An abundance of research points to the value of goal setting. That’s why there’s also an abundance of advice on how to go about setting your goals, including:

        Honing your list down to a manageable few
        Choosing them wisely (AKA playing it “SMART”)
        Committing to them in writing (digital or otherwise)

But what happens after you’ve set your goals? What’s the best way to position yourself for success? How much time should you spend on that goal? Every day, every week? The answer may be different and less in terms of time than you might think.

At Timeboost, our analytics tell us that successful people actually spend much less time on their goals than you might think. It turns out, being effective doesn’t really take that much time, it just takes some time and persistence.

And to drive this point home even more, here’s a closer look at how much time highly effective people spend on their goals. It’s also an insightful look at why achieving your own goals may depend on spending less time on them.

The Buffet Way

Warren Buffett spends about 80 percent of his time not doing but thinking. That equates to less than 20 percent of time actively working on goals. For many, this may seem like shockingly little. After all, most of us feel like we can’t get enough done, even while pulling way more than 40-hour work weeks.

But as any productivity guru will tell you, the duration of time you spend “working” isn’t necessarily representative of your actual productivity. In fact, the opposite can often be the case. As Buffett’s long-time business partner Charlie Munger explained, “That's what created [one of the] world's most successful business records in history. He has a lot of time to think.”

Buffett is not alone in devotion to the thinking process. In a guest post for Inc. magazine, Brian Scudamore, the founder of 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, shared Abraham Lincoln’s famous quote: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

Scudamore’s takeaway?  “Most people see leadership as a sport where success is determined by hard work. Instead, I like to think of business as being more like surgery. My father was one of the top surgeons in Canada, so when I was young I saw how surgeons aim to have maximum impact with minimum intervention. Like Lincoln chopping down a tree, accomplishing this is about careful planning. The actual surgery the physical work is only a small part of the process.”

Focus on Deep Work

The mandate is clear (if surprising): If you’re spending upwards of 50 percent of your time on your goals, that’s a strong indication that you may be lacking focus. Consider what you’re actually doing when you think you’re working on your goals.

Cal Newport’s framework for thinking about work is useful here. Answering emails and taking meetings qualify as “shallow work,” meaning they have little to do with your goals. It’s not “deep work,” which is cognitively challenging and requires a lot of concentration and focus. The more time you can spend on deep work, the better your results will be, and the faster you’ll achieve your goals. The problem is that many of us equate shallow work with deep work. They’re not the same.

If you’ve ever wondered what happened to your morning and why you didn’t get more done, it may be because you’ve conflated deep work and shallow work. When this happens, you’re setting yourself up for diminishing returns and may be undermining other work and life outside of your goals.

So the lesson here is simple. Have goals, but don’t feel like they require tons of time. Plan on a little time each week, month, day - or whatever interval is appropriate. If you are consistent - even if the durations are short - you’ll get more of what you want done.

Start By Tracking Your Time Better — Much Better

Want to get more from your day even while you get more done? Use the Timeboost Goals feature.

If you use the Goals feature in Timeboost to link your time to your goals, you’ll probably see that even when you feel like you are really on top of things, you’re not actually spending a huge percentage of your time on your goals. More likely, you’re focusing regularly on your goals and spending the appropriate time on them consistently.

Timeboost makes it simple you to create goals and automatically track how much time you spend on them. You can also tie scheduled events in your day, such as meetings, to specific goals to understand if your calendar is optimized to meet your agenda.

As you start to visually see the time you’re spending on goals, you may realize (like countless other Timeboosters) that your goals don’t need that much time - just small amounts consistently. While you’re looking at the insights, take a look at the events and people that take up your time. Are they really helping you make progress on what’s most important to you? And remember that small, recurring periods of goal focus is the way to get those outcomes.

None of these insights would be possible if you didn’t take the time to track your time. Start today.