What do you do when you have too many projects you want to embark on but limited time to do them?
For the first few years when I started PE, that was a situation I constantly found myself in. Every time I worked on something, 2-3 new ideas would pop out of nowhere. I would be torn between (a) continuing what I was working on and (b) embarking on that new idea. If I continued doing what I was doing, that meant the new idea would have to be put on hold. If I started working on that new thing, that meant whatever I was doing would be put into a state of limbo. Doing both at the same time was a no-go since it would split my attention two ways.
For example, here is a list of tasks/projects/ideas that were on my consideration list in the middle of 2011 (not including personal to-dos):
Not wanting to hire anyone (it’s simply not in line with my business model) nor outsource (I wasn’t ready to outsource at that time, though in retrospect it was more due to mental limitations), I was left with (a) learning to be better at prioritization and (b) maximizing my productivity.
I cultivated a lot of productivity strategies and tactics during this time. I became quite effective with a good eye for trimming down things to the bare essentials. I said no to anything that would take time away from my goals. I became very efficient at clearing things off my to-do list. I developed my very own personal productivity system that helped me stay on top of all my projects and get the best out of my days.
Sometime during the second half of 2009, I started this practice of identifying 2-3 of my biggest priorities at any point in time and focusing only on them. I had already sliced out a lot of my Quadrant 3 and Quadrant 4 tasks and was already focusing on my Quadrant 2 on a daily basis (pursuing my passion, for example), so this new strategy was meant to be a one step up, where I would focus on my biggest priorities within Quadrant 2. (For more on the 4 quadrants of time management, read Put First Things First.)
These 2-3 priorities usually comprised of 2 ongoing priorities and 1 new project. For example, “Marketing” (ongoing), “Content creation” (ongoing), and “Write new ebook” (new). Or “Create/Run new challenge” (new), “Marketing” (ongoing), and “Optimize the site” (ongoing).
These helped immensely in driving focus. Every time I picked out my 2-3 big priorities for the upcoming period, I would ignore everything and work on those 2-3 priorities for the next 2-3 months. Nothing but those priorities. It was like a total immersion.
For any new ideas that came in during this period, I would pen them down on my “emerging ideas” list, and wait till my next review to evaluate their place in the big scheme of things.
After I was about 90-95% done with those priorities, I would then take a step back, evaluate what were my 2-3 next biggest priorites to work on, and work on them next. And so on, and so forth. I did this for the next couple of years.
Having streamlined my personal productivity and started my 2-3 priorities a time approach, I became fairly prolific. Every time I completed my big priorities, I would immediately get on to my next set of priorities. For every similar task I embarked on, I would take lesser time than before, while delivering a higher quality output.
During this period between 2009 to 2011, I launched various high quality ebooks on PE, conducted a series of high profile challenges, wrote many new articles, increased the site’s traffic by over 10 times, expanded PE from being just a blog to a personal development platform, launched PE forums, created and conducted numerous workshops, and worked with many 1-1 coaching clients around the world, among other accomplishments.
However, the longer I stuck with this system, the more I felt there was something not quite optimal about this approach:
These issues became more apparent each time I completed a cycle of using this approach. It wasn’t until July last year that I finally found my answer to this longstanding problem.
The a-ha moment came during one of my usual review sessions. At that time, I was evaluating my 2-3 priorities to focus on next – i.e., yet another cycle of the same thing.
As I began weighing the pros and cons of one item against the next (my typical procedure before selecting my final 2-3 priorities), I felt conflicted. Regardless of what I selected, I could anticipate spending the next few months being torn between those 2-3 priorities.
This was when it suddenly hit me that I didn’t have to choose 2-3 priorities (out of the list) at all. Neither did I have to choose between any of the 2-3 priorities.
That was because regardless of the priority I chose, it would ultimately lead me to the same end point.
Let me explain. Let’s say I pick revenue generation as my top priority for the next 2 months. In my business model, that would mean creating a new high value, information product. While creating a new product would take a good 1-2 months at least (of continuous work), I would receive instant gratification right after I launched it, by way of the revenue earned from the product sales. Post launch, it would also serve as an additional revenue stream on an ongoing basis. Clearly, this would accomplish my revenue objective.
However, creating this product would do more than just that. It would also help me strengthen my value offering at PE, because I would have a new high value product in my line-up at PE. Many readers would benefit from it, as opposed to if I had never launched it. On top of that, having this product would help me to reach new people, since the people who purchase the product might mention it in passing to their friends too, due to the immense benefits they get from it. This has been the case for Live a Better Life in 30 Days Program and Be a Better Me in 30 Days Program.
Or let’s say, I choose content creation as my upcoming priority. The main way I would approach this is to write a lot of high quality articles and share them freely on the site, as I’ve been doing in the past few years. This would most definitely increase the content, and subsequently, the value of the site.
At the same time, some readers, upon reading the articles, would proactively share them with their friends and family, simply because they comprise of useful information for their growth. This would lead to an organic growth in traffic. With the growth in traffic, this would indirectly lead to increase in revenue, since higher readership would mean a higher chance of product sales, and a higher chance of clickthroughs for the site advertisements (due to a match in the adverts with the readers’ interest). Clearly, I wouldn’t just be growing my content here – I would also be growing the site in other aspects, thanks to the spillover effects of growing my content.
As you can see, focusing on any one priority would ultimately help me grow in other areas too, even though I wouldn’t be focusing on them. The rate of growth in those other areas might not be the same as compared to if I had focused on them as top priorities, but it would merely be a short-term phenomenon. As I grow rapidly in my one area of choice, it would lead to a faster rate of growth for all the other areas as well (due to the spillover effects from working on my top priority).
At the end, when I reach my final end vision, I would have grown so much in all areas (directly and indirectly) that it wouldn’t matter whether some of the areas developed slower or faster at the beginning. That’s because it has ultimately led me to my desired end point.
Which leads me to my main point. The key here, then, isn’t to select 2-3, 4-5, or 6-7 big things on your list and try to grow all of them simultaneously (which in turn splits your attention and focus). The key here is really to select the 1 biggest thing that you are most infinitely passionate about, and pursue it to the nth degree, all the way until you rocket to success with it. As long as you do that and do that well, you will naturally accomplish all your other priorities on the list too.
This is where I want to bring in the Superstar Effect, because the phenomenon lends support to the conclusion I just shared.
The Superstar Effect refers to the phenomenon whereby the top performers of the field reap a disproportionately large share of revenue (compared to other players in the field) and seemingly dominate the fields they are in. (It is commonly linked with economist Sherwin Rosen, who first wrote about it in The American Economic Review in 1981.)
There are many reasons why the Superstar Effect exists. One reason is because people, when given a choice, want to go for the best, rather than the second or third best. For example, someone suffering from a heart disease would want to go for the best heart specialist, rather than a regular heart doctor. This then leads to a disproportionately larger demand for the best player(s) in the field, even if the difference in ability is marginal to begin with.
Secondly, it’s yet another phenomenon that’s in line with the 80/20 principle, whereby 80% of the outcome can be explained by 20% of the causes. Here, a small percentage of the top players reap 80% of the rewards, kinda like “the winner takes all” effect.
Thirdly, it’s easier to follow the path of the person in the best, because that person epitomizes everything there is in the industry he/she is in. He/she becomes more than just another player in the field, but now becomes a symbol, an icon, a representation of everything there is to see and learn about that particular industry.
Fourthly, technology has allowed one’s influence and one’s work to spread even more widely, quickly, and cost effectively than before. Alan B. Krueger, another economist, studied the music industry and found that the top 5% of revenue generators (i.e., the superstars) took in 62% of concert revenue in 1982 and 84% in 2003. Needless to say, this disparity is probably bigger today, with iTunes and social media fanning their success. (For example, Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber have the largest Twitter accounts today, with 25 million and 23 million followers respectively. That’s just 2 people in a 500 million user social network with a 10% reach of the network’s users!)
The Superstar Effect has several implications in how you should approach your goals:
The reason why I brought up the Superstar Effect and the Superstar Halo is because they basically tie in with the point I’m trying to bring across. By doing one thing, and doing it extremely well, it doesn’t matter what the other things on your list are, because (a) they would likely be accomplished in the process of achieving your first goal (b) even if they aren’t, you can now leverage on the success of your first goal to accomplish them.
This spillover halo can be witnessed regardless of what you’re doing. Take for example, the scenarios I shared of myself in the previous section. While revenue generation and content generation may look like distinctly different objectives, when I analyzed them, they ended up converging to deliver the same outcome (of creating more value, getting the word out to others, generating more revenue). The individual paths may not be 100% similar (no two paths will ever be), but they all eventually bring me to the same end point (if not closer).
Another example would be many celebrities, who seamlessly expand from acting to singing (Selena Gomez), from singing to acting (Justin Timberlake), from reality TV to modeling to retail to book writing (Kardashian family), from modeling to TV (Tyra Banks), from sitcom to film (Jennifer Aniston), from stand-up comedy to TV (Ellen Degeneres), without much of a problem. That is because they have already built huge followings, or at the very least established a certain level of prominence and credibility, in their initial endeavors which then enable them to ride on their initial success to create bigger waves of success elsewhere.
See it as having a trampoline that you can now use to jump to greater heights.
Whatever multiple ideas and goals you have now, it doesn’t matter which one you do first or how you prioritize them, so much as it matters that you pick the one you are most passionate with, go full throttle in it, and stick with it to the very end till you achieve prominence in it. That’s because whatever you pick, it will ultimately bring you to the same end place (assuming you eventually get to working on the other things on your list, of course).
Great to know all that – so how does this knowledge then translate into action?
Basically, when you have too many ideas to be executed, you are no longer looking at a personal productivity issue – you are looking at a prioritization problem. You are trying to do too many things at once – to the point where it’s jeopardizing your success. Even trying to do 2-3 things at one go – it can be very distracting. You’re constantly fleeting from one item to the next. Your attention is split 2-3 ways. You get a very diffused output, compared to if you channel all your energy onto 1 thing and blast it all the way.
I know, because I tried the 2-3 things approach for a while, as I shared in the opening.
Planes are designed with one head each, not two heads or three heads, because that’s the most streamlined design that cuts through air resistance. It’s possible for laser light to cut through steel because all the energy is focused onto one wavelength, which causes the steel to melt away under the intense pressure. By the law of physics, you deliver the most pressure (impact) by applying the same force over a smaller unit area (doing 1 thing), not over a larger unit area (doing multiple things at one go).
If you constantly find yourself in a state of flux, constantly jumping from one thing to the next, and seemingly having lesser time than you can afford, my recommendation for you is this:
Hope you found the above helpful. I’ve personally been applying this for the past few weeks (proper) and it’s giving me immense results. Much love to all of you. ♥