Do you want to "do it all" but "all" is too much?

About a year ago I was feeling very overwhelmed by the amount of things that I had promised myself that I was going to start doing and had dropped the ball on. French, coding and piano just to name a few. All noble pursuits, yet they all seemed to fall off the wagon because life just got in the way. It wasn't that I lost interest or decided they weren't worth it - I just found myself struggling to fit them all into my schedule on a consistent basis. Because of these abandoned goals I began getting pretty upset at myself. If these things were important to me, why were they constantly taking a back seat to everything else?

It was a choice between two evils.

On one hand I could continue to preserve my sanity and physical energy while overrunning my mind with fears that I was lagging behind or missing out. On the other hand I could succumb to those fears, overload my schedule, wear out my mental and physical stamina and have a head of gray hair by the time I turn 25.

Stress vs. Regret
Exhaustion vs. Missing Out
Overwhelm vs. Unattained Goals

I couldn't win. Maybe you've run into the same struggle where there are so many things you want to do, yet other obligations (sometimes less exciting obligations) such as school or saving money seem to always take priority. About the same time, I was reading a book by Jon Acuff called Do Over and found the answer I had been looking for. It wasn't an excuse - it was an explanation of my internal struggle.

Seasons dictate focus.

What this means is that you must adapt your focus, your activities - maybe even your lifestyle - as necessary to fit the season of life that you're in. It was simple and totally logical yet somehow I had missed it. Where we are in our lives plays an incredibly large part in what we choose to focus our time, energy and resources on. As seasons change, so do our priorities. By giving ourselves permission to put a name on our season of life, we're giving our fear of missing out permission to back the heck off. You don't have to tackle 23 things during this season of life - just tackle 3. The power of concentrated effort comes with a multitude of benefits - including freeing you up to conquer new dreams tomorrow.

...being faithful to your commitments today will allow you to do more dreaming tomorrow. [...] Finish what you started so that you can start new things eventually.
— Jon Acuff, Do Over

So how does this look in the real world?

Let's imagine that you've just graduated with your bachelor's degree and are heading into your first year of med school. You'll soon find that the social life you used to have at school no longer exists. Weekly movie nights and weekend road trips get replaced by weekly study sessions and weekend cramming. You wanted to taking cooking classes on the side? You might want to put that dream on hold, Pal. If you're in the med school season of life, you must adapt to that season. People won't blame you if you have no social life during med school - that's just what you have to do.

A few years later you graduate. Now you have $100,000 in student loans plus a house note that needs to be paid off. You begin making some decent money for the first time in your life and the temptation to spend it all is a constant voice in your head. But you try to ignore the voice and diligently pay down the debt until you're free. For that season of life, you might not be eating out as much as you would like. But on the bright side, maybe now you can take that cooking class you ignored during med school! You live in a moderate house - nothing fancy - and enjoy settling in to the new routines of a career. It's not that you don't want your own personal chef or a really big house - paying off your debt is just a greater priority for the time being.

Kids come along soon and the long hours you used to work are taking you away from your family more than you would like. So you negotiate a lighter schedule in order to spend more quality with your family. With the expansion of the family, you need an expansion of your home to accommodate those young'uns. Since you were diligent to pay off your debt and save some on the side, you and your spouse decide to build that dream house y'all have been planning for years.

If we understand the beautiful nature of seasons (pun intended), we'll discover that one season, though it may restrict you in some ways, opens you up to opportunity that you didn't have in others. Delegating dreams to their appropriate future seasons of life relieves you of the burden to try to do too many things at once. To add the cherry on top, by freeing yourself to concentrate your efforts on a few things, you'll find yourself able to make incredible progress in a shorter amount of time than if your attention was spread thin across too many activities.

In my own story, I realized that the season of college has ended for me and the subsequent years are dedicated to a progressing independence. This means money is tight. No big trips to Europe. No new car. Nothing at full retail price. I certainly wasn't living it up but I gained something more valuable. I gained an incredible peace about where I was in my life at the time. I recognized what my focus had to be and all of the possibilities in the future if I remained faithful to the present season. I gained a much-needed, long-term perspective, saved myself from self-inflicted stress and anxiety, found a peace of mind and am able to pursue a few things without wasted effort.

1. What season are you in?

My season: a progression toward independence.

2. Narrow your focus

Your goal in pinpointing a core focus and a couple of secondary activities is to help you push forward toward those things that are most important in this stage in life. If your primary focus is boring - let's say paying off debt - then be sure to do something you relish as your secondary activities. Also, allow yourself the flexibility to adapt your focus and activities as you see your season changing.

My primary focus: saving for a house

My two secondary activities:

  1. Leading the digital team at MESH
  2. Growing the podcast

3. Create a not-to-do list.

Almost just as important as your to-do list is your not-to-do list. It helps you maintain a laser-focus on the few things that matter for your season and not get distracted by the thousands of enticing activities that are demanding your attention. These are the things that you know you'll be tempted to spend your money, time or energy on but really shouldn't at this point in time.

My Not-to-Do List:

  • French
  • Piano
  • Coding

Now... don't you feel better? You haven't dismantled and sold your dreams for parts. You've simply shelved them until you can give them the proper attention they deserve. As you can guess, the key to shelving dreams is that they shouldn't be buried in some dusty corner of the basement. They should be in plain site, ready to be deshelved and pursued when the appropriate season presents itself. Don't let your dream die - let it mature. In the mean time, lock your gaze on what this season brings you and smile.

To be successful do only what matters.
— Steve Tobak, writer for Entrepreneur