Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Overcoming the Under-achievement Bugaboo

Successful people in any field tend to hold themselves to a lofty standard. As a result, they often experience disappointment or feel frustrated when their designs don’t immediately come to fruition. If this happens repeatedly, it can accumulate into an overall feeling of falling short of one’s potential. Highly intelligent, creative, and visionary individuals in particular are susceptible to this syndrome, particularly in a world filled with distractions.

Unfortunately, disappointments and diversions are facts of life; what sets high-achievers apart from under-achievers is the ability to achieve concrete, specific goals consistently, in spite of these obstacles.

The following list draws on the ideas of Dr. Ned Hallowell, a psychiatrist who specializes in attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Set two or three specific goals for each day.

Very few of history’s great achievements materialized overnight. Many famous works of architecture, like castles and cathedrals in Europe, required decades to build. Professional athletes, musicians, and artists rehearse and train rigorously for years in order to attain a sublime level of performance and make it look easy.

Even if the goals you set for yourself are ambitious, demanding, or significant in scale, focus on the process, and divide major undertakings into small pieces. This approach also offers a proverbial rope to help you climb out of a productivity rut: rather than concentrate on a huge task, direct your attention to a single component of the larger task. If you’re overwhelmed by the thought of writing a book, try writing a few sentences instead. You’ll have made progress already.

Establish medium-term, long-term, and lifetime goals too.

Beyond your daily goals, you should likewise establish two or three medium-term goals (for periods of two to three weeks), an equal number of long-term goals (six months to one year), and lifetime goals.

The key is to avoid taking on several big projects at once—which tends to result in partially completed works, but no tangible final product at the end of the time period in question.

Stay disciplined around e-mail, social media, and other online time-consumers.

If you’re a curious, active thinker who craves knowledge of the world, the internet is equal parts blessing and curse—the former, because an immense quantum of information and insight is available at your fingertips; the latter, for the same reason.

E-mail and social media are arguably the worst offenders, because as we see updates from our friends, new messages in our inbox, and replies to our tweets, we feel the urge to read and respond to those communications. For the sake of productivity, however, it’s important to resist the temptation to reply to online messages as they arrive.

Barring exceptional circumstances, try to reserve a time slot of about an hour each day in which you respond to e-mails, reply to Facebook messages, read news headlines, scan through your Twitter timeline, or whatever. For the remainder of the work day, steer clear of these potential time-leeches.

Devote yourself to projects that are consistent with your priorities.

If you’re a naturally enthusiastic and generous person, you may have a tendency to stretch yourself too thin. Realistically, life is full of worthwhile opportunities and undertakings for which we either don’t have time, or toward which we simply cannot devote enough effort to instill pride and satisfaction.

In that light, it’s important for you to prioritize endeavours that are consistent with your ambitions and passions. This will require you to politely decline some proposals. In other words, sometimes you need to say “No” in order to say “Yes”.

Be honest with yourself, and with the person who is making a request of your time and commitment. Rather than agreeing to do something right away, offer to think about it and get back to h/er. If for whatever reason you don’t feel up to the task, decline the offer by saying “This looks like a great idea/worthy project, but I just don’t think I’ll have the time to do it justice.”

By steering away from over-commitment, you’ll avoid disappointment, and free up time for the things that are most important to you, both personally and professionally.

For more information, check out Dr. Hallowell’s website, and this 2014 interview by life coach Marie Forleo.