Menu

How to Prioritize, Pursue Goals, and Focus When You Have Many Interests

Focus

“A man who limits his interests, limits his life.” ~Vincent Price

I can't stay still.

As a kid, I ran around, misbehaving, climbing everywhere—I was a nightmare for my parents, teachers, and anyone who had to take care of me. One year, my behavior assessment report at school stated: “Leaves a lot to be desired.”

Through my teenage years, I suddenly quieted down. But my mind didn't go silent; it still boils inside.

I crave stimuli. Any time I have a couple of minutes on my own, while waiting in the car or in a queue, for example, I take my phone out and start reading. Or I take notes, whatever keeps my mind busy.

I have many interests. If I let myself fully indulge in them, I would be all over the place, spread thin like a French pancake.

Fortunately, I’ve learned to keep them under wraps, like presents that I can open at will. (Although sometimes the wrapping might not hold… I'm only human.)

I know I'm not alone in my situation. Have you ever asked yourself any of these questions?

  • How can I keep my mind quiet to focus on the one thing that I have to do?
  • How can I stay motivated to pursue one goal and follow through with my plan when I want to do a hundred things?
  • How can I satisfy my many interests with the limited time I have?

Over time, I’ve learned to deal with these challenges, and fortunately, I’ve found a solution.

Here is the six-step method I refined over the years. With it, I can indulge in many interests and still stay focused to get things done. It gives me quick results and is highly flexible.

1. Your must-haves.

The first step is to define which activities are the most important in your life at this time—activities that stand at the core of the life you want. Examples include: spending time with your family and friends, exercising, reading, listening to music, and traveling.

Undertakings that are part of your personal growth plan are also important, as they will make you the person you want to become. Examples include: learning new skills, improving your existing ones, starting a side business, and advancing your career.

All these activities are your must-haves; they are highly important to you and they can have a considerable impact on your life. This is where you will put your full focus.

Write them all down in a list.

2. Nice-to-haves.

Then, decide which other activities you are going to indulge in. What is important for your entertainment or your craving for knowledge? These activities are typically your hobbies, things you love doing like watching movies, playing games, and reading fiction books.

Write down your nice-to-have activities on a second list.

3. Clear the clutter.

Our brain is constantly looking for stimulation. And conveniently, our modern society provides it. It will happily bombard our brain with stimuli through app notifications, endless news, emails, and texts.

All these stimuli and our relentless quest for instant gratification inevitably bring us to procrastination.

To get our head out of the water, we have to get rid of the clutter. We need to free time for our must-haves and nice-to-haves. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are the activities that you do purely out of habit even though you don’t enjoy them much?
  • What are the things you end up doing because you feel you “should,” even though they are not important to you? (Maybe you've been brought up to do them, or peer pressure “compels” you do these things.)
  • What are your typical procrastination activities?

Here are examples of activities that might typically fall into this category: watching the news, checking Facebook or your email, and watching TV generally.

Take your time to dig out all these activities and write them down on a third list. This is the list of activities that you should stop doing or do less frequently.

Keep the list as a reminder in case you catch yourself “wasting” time on these activities.

4. Get your one-page plan.

Now that you have your three lists, write down your must-have and nice-to-have activities in a weekly plan.

Put down the amount of time you will allocate to each of these activities every day or every week; for example: read for thirty minutes every day or exercise for thirty minutes on Tuesday and Thursday.

Your time allocation for your must-have activities should naturally be more substantial. If you realize this is not the case, you should got back to step 1 and 2 and clarify what is a must-have and what is a nice-to-have.

5. Track and adjust.

Now that you have your weekly plan, follow it during a typical week. Try to stick to the time you have allocated for each activity. Then, every day, write down how much time you've really spent on all your activities.

At the weekend, review your week and analyze the data.

  • Did you stick to your plan?
  • Did you spend a lot more time than planned on a couple of activities?
  • Did you manage to clear the clutter, or did you spend time on activities that were not part of the plan?

Based on your answers to the questions above, make adjustments to your plan for the following week. Allocate more or less time to specific activities where it makes sense.

Remove activities if you must. Refocus and commit to clearing out the clutter once again.

6. Experiment, explore, shuffle.

Your plan is not static. The whole point of the method is to indulge in the activities and topics you're interested in. So feel free to shuffle your activities around and add new ones at will.

Explore, try out whatever you fancy, even indulging in cluttering activities to see where it leads you.

By exploring and experimenting, your will learn more about yourself and what brings you fulfilment.

You might discover that one activity that you've wanted to do for a long time isn't that exciting and fulfilling once you indulge in it. So you might end up dropping it, with the satisfaction of having tried it out.

Over time, our interests and goals change; this is why your plan of typical activities will and should be updated on a regular basis, typically once a month.

Have Fun

This six-step process might seem pretty regulated, but it doesn't have to be. Once you're comfortable with your plan and devoting time to what is important and fulfilling to you, you won't need to worry about the plan every week. You can then keep your planning to a minimum.

I am actually not a very keen planner. But the benefits of tracking my daily activities and keeping my mind and life within the bounds I have set for myself overcome the pain of planning.

A plan keeps you focused and prevents you from feeling overwhelmed by too many activities.

So I follow a clear weekly plan for my must-haves. In contrast, my nice-to-have activities are more driven by the daily habits I put in place than a strict plan.

Take ownership of the process and shape it to make it fit within your life. As long as you're clear on what you want and committed to discovering yourself while trying new activities, feel free to do whatever you please.

Do what keeps you excited and fulfilled. Have fun!

Following this six-step system means that I had to drop, at least momentarily, activities that I love in favor of others that are more important to me right now.

I listen to podcasts in the car for my personal growth, which means I don't listen to music during my daily commute. I read more non-fiction than fiction books, even though I love fantasy and science fiction. I have reduced the time I spend playing video games, but they are still in my nice-to-have list—I'm a gamer at the core after all!

In short, I had to make choices. I am happy with the outcome.

I feel excitement knowing that my activities will keep changing over time. I can enjoy the journey, indulge in my interests, and feed my mind. I don't feel like I'm missing out.

The main difference from before is that I'm now in control. I learned to regulate my life to feel more relaxed and focused.

My mind thanks me. My wife does, too.

Focus image via Shutterstock

About Antoine Ribordy

Antoine Ribordy is a blogger on www.dreamsetachieve.com. His mission is to teach people how they can create an inspiring lifestyle that they control. His results-focused approach is based on lessons from neuroscience and psychology and best practices in coaching and learning. Check out his free guide 5 steps to escape a boring life, get rapid results and architect your future

See a typo, an inaccuracy, or something offensive? Please contact us so we can fix it!
  • Dis is how it’s possible to receive $97 every hour… After searching and doing research for a job that suits me for half-a-year , I started making cash over this internet-site and now I can not be happier. After 4 months doing this my income is around five thousand five hundred dollars-per month If this interests you: 1)navigate to the site link in the description

  • hi Antoine – this stuff takes a lot of discipline but is possible! the big part of this (especially to address your first couple points) is to say no often to those things that don’t matter! Over the last couple years, writing for my blog and books have take up a lot of time and focus but I had to cut out lots of things to do that – social events, movies, television, etc. It’s a sacrifice but I feel worth it – writing and creating is a must have. Thanks for sharing these insights in a world that is always fighting for our attention and focus.

  • Antoine Ribordy

    Hi Vishnu,

    Thank you for your comment. I appreciate your personal story and spin on the topic.

    Yes, some de-cluttering is needed. As you say, it’s worth it as you can focus on what is really important to you. Cleaning up your life cleans up your mind as well and sharpens your focus.

    Thanks for taking the time to write here.

  • I feel like this post is written just for me. The title speaks volume as I have so many interests, dreams and goals. But like you, I try to plan out my activities and focus on what’s important – even if it means i have to sacrifice some social time with my friends. Thank you for this wonderful post.

  • Antoine Ribordy

    Hi Syaf,

    Thank you for commenting. Glad to hear my post resonates with you.

    Also happy to hear that you are also focusing on what’s important to you. Keep the good work!

  • Betty Hernandez

    Here is something worth attention , an opportunity for work for those who want to use their free time to make money using their computers… I have been doing this since last two years and I am making 40 to 70 dollars per hour … In the last week I have made 12,245 for almost 18 hours sitting ….

    ?There are no special skills required just basic typing and an internet connection ….

    ?There are no time constraints … You may do this any time when you are free ….

    ?Here is what I’ve been doing….

    < ->>w­w­w­.­c­h­a­n­g­e­y­o­u­r­d­e­s­t­i­n­y­f­o­r­b­e­t­t­e­r­.­b­l­o­g­s­p­o­t­.­c­o­m >

    DOW

  • Pril

    Okay I’m trying this. How do i put anything in the nice to have section? all of my stuff i want to do the time waster stuff i want to do those are also in my must haves. What am i not doing the right way for this to work. Help!! it’s all 100% important to me.

  • Antoine Ribordy

    Hi Pril,

    3 things you can do:

    1. Let’s say you have a list of 10 activities in your must haves. Pick 3-5 for now, randomly if you want. Stick to these activities only for one month.
    During that month, write down your experience, your feelings: how did you feel doing each activity (fulfilled, happy or maybe compelled to do it)?
    At the end of the month, swap all or part of your activities for the next ones on your list. Keep doing this for one month at a time until you have covered all your activities.
    Then, based on your reflection, decide what activities are really your must-haves and which ones aren’t.
    This is my favorite way of working it out as you learn by exploring and trying out things. You learn more about yourself and what is important to you as you go along.

    2. Be really honest with yourself until you find your real must haves. Dig deep. Look at each activity and ask yourself why they are a must have.
    Ask yourself “why” questions. For example, if one activity is reading video games news (I used to do that a lot), ask yourself: why do I read video game news? The answer might be: because I want to be informed about the latest games and hardware. Then ask: why do I want to be informed? Because I want to know which games are the best ones, because I get excited about upcoming games and I like to dream.
    Carry on asking why questions until you get to the bottom of it. In the example above, the bottom might be that you are reading news when you can’t play games. It would be a kind of mini-fix to an addiction (you have to be brutally honest with yourself).
    A conclusion might be that it’s okay to check out the video game news once in a while, especially to know what games to buy. But that you don’t need to spend that must time on that activity. It is not a must have and a routine activity in your week.
    It might take time to find the answers, but a combination of 1. and 2. can bring you the answers through experimentation and reflection.

    3. If all else fails, spend less time on each activity. If you have 10 activities and 20 hours a week for all of them, that gives you 2h a week for each. If you split your activities to 3 activities of 1h each day and alternate between the activities, it can work out well.
    I would still recommend that you reflect and try to reduce your activities. That way, you can spend more quality time on real must haves instead of being scattered across many activities.

    I hope this helps. In short, take you time and explore. Test and reflect. Over time, you will find the right way that works for you.

    Let me know if you still need help after trying out the things above.

  • Pril

    I appreciate your reply. do you think it would be best to do it seasonally? as I have noticed some of my core must haves would be seasonal. like Gardening to grow healthy food to consume for the family and myself. can’t garden a lot in the winter. i can study it but not practice it in the winter.

  • Antoine Ribordy

    I don’t have seasonal activities so I haven’t tried this out. But, yes, it makes sense to swap out activities that you can’t do in the winter to either replace it by another activity or spend more time on your other activities.

    Now, whether you want to stick with some activities for 3 months and swap every season is up to you. You could experiment with 1, 2 or 3 months and see what works best for you.

  • Julia Ruane

    I am terrified of missing out, or making the wrong decisions in life. So much so that I actually end up paralysed, doing nothing different in case I go the ‘wrong’ way. I love the idea of separating out what’s really important to me, and then testing if that works. Hopefully it’ll make me much happier. I do feel so miserable and out of control at times.

  • Antoine Ribordy

    Hi Julia,

    Kudos for sharing your experience here.

    I do hope prioritizing and testing will help you and make you happier.

    If I may add something, letting go of the worry of doing the wrong thing is an important step. If you accept to go out and test without the fear of breaking anything, it can make a big difference in your life.

    One thing that helps me a lot with decision making is to measure any decision versus my goals and values. I ask myself: Is this going to bring me closer to my goals? If I make that decision and take that step, am I acting according to my values?

    If the answer to both questions is yes, then I go ahead. I am then confident that it is the right decision for me.

    It can seem a bit oversimplified, but it works very well. And I like simplicity.

  • Adwait Manoj

    I’ve taken a gap year to prepare for college this year and apart from the initial enthusiasm, I really was slacking time away with other non beneficiary interests, my exams are due in three months, this post came to me like a lifebuoy making me realize what am I want to achieve and how to achieve as well, I’ve begun this routine and something already tells me this is exactly what was missing with my life, kudos Antoine . . Life saver

  • enature

    My first impression of reading Antoine’s focusing method is that it’s a very powerful way to reorganize habits in your life. Such reorganization of the habits would inevitably lead to greater satisfaction in your life and would further your progress. As Vishnu pointed out, however, “this stuff takes a lot of discipline.” So any ideas where to find motivation to follow Antoine’s method?
    As a side comment, I think combining Antoine’s method with the Pomodoro Technique (the best productivity tool per the Lifehacker poll) would result in particularly powerful focus. One can assign a certain number of Poms to each must-have activity and readjust weekly.

  • Antoine Ribordy

    Hi Adwait,

    Thank you for your comment. I’m very glad it’s helping you already.

    I would be very interested to hear updates on your progress. Or if you have any question, you know where to find me.

  • Antoine Ribordy

    Hi enature,

    I agree that the Pomodoro Technique helps to stay focused and more productive. Excellent advice!

    As to the motivation, when you can do what you find exciting, it’s easier to be motivated.

    Through trials, you can compare how fulfilled you are when you’re more disciplined with your activities versus how you feel when you are all over the place.

    At the beginning of the process though, it is true that it’s harder to compare “before” and “after”.

    There’s a couple of things you can do:

    1. Make it easy to follow the process. Take small steps first, so that it takes you very little effort to get started and see results.
    Only block time for one or two specific activities. Leave the rest of your schedule and life as it is. As you start getting results, add more activities in your plan. Progressively regulate all your activities.
    This is the equivalent of using a carrot to pull you forward.

    2. Make the status quo more painful. Put money towards a cause that you don’t want to support every time you fail to follow through with the process. It’s the Tim Ferriss’s trick. Because it will be painful for you not to follow through, as your money will go away towards something you don’t like, it will push you to get started.
    This is the equivalent of the stick that pushes you forward.

  • dariowestern

    Hey Antoine, this is exactly what I need in my life right now! I tend to be a bit of a procrastinator, and tend to have a number of these people in my life. Totally agree that prioritizing time and activities is crucial to happiness, productivity and contentment. It reminds me of the quadrant of Important/Urgent that Dr. Stephen R. Covey (author of “The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People”) used to talk about. Thank you! 🙂

  • Ayodele Makun

    Hey Antoine!

    Great write up!!!

    Reminds of myself and has you said have gradually lost or kinnda of killed them because of everyday must do activities and pressures from family, friends and peers!!!

    Hope to use your write up to re-ignite!!!

    Thanks a lot!!!

  • Antoine Ribordy

    Hi Dario,

    Thank you for your comment. I’m glad it is helping you right now.

    Yes, prioritizing is crucial. It releases a lot of stress and keep you focus on what is important to you.

    Thank you for taking the time to post a comment.

  • Antoine Ribordy

    Hi Ayodele,

    Thank you for your nice comment. I hope you can use this process to re-ignite activities that excite you. And spend more time doing what fulfills you.

    Take care and let us know how you are doing (you know where to find me ;)).

  • GatorHawk

    Julia, I just came across your post randomly and it struck a chord. The writer, Doug Coupland (who coined the term “Generation X”) referred to what you described as “option paralysis” & which I’ve adopted as “optional paralysis”.

    Something I read a while ago describes many people as falling into two types: maximizers and satisficers. The former are people who have a hard time making a decision for fear of not making the perfect one (like avoiding the purchase of a TV for fear that it’ll go on sale next week, or your neighbor will get a bigger/better one, or new technology will come out “soon”, all the while, never really having a TV). The former tend to make decisions fairly quickly, often because they’ve created a checklist on what they need. So they may want a TV that’s 42″ or bigger, a particular level of resolution, decent reviews, and under $700. They’ll buy the first one that meets those criteria.

    Guess who’s generally happier. Here’s a Wall Street Journal article that talks about it: http://www.wsj.com/articles/how-you-make-decisions-says-a-lot-about-how-happy-you-are-1412614997.

    Good luck. Just remember, you have more power than you may think you do. For me, that’s step one – believing that.

  • Antoine Ribordy

    Hi GatorHawk,

    I know the comment was for Julia, but I wanted to thank you for your insight.

    I had heard of option paralysis, but I hadn’t read about maximisers and satisficers. This is insightful. Thank you.

    It gives me another point of view on decision making. I am always eager to learn more about psychology, so I’m grateful for your comment.

  • fiuza78

    Hello Enature, that’s what I do: I have 2 side projects that I set a specific number of pomodoros to them weekly. I had more projects, but they need momentum. It’s not worth doing them if I can only assign like 2-3 pomodoros a week for them. So I had to drop a few of them.

    So I have my main job, which takes a lot of time, then I have 2 side projects of my personal interests in which I set somewhere in between 5-10 pomodoros a week, then I have another 10 pomodoros I leave free for errands and nice-to-have activities.

    I tried some online software but the best thing that worked for me is a real physical notebook. It’s always in front of me, easy to access and don’t get lost in a tab of a browser. And I love to hand check the activities on it! I divide it in 3 columns and leave the last 5 lines of a page to log my weekly plan.

    It doesn’t require much discipline when it turns into a habit. I just plan my day every morning when drinking my black coffee. On monday morning I do the weekly plan. thats it. No more than 5-10 minutes prioritizing!

  • Antoine Ribordy

    The simplest methods are the best.

    Thank you for sharing, I really like the simplicity of your process!

  • fiuza78

    Thank you! And also thank you to take your time to write this article! Very inspiring!

    What I struggle is that I have many nice-to-have items that I wish I could move to my must-have list. I’m a core gamer, like you, and I have to push my gaming to the nice-to-have list and just play casual games. The games I like to play needs immersion, and playing a long RPG saga for only 2-3 hours a week is like torture. It goes so slow that I would rather wait for a vacation!

    And the list goes on. I have to accept the fact I’m not in high school with plenty of free time available to do many things. I had to pick only two side projects and leave the nice-to-have activities when I can dig some extra time!

    And I’m happy with that because I can create momentum and immersion for these 2 projects and I see real progress happening on them!

  • enature

    “It doesn’t require much discipline when it turns into a habit.” I think that’s the key point. When planning turns into a habit progress would come.

    If I recall correctly, the original Pomodoro Technique also advocates for a physical notebook as it forces you to assign Poms to each activity. That way you have to write your plan down.

    To my detriment, I avoided planning and just recorded poms as I went. In this case, the only Pomodoro software that stuck (and I tried many) is an online site: tomato.es. It keeps everything forever online and it does not force you to specify your activity until a Pom is done.

    What I hear from you fiuza78 and from Antoine is that I definitely need to add weekly planning and, perhaps, a physical notebook is something I should try.

  • Antoine Ribordy

    We are in the same boat.

    I also play long RPGs (my favourite games) and I devote time to them on an irregular basis. As you say, it takes time to finish them. But I have learned to appreciate the long journey, which can take 6 months sometimes…

    I’m glad you are creating momentum to your main projects, that’s great!

  • Antoine Ribordy

    Yes, I would definitely recommend planning. This is actually at the core of everything I do now. It wasn’t the case before.

    Planning gives me discipline. It’s not the only component to discipline though, but an important one.

  • The Pol

    This is close to what I try to practice nowadays, as opposed to my old Alexandrine approach to things (which is to constantly be driving harder and harder with unrelenting ambition). No sense in burning out.

    After reading this, methinks some adjustments will be made regardless.

    Thank you.

  • Antoine Ribordy

    Hi The Pol,

    Thank you for your comment. I hope the adjustments will help you keep your focus.

    Take care.

  • Lluís Mencheta Peris

    It seems a good plan, I will try it. Thanks!

  • terryrosenberg

    Nice, practical tips. The problem, though, is that old habits die hard, and even when we put together a great plan, it requires mental discipline to follow it. What is lacking in this article is how to help someone cultivate focused awareness; a decluttering of the mind, if you will. I am a big proponent of mindfulness practice as a way of training the brain to respond, rather than react. We all know how well diets work, even when we have our menus planned ahead and pasted on the refrigerator! So follow this advice and find a mindfulness practice that works for you. Think of it this way: If you were going to climb a mountain, wouldn’t you put together your map of the journey AND train at the gym? This article is your map; mindfulness is the gym.

  • Antoine Ribordy

    Hi Terry,

    Thank you for your insight. I am a big proponent of mindfulness (I was skeptical at first, but then tried it out and saw the results for myself) and I agree that it helps with mental discipline. It helps you to stay focused during the journey, as you say.

    It could be covered in a different article…

  • Oh my, even this seems hard for me 🙂
    I have had times when I could focus on only a thing or two, but now as I am getting younger and younger, I feel like a kid who is discovering the wide world…

  • Antoine Ribordy

    Hi Andrea,

    It’s great to hear you feel like a kid discovering the world. I love your spirit of exploration!

    Sometimes, you need to create a bit of chaos to then put order again.

    If you are not quite ready to put some discipline in what you pursue, you might want to keep exploring until you know what is more important to you.

    Take your time and have fun. Then, you can have a go at the process above.

    Take care.

  • Mike Pascale

    Talk about procrastination! This page has sat in my browser with 12 other tabs and I finally read it today. LOL

    Thanks for the article, Antoine. My main problems have been psychological–I feel guilty doing things I enjoy, even if they’re must-halves, because I think I should be doing other things. (For example, writing instead of fixing the lawn sprinkler; culling my book/comic collection instead of cleaning the bathrooms.)

    One thing I recommend/agree with is prioritizing. As an avid collector/accumulator, I went through my unread stacks and boxes of books, comics, magazines and DVDs and figured out how long it would take me to read/watch them all if I never acquired another.

    At my current rate, it would take me a good 18 years! That was sobering (and saddening). My original goal was to enjoy it all in “retirement” but the advent of the Internet, the DVR, On-Demand programming means I have more entertainment available than ever before. Add to that the fantastic prices on old books due to the shift to digital, and my collection can grow exponentially. To quote an old movie title, something’s gotta give.

    Your classification of “must-have,” “like-to-have,” and “out-of-habit” are perfect for these things as well.

    Thanks again and best of success.

  • Evan Harvey

    This is an article that is written for me! I have a lot of different things I want to achieve and can never really settle on what I want to pursue at any given time. I love the idea of setting everything into 3 lists and to then plan your week accordingly. This is a very helpful post that I am definitely going to try. I couldn’t agree more about getting rid of the clutter, I always find myself playing a game or checking Facebook which both does me no good. Thanks for the post Antoine 🙂

  • Antoine Ribordy

    Thank you for your comment Evan.

    I’m glad my post can help you.

    Good luck!

    You know where to find me if you need any more help.

  • steven2358

    I have one single list. Important and urgent matters are at the top. Optional activities are below. I try to work only on the top item. Works like charm for me.

  • Antoine Ribordy

    Hi Steven,

    Thank you for your comment.

    Separating your list in “important and urgent” and “optional” works is a good idea. And clearly it works well for you.

    Thank you for sharing with the community, I appreciate it.

  • Mss_lemon

    Hi Antoine,

    I feel like I’ve just found this on the right moment. I’ve been having problems to focus and I really need to make my priorities right now to achieve my goals and create a better future.
    I always try to write in my agenda what I must to do every day but I always let something undone and it feels so bad… I have lot of problems to focus and more when you are in a moment of your life that you are unmotivated. I need to rise from this. I think I’m gonna try your methode, I hope it helps. Cross your fingers for me!!

    Thank you so much!!

    (Sorry for my bad english, I’m spanish!!)

  • Antoine Ribordy

    Hi Mss_lemon,

    Thank you for your comment.

    I’m glad you found my article when you needed it. If my method can help you right now, that’s great. Let me know how you get on and if you have any question, you can reach me here or on my website.

    Good luck!

    Your English is good, you don’t need to worry about it.