When I started this new routine, I failed to plan ahead. I didn’t think about all of the ways stopping work at noon might affect me and my other routines or goals.
I was right that spending fewer hours on my work in a highly focused manner would help me get my work done faster and give me more time to work on unpaid projects. But I quickly found that I was getting caught up in the afternoons with extra editing or adjustments to work I’d done before noon the day before. When I focused on getting my work done before noon, my goal of always producing high-quality work suffered. I was prioritizing time over quality, subconsciously.
Because quality is so important to me, when I realised this was happening I subconsciously adjusted my priorities again, so that quality was most important—and found my “work until noon” goal fell by the wayside.
I learned that if I didn’t consciously prioritize my goals and habits ahead of time, they would do it for me. Whenever priorities directly compete, one will rise above the other. It has to otherwise I’d get nothing done.
When I worked at Buffer, our CEO Joel Gascoigne shared an example with me of how different habits can compete. He was trying to go to the gym every morning and to get a minimum of seven hours of sleep every night. Joel was trying to build both of these habits at the same time, but he found that they sometimes clashed. When his alarm went off in the morning, he would get up and go to the gym, even if he hadn’t slept for seven hours yet.
Because he didn’t set his priorities ahead of time, Joel subconsciously prioritized the gym over sleep when they conflicted. When he realized this was happening, he consciously set sleep as his highest priority, and decided the gym would have to wait until he’d slept for seven hours. Setting these priorities ahead of time meant Joel knew to set his alarm later if he went to bed late, and he didn’t have to struggle with the decision to go to the gym or not each morning—the gym had to wait until his sleep goal was met.
When you set new goals or start building a new habit, think about all the conflicts that might arise. What’s going to suffer because you’re prioritizing this new goal or habit? Do you need to prioritize existing goals over this new one?
When you try to work on more than one goal at a time, such as getting up early and not checking your email first thing, you use up more willpower. Because we only have a finite amount of willpower, one goal will suffer if you use it up on the other.
In Joel’s example, he was struggling to get enough sleep when he prioritized gym sessions. So he reversed his goal priorities. Don’t forget to take into account how each goal will affect the others.
If you prioritize workouts over getting enough sleep, are you going to struggle in the gym because you’re tired? Or if you prioritize perfection over hitting deadlines, is that going to slow you down at work and stop you from shipping?
Sometimes it pays to take a step back and reassess if your goals will conflict. If so, pick the one that’s most important and prioritize for it. Otherwise, you’ll find your brain subconsciously sorting your goals and you might not be happy with the results.