Eric McKibben
Feb 25, 2016 · 3 min read

My good friend Traci was stressed out. She had a million things on her to-do list and could just never seem to make a dent in the list. Every time she started on one task something else would pop up that demanded her attention. She would always spend a few minutes waffling between tasks trying to figure out what she should do. She felt miserable, which distracted her even more.

Traci is not alone. A 2003 study done in Canada found that 88% of workers felt moderate or high levels of overload.

I don’t have to tell you that overload is a terrible thing. You have probably felt its effects: anxiety, exhaustion, fear, guilt, anger, and the list goes on.

These negative emotions come from conflict that arises from competing goals that we all have. We want to be effective workers, leaders, and companions to our friends and family. We want to spend time working out and planning and cooking healthy meals. We want to enjoy life by indulging ourselves with hobbies, and ice cream, and watching television and movies.

The problem is clear. We have too many desires, too many goals that compete for our attention. We know spending an extra 30 minutes at work to complete an important project causes us to fail at our goal of spending quality time with our family and friends.

The truly terrifying thing about all of this is that dealing with our negative emotions adds yet another goal to the list. Who wants to feel rotten? So we immediately subconsciously create another goal for ourselves to eliminate the negative emotions.

This new goal of eliminating the negative feelings steals our attention from finishing the work we should be pouring all of ourselves into. We end up staying at work even longer than the 30 minutes because we diverted attention away from the job to deal with our emotions.

It should come as no surprise that when you are splitting your attention between multiple competing goals, you lose, and everyone else around you ends up hurting too.

You Don’t Have to be a Loser

The key to not being a loser is focusing all of your attention on a single goal. Think about it. When a goal gets all of your attention you are living in the moment. You accomplish great things and you have fun doing it. You win, your boss wins, and your friends and family also win because they have all of you for a set period time.

Here is How to Do It

  1. Pick a single specific goal you want to accomplish. Make sure the goal is specific so that you have a very clear vision of what you are trying to achieve. Having a crystal clear picture of what you stand to gain (or not lose) from accomplishing the goal will allow you to maintain focus and attention on the goal.
  2. Set boundaries. Once you have picked a single goal and generated a vision of accomplishing the goal, you need to place boundaries around the goal. The boundaries you should set include: how long you will give yourself to complete the goal, a specific daily start and end time, and a specific location to accomplish the goal that will be free from distractions. Setting boundaries gives you the freedom to pour all of your attention into the goal for the time you have specified. You literally should not allow anything else to penetrate those boundaries.
  3. Recognize that you will have emotional setbacks and that it is best to effectively deal with them immediately and then get back to the task at hand. Remember, reducing negative emotions that often seem thrust upon us is another goal that we automatically and subconsciously set for ourselves. When you encounter a situation that brings about a negative emotion, you should focus all of your attention on understanding the emotion and coping with it. Challenge yourself to find a different way to think about the situation so that your fear, anxiety, or frustration is lessened.


Following these three relatively simple steps should allow you to become more engaged in your goals, more productive, and more satisfied, which means that you won’t be feeling overwhelmed, stressed, anxious, and fearful!

Call To Action

If you want to better understand goal-setting, check out

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