How to stop doing it all — and still have everything you want

“It is that a meaningful life is not a matter of speed or efficiency. It’s much more a matter of what you do and why you do it, than how fast you get it done.” — Stephen R. Covey

In his book, “First Things First,” Covey reminds us that learning to choose well in a world of unlimited possibilities comes down to one thing: focus.

What do we truly value? He asks us to consider:

“If you were to pause and think seriously about the ‘first things’ in your life — the three or four things that matter most — what would they be?”

This is such a great question, especially since we’re often caught up in trying to do everything at the same time.

We hustle and strive to achieve more. We stock up our to-do list with an endless amount of tasks. But all we really end up doing is spreading ourselves too thin and then questioning our efforts. The more important question might then be: who wants to live like that?

Some of the greatest minds in history have all shared an important trait: they focus on mastering one thing.

Stop trying to do it all

The idea of taking on multiple projects is seductive. But scientifically speaking, doing more than one task at a time takes a toll on our productivity. That’s because our brains aren’t designed or capable of focusing on more than one thing at once.

In fact, we’re more likely to make mistakes when we’re repeatedly switching between activities.

Busy founders often confuse multitaskingwith end results. But working longer hours and answering emails while also trying to be everywhere at once can’t make up for solid vision.

Back when I was first building my company, JotForm, I realized I couldn’t chase after every side project that came my way. I had to immerse myself in one simple idea and then patiently grow that idea into a product that now serves over five million users.

Here’s what I learned in the process: start with a clear goal.

Staying focused on your “one thing” is the first step toward moving the needle in your business. As Zig Ziglar puts it:

“A goal properly set is halfway reached.”

Adjust your focus

Deciding on a goal can help you set directions, but this next step is even more crucial: narrow your focus and identify what you want.

Part of this involves knowing what your core values are. Otherwise, you’ll spend all your energy on meaningless side projects.

Choosing your goal should reflect what you enjoy most. More than that, it should help you determine how many hours you’re willing to work a day, and how much time you’ll have left for your family and for yourself. Author Garry Keller offers this wise insight: “Work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back,” he writes in his 2013 book, “The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results.” 

“The other four balls — family, health, friends, integrity — are made of glass. If you drop one of these, it will be irrevocably scuffed, nicked, perhaps even shattered.”

I’ve taken Keller’s advice to heart and spent the past 13 years intentionally building a business that allows for a meaningful life. While I’ve dedicated myself to successfully reaching millions of users, I also take at least a full week off each year to head back to my hometown and help my parents with the olive harvest.

How have I managed both?

Simply put: we didn’t focus on competition or growth-hacking our way up. As more people began using our simple web forms, I made the decision to prioritize sane and healthy work hours over setting crazy targets or deadlines.

I chose to trust the process. As Darius Foroux points out:

Things add up. You learn one skill. Then another. You finish one project. Then another. Over time, your accomplishments add up to form an impressive feat.”

There are no finish lines on this race, just one ever-evolving path forward.

Manage your expectations

“Frustration is a function of our expectations, and our expectations are often a reflection of the social mirror rather than our own values and priorities” ― Stephen R. Covey

In the early days of growing my business, I was so excited by my vision that I worked from morning to night answering emails and support calls. But I soon learned that in order to be successful, I’d have to slow down and keep my expectations in check.

Here’s the thing: Jotform plays in a hyper-competitive market (including industry heavyweights like Google). It would have been easy to get caught up in what “success” looks like for others.

Instead of worrying about hitting the top of TechCrunch, networking in Silicon Valley, or attracting investors, I chose to focus deeply on our customers. This also allowed me to keep costs down and make creative decisions without putting my business at risk.

Why? Because I wasn’t trying to prove anything to anyone.

If you’re bootstrapping, having high expectations is counterproductive. When I mentor young founders, I often use the wise adage “hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.”

So rather than expect the world from your business, save your energy for creating automated systems that will free up your time. Start small, refine, and keep going until you achieve more than you previously imagined possible.

In other words, it’s important and necessary to seize your moment, but don’t wish away your days hoping for better things. Or worse, expect everything from yourself.

Here’s my point: Your path may not look like mine — and that’s good. There’s nothing wrong with wanting it all.

But make sure your choices reflect what you value. As Keller writes:

“A life worth living might be measured in many ways, but the one way that stands above all others is living a life of no regrets.”

Aytekin Tank is the Founder and CEO of JotForm. A developer by trade but a storyteller by heart, he writes about his journey as an entrepreneur and shares advice for other startups. He loves to hear from JotForm users. You can reach Aytekin from AytekinTank@JotForm.com

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