Short-term thinking gets a bad rap when we talk about time management, but if you focus purely on your long-term goals, you might be on the road to burnout. Neglecting your immediate, short-term needs can just stress you out more, despite your meticulous planning. Pictures: Tina Mailhot-Roberge, Barry Skeates, Thomas Wanhoff, Paxson Woebler (Flickr)
As a time coach and the author of How to Invest Your Time Like Money, I do see that many people need to plan longer term so that they can make progress on their priority projects. However, I also see a lot of people — and in my experience these types of people tend to be heavily concentrated in the tech — who think too long term. This becomes a huge source of stress, and leads to just as much time debt as only prioritising short-term goals.
As the saying goes, you can think of time like money. Two people can go bankrupt for entirely different reasons. One person might chose to spend money on too many fun things for immediate gratification, like a new sports car, an expensive game or a big trip. And someone else might spend money on items that they considered good investments but didn't have money for, such as a house, a server, or a conference. Although one thought short-term and the other thought long-term, both ended up broke.
To increase your effectiveness and stop forfeiting your health and happiness, you must infuse your time investment strategy with a healthy dose of realism. For all of you who get tripped up by long-term thinking, here's advice on how to break out of the chaos.
You Can't — and Shouldn't — Plan for Everything
Recognise that you may be neglecting to factor in important variables into your decision making process. If you're an overly long-term thinker, you tend to override all other arguments with the logic that something is a good decision simply because it has the potential to provide value over the long term, as if being a "long-term investment" is itself a justification — or plans extending far into the future are inherently beneficial because of their range. But you may be ignoring variables that you can't anticipate, and you should, in effect, realise that you can't predict every long-term factor.
The first step to change is acknowledging that your reasoning may have some holes. One of the best ways to do this is to honestly assess the results of your current methodology. Are your current time management habits leading to overall success or are your so-called plans just inhibiting your work or wellbeing? It may be a bit painful to do this self-evaluation, but having some short-term pain now can save you decades of long-term frustration. The more perspectives you consider, the better decisions you can make.
Recognise the Value of Short-Term Gains to Your Wellbeing
Your health and happiness can be greatly influenced by short-term gains, and planning only on a larger timeframe can neglect to consider your immediate wellbeing. Many driven people with a long-term investment mindset get far too little sleep, forget to eat, and don't exercise at all — typical "workaholics." Although they see these behaviours as necessary and worthy sacrifices in pursuit of their big goals, the truth is that they're undermining their effectiveness in the short-term and longevity in the long-term.
When you make wellness activities a priority, you're happier, healthier, and way more productive. Yes, it may seem petty and "weak" to insist that you stop to eat at certain points through out the day or wrap up at a certain time so that you can go to sleep. But the truth is that these simple behaviours can save you hours of time each day in lost productivity because you're working with your body instead of fighting against it.
Align Your Big Picture Decisions with Your Short-Term Goals
To start to shift your decision making process from only thinking long-term, you'll want to make some short-term goals. These could include deciding to limit your work hours to 50 per week, spending time with friends twice a month, or getting to bed by 11.30pm. Striving for this kind of normalcy may seem obvious, but people who become obsessed with their large work projects can easily come to neglect the immediate short-term comfort.
Then when you're making decisions about what you will or won't do on a big project, consider how your choices will impact your short-term goals. For example, you may decide to take on fewer clients or fewer projects so that you can keep your hours down to 50 per week. Or you may decide to ask for more time to complete a project or more resources so that you can get it done and still leave work on time.
Be aware of your tendencies and keep perspective through having regular time for reflection, such as taking a break mid-day to see if you're on track or touching base with a friend or coworker before making a decision to take on something new. These breathing spaces give you the opportunity to reflect on whether you're remembering and staying in alignment with your most important short-term goals. You may even want to run decisions on new opportunities through a series of questions such as:
- How does this relate to my current short- and long-term goals?
- Do I have time for this right now?
- If not, is there something I'm willing to not do to make time for it?
- What impact will this have on my health and happiness? On my relationships?
- If I say "Yes" to this, will I feel excited or pressured?
If you're stuck in the long-term rut, start thinking short-term to get out of time debt, get more done and enjoy your life.