When you commit to doing too much, you inevitably let other people down and begin to send a message that you're unreliable. It usually starts as something harmless, but it snowballs quickly. It could be as simple as telling a colleague you'll help out with a task or telling a loved one you'll be home by a certain time. The next thing you know, you're overwhelmed by commitments and haven't left time for that colleague or loved one. This can become habitual to the point that even while you're committing to something you know you're not likely to follow through when the time comes. This is a prime example of not choosing wisely.

Choosing wisely means picking the best thing to do next and attacking it with your full attention before moving on to the next one. When you attempt to accomplish many tasks at once, you become overcommitted. The law of channel capacity states that an individual can only process so much information at a given time. By the same token, attempting to fulfill too many tasks at once will use up a lot more time and energy and will compromise your ability to do your best on the most important tasks.

In many ways, the technology that is supposed to make our lives easier has created artificial, unattainable expectations. We think that because we can answer emails and text messages anytime of day, and that information flows twenty-four hours a day, we should be ready to act on it twenty-four hours a day. When expectations change--and we hold ourselves to that relentless, multitasking standard--we're destined to fail, and likely to be hard on ourselves when we do. So begins the perfectionist cycle. We try to do everything and be everything, then fail at it and get discouraged. Eventually, discouragement makes us stop trying.

Have you ever been at a company meeting where so much information is thrown at you that you simply can't take it all in? The information is important and would probably be interesting if dispensed more judiciously. But being force-fed so much for hours at a time creates an overload. You reach channel capacity before you even get to the first break.

But wasted information isn't the worst of it. The dirty secret is that saturating people with information actually paralyzes action. When people are overwhelmed, they typically freeze and begin to doubt their own abilities, making it harder to get things done.

We run dozens of corporate training seminars every year for a variety of organizations. We go into every one of them with a customized game plan, but the overall goal is always the same. Step by step, we intersperse controlled amounts of information relevant to the business with direct, hands-on practice in implementing that information. We introduce the rules (the same ones found in our new book Organize Tomorrow Today, 8 Ways to Retrain Your Mind to Optimize Performance at Work and in Life, Da Capo Lifelong Books, January 2016), and once we've covered what they are and how they're used, we ask everyone to choose one professional improvement they want to execute completely.

The key point: focusing on one primary task makes action realistic; fulfilling one simple, positive change builds momentum and primes you for the next success. When you truly master one positive change, we say you "nailed it." This means that for three consecutive months, you've been able to, let's say, run five miles a day 90 percent of the time or better. If you can't do it, it means you need to increase your discipline or decrease your level of intensity. Proving to yourself that you can nail it is vital, even if it's a smaller commitment. When success comes at any level, you're likely to stay on track and complete the next task.

Learning to "nail one thing" teaches you how to believe in yourself. Your confidence grows and your self-image aligns with the knowledge that you do what you commit to doing. That's when you become a "winner."

Published on: Feb 22, 2016
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