Focus on the Right Type of Important in Life

how to be productive and do what is important

Success means different things for different people — fame, fortune, love, money, freedom.

While the definitions might differ, the reason remains the same – happiness. We believe success will bring us happiness. This success, we imagine, will come after we find our passion.

Most people have an idea of what might help them find their passion and become successful. They follow a tried-and-tested formula to pursue it. Here’s how it goes:

  1. Zero in on a goal.
  2. Read how experts achieved it.
  3. Try everything until something clicks.

There’s just one problem. This formula doesn’t work.


Once in a while, you might get lucky and find a long-term goal worth pursuing. But such instances are rarer than outrage-free days on social media.

For a long time, the above formula was my guide. But each time I followed it, here’s how my story unfolded.

I picked a goal. I tried many things to achieve it. When I didn’t see quick results, I felt disheartened and quit. Then I found a shiny new goal and history repeated itself.

Many people have experienced the futility of the above formula first-hand. Yet, they stick to it like glue.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. — Albert Einstein.

If the above formula is so popular, why doesn’t it work?

Because all we see is the outcome.

The once-overweight-now-healthy friend has already lost weight. The bestselling books we read have already been written. The stand-up comedy events we attend involve artists already good enough to be on stage. The investment experts we see on TV have already made their millions (and billions).

In his book The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle wrote that we think of such people as “exceptional — mysteriously gifted outsiders, destiny-kissed Kids from Nowhere.”

But what we don’t see is how these ‘exceptional’ people got there. Their effort, sacrifices, pains, failures, and tiny victories — everything gets covered under the mythical blanket of being ‘gifted.’

The Misunderstood “Genius”

Take the example of the renowned Renaissance sculptor Michelangelo. Until he was twenty-four, people knew he showed promise. But when he sculpted the Pietà, people suddenly started calling him a genius.

But Michelangelo begged to differ. “If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it would not seem so wonderful at all,” he said.

Here’s how Michelangelo’s life before the Pietà was.

From ages six to ten, he lived with a stonecutter, learning how to handle a hammer and chisel. Then he apprenticed under the great Ghirlandaio where he sketched, copied and prepared frescoes in one of Florence’s largest churches. Next, he got tutored by master sculptor Bertoldo and other luminaries until he was seventeen. At twenty-four, he produced the Pietà.

Doesn’t really sound like a ‘genius’ now, does he?

Michelangelo and all the ‘gifted’ people achieved success by doing one thing most of us avoid – they focused on what’s important. This relentless focus made them accomplish remarkable feats.

Whenever you want to achieve something, keep your eyes open, concentrate and make sure you know exactly what it is you want. No one can hit their target with their eyes closed. — Paulo Coelho

So how should you figure out which tasks are important for you?

Identifying What’s Important

In their book The 4 Disciplines of Execution, the authors elaborate on two types of metrics to measure success — lag measures and lead measures.

Lag measures “record what happened and describe what you’re trying to improve.” They’re outcomes of your actions and spotlight the distance between you and your goals.

For people trying to lose weight, a lag measure is how much weight they lose at the end of a month. For a freelancer, lag measures include the revenue she generated. For an author, it could be how much of the book’s manuscript she completed.

It’s natural to focus only on lag measures. But it’s also a colossal blunder. Here’s why.

Lag measures don’t change our behavior by much. They merely record how we’ve done. That’s why people do the same things over and over again. Or they do too much without truly understanding what they’re doing.

The result? They make poor progress, lose interest, and turn their attention to other ‘urgent’ things in life. Then they find another goal and, well… déjà vu.

Then there are lead measures. According to the authors of The 4DX, these metrics “influence change and measure behaviors that lead to success on the lag measures.”

For people trying to lose weight, lead measures include their daily calorie intake and exercise duration. For a freelancer, lead measures include the number of leads prospected and proposals sent. For an author, they’re the number of ‘usable’ words written per day.

Lead measures are the important tasks; the ones you must stick to every day (or week).

Lag measures describe the outcome. Lead measures are what you do to achieve it.

Lag measures are the destination. Lead measures are the tools to clear a path to get there.

Lag measures define the results. Lead measures define the process.

Anything worth doing, is worth doing every day. — Grant Cardone

Identify your goal. Then identify the tasks that will get you there. Do them consistently and track your progress. Life is a marathon, not a race. Maintain a pace that gets you to the end line rather than a pace that makes you fall by the wayside.

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Summing Up

What you’re looking for in life is not passion or happiness. It’s meaning.

Meaning doesn’t come after you’ve reached your destination. It comes during the journey. It comes when you stick to what’s important for days, weeks, and years.

This involves time and effort. Many people can’t put in either. So they give up.

Giving up is easy. But easy doesn’t make you better. It doesn’t make you feel good about yourself either. Challenging yourself to be a little better than yesterday – that’s what makes you better and happier. It turns you into the person you want to become.

Arm yourself with the right tools to become that person. Use them every day. You deserve the life you want to live. But you’ve got to go out there and build it for yourself.

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