To Do More … Do Less

It sounds counter-intuitive, but to do more, you should actually do less. Focus on the four biggest areas of your life for the most impact.

Welcome to the New Year. It’s been quiet around Afford Anything through the holiday season, but don’t worry: I’ve got big plans for this site in 2013.

Top 4 Method for Reaching Goals

Which leads me to a topic I’ve been wanting to chat about for awhile: there are more worthy goals and worthwhile pursuits than we could ever accomplish in one lifetime.

There are careers to advance, wealth to build, bodies to carve, causes to support, friendships to maintain and businesses to launch. Your head will explode if you attempt it all. How can you choose?

I’ve long been a fan of the Top 4 method:

Step 1: List four – and only four – aspects of your life that you value. Health, finances, family and career, for example, might be your top four. Spiritual growth, education, and developing a talent (such as music or art) are also good contenders. No matter what aspects of life you choose, limit it to four.

Step 2: Brainstorm your “ideal self” in each aspect. Your ideal Healthy Self, for example, might have a flat stomach, low blood pressure and the strength to lift 100 lbs. Your ideal Financial Self might have a six-figure income and a net worth of $1 million. Spend one minute brainstorming in each category and let your thoughts free-flow.

Step 3: Pick ONE goal for each aspect. Choose the single most important thing you want to achieve from each of the four lists. Example: six-figure income, flat stomach, stronger relationships within your industry.

Step 4: Pick the right metric. This is critical. Most goals derail because of motivation, and zeroing on the wrong metric is a massive de-motivator. If you want a flat stomach, “body fat” is a better metric than weight (since weight could come from either muscle or fat). If you want a six-figure income, focus on your hourly/daily/weekly pay rate, not your fluctuating stock and home value.

Boom – the Top 4 method, in four steps. I’ve been practicing this for a few years and have found far more success with it than I did when I made lists without a strategy or focus.

Why limit it to four?
Because humans have limited mental bandwidth. We’re most productive when we’re focusing on less.

What’s the hardest part?
Focusing on less. It’s tempting to get sidelined by other pursuits. No one likes the thought of a hot opportunity slipping through their fingers.

So people will pursue a six-figure income for a month or two, working extra-hard in the evenings and weekends as a freelancer or consultant, in addition to negotiating higher pay at their day job. They’ll bring in $8,000 or $9,000 for a few months.

Then they’ll start wondering what to do with all that money. “Am I missing the chance to capture the economy’s rebound?” they’ll wonder. They’ll get distracted by picking stocks or chasing high-interest CDs, moving their money from one bank to the next. Within that distraction, their income will begin to slide.

If you want to make money, make money. If you want to learn how to become an investing maverick, list it in your Top 4. But don’t let too many ambitions pile up. Scope creep is insidious, and it derails the best-laid plans.

Thanks to JLZ for today’s photo.


  1. says

    What if all four are in the same category? Instead of health, finances, family, and career it’s finances, finances, finances, and finances? Haha! Good strategy though. I’m going to give it a shot.

  2. says

    I “over-goal” myself too. I think a big help is determining which goals you should really focus on intensely, and which can be more long-term goals. Learning to pace yourself is important.

  3. says

    This advice is perfect for someone like me. My wife tells me ALL the time that I put far too much on my plate. When you see the numerous things that are possible it is sometimes hard to stay focused on your number one goal. Become an expert is something one thing at a time.

  4. says

    I might have to try this strategy out. I really haven’t focused on specific goals or “resolutions” to set this year yet. This might help me get more specific.

  5. says

    I definitely fall into the try-to-do-everything-all-the-time trap. I can’t help it though and I know that I need to slow down and focus. Your post also helped me attempt to at least organize all the crazy stuff I want to accomplish so I can better prioritize and ideally avoid burn out :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *