What Was My Goal Again? 3 questions to help you refocus on what truly matters when you get stuck in the details

Have you ever spent significant time perfecting the details of your work – only to realize that you forgotten what mattered most? 

I recently fell into this trap myself. I was writing an article about investment banking to help college students decide whether this job would be a good career fit for them. 

4 hours later… and I was stuck. 

Really stuck. 

I just couldn’t decide whether the margin between two of the pictures should be 5 mm or 10 mm! 

This level of detail was obviously a complete waste of time. But I zoomed in so much in my work that I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. Debating the margin space seemed important because I could no longer see the big picture.

What helped me refocus was to step back and I ask myself 3 questions: 

  1. What is my goal
  2. What are the fewest things needed to achieve that goal? 
  3. Which of these things are least completed right now? 

Q1. What is my goal

My goal with this article was: “Help college students decide whether i-banking is the right career for them.” But I had zeroed in on the details so much I had completely forgotten that. Asking myself this question helped me zoom out so I could see the big picture again.

Q2. What are the fewest things needed to achieve that goal? 

Once I had re-stated my goal, I began to list all potential information I might include in the article. What would help a student decide if investment banking was right for them? I came up with the following:

Potential topics to include:

  • Pros and cons of the job
  • Explain what investment banking is
  • What you do on the job
  • What an average day looks like
  • For whom is investment banking the perfect job 
  • Education and experience required

With this list, I could easily see that three topics would be most important: 

Most important topics:

  1. For whom is investment banking the perfect job
  2. What you do on the job
  3. Pros and cons of the job
  • Explain what investment banking is
  • What an average day looks like
  • Education and experience required

While the rest of the topics might be useful, they weren’t essential. The article would still fulfill its goal if I crossed out the lower topics – so that’s what I did! 

The quickest way to get something done is
deciding not to do it. 

Q3. Which of these things are least completed right now?

I had already written some on points 2 and 3. But I had not written a single word on point 1: “For whom is investment banking the perfect job”. This was obviously where my attention would be most valuable right now. 

Only one thing can be most important at any given moment. But when we get caught up in the thick forest of wasteful details, it is hard to see what that most valuable thing is. 

The next time you find yourself not knowing what you are supposed to work on, try asking yourself: 

  1. What is my goal
  2. What are the fewest things needed
  3. What is least completed right now? 

These questions are working wonders for me. And I am certain they will for you too!

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