How to Focus on the Core Work to Achieve Your Goals

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Every other week is our library trip.

I look forward to this as much as the kids do, because it means I get new reading fodder. Also any place that has wall-to-wall bookshelves is my favorite place, so: you win, Library.

Anyway, there we are, and I pick up my stuff on hold and then, in between helping the kids, telling Lily not to run, reading to the kids, telling Lily not to pull all the things off the shelves, putting the scattered children’s DVDs and books back on the shelves, telling Zeke not to climb the shelves, telling Lily not to yell, and making fun little group treks to the potty – excuse me – restroom, I grab a few books.

Not many. Psssh. Just maybe three. Or four. Or seven. Or ten.

Then we get home, we do lunch, we do quiet time, I write some stuff, then it’s off the pool and that means that I will get to sit in a poolside chair and read a bit (in between playing with the kids, telling Lily not to run, and doing more fun group treks to the potty).

Do you know what is so difficult? Deciding which book to take. So in such case how to focus on a goal or target and achieve it? Read more.

Focus on Target

The Difficulty of Choosing to Focus

I usually end up taking two books. Or three. And a notebook, just in case. You never know when a writing emergency could happen and you have to be prepared.

It always amazes me how difficult it is to make one choice: the choice to focus.

It’s difficult just to choose which book to read first.

Now expand that difficulty into all the choices we have to make daily, weekly. Not only is it difficult to make choices (because each Yes is also a No), it’s also very important that we make good choices.

The choices i make right now about how I spend my time will determine if I get what I want to get from my life.

No pressure, huh.

It works like this: If I say my goals are to

  • write and
  • build a business and
  • educate, train, and raise happy smart well-rounded wise children and
  • build strong relationships,

…then the choices I make everyday should be moving me toward those goals.

But if I say yes to a bunch of things that are not those goals, or in any way supportive of those goals, or even remotely related to those goals…
I am saying no to my goals.

Which means, in short, that I will not reach those goals.

That is and should be sobering.

I can go to the baby shower, say yes to the graduation, spend an afternoon shopping for the wedding present, volunteer for the board, take on leadership of that community project, fill in for the missing Sunday School teacher, organize another playdate…

None of those things are Bad.

But if they are not related to my goals, they could be bad. For me.

If those choices are not moving me toward my goals, they are not the core. They are the fringes. The fringes should get the leftovers, the extras. They should not get first priority, best time slot, undeserved energy.

A Costly Mistake

Sometimes I make the mistake of thinking this: I’ll just get through this stuff and then I’ll be able to concentrate on the important stuff.

But that doesn’t happen. The unimportant will expand to take up your entire block of time, or most of it, and t hen? Then the core stuff won’t fit in anywhere.

Focus on the core and let the fringe stuff fall in where it belongs, around the fringes.

It’s difficult. Everybody has an invitation, an event, a need, a wish, a desire, an opportunity.

It’s difficult to say no. You feel kind of bad. You feel like you’re ruining something.

Listen. Let me ease your mind. The rest of the world may not understand, but 99% of the time they’ll get along just fine without your glorious presence.

Fast forward 10 years, or just 2 years, and ask yourself which choice you will care more about. Which choice will resonate with you in a few months or years? Which choice will you remember? Which choice will you regret?

Will I care that I had a clean house with organized closets and a rocking laundry routine, or will I care that I finished writing my book?

I’d love to have both, but both are not always possible. And that is when knowing your core matters so much.

Because once you know your core, you will find it much easier to focus on it first.

I’m not saying you don’t have options. You do. We need downtime, we need friends, we need to relax, we need to socialize. We also need clean laundry.

Relationships matter, no question, and all the work we do is for naught if we kill our relationships in the doing of it.

Our community matters. Our homes matter. Our mundane daily little duties matter.

But when you have a choice to make – what will you focus on right now – you need a guideline for making the best choice for you.

Know your core. Then choose, as much as possible, what lines up with your core work. Know what actions lead to you reaching your core goals.

And know what the other stuff is, the lesser, the good but not best, and do not let it infringe on the core.

Handling Multiple Cores

For me, my husband and kids are the ultimate core.

More than work, they matter. More than another book. More than any client. Sometimes I have to make a difficult choice to turn off the computer when I really want to write that last chapter, and instead spend time with my kids.


Because in 10 years they won’t be pulling on my shirt sleeve, snuggling in my lap, asking for a story. I have a limited-time opportunity with them; I want to take advantage of it. Even though writing – my work – is a core, it isn’t the only one. And it isn’t the ultimate one.

But there are enough hours in my week to spend adequate time with both my family and my work, if – and this is THE BIG IF – if I don’t let the fringes creep in and eat it up.

The fringes like to expand. You have to continually push back to keep them on the edge. Otherwise: you are doomed and so are your goals.

Right now I have three invitations pinned to the bulletin board in front of me.

I’m going to have to say no to at least two of them; I’ve already allowed enough fringe into my life right now. I don’t have a hard-and-fast rule, but I have an internal radar. If I listen, it will tell me.

Whoa, watch out, it will say. There’s a lot happening here, but why? What’s it for? Is this the core?

You have that radar too. Find out your core, and the radar will start speaking, start telling you what to focus on.

If you choose to listen.

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