Stephen Covey in the 7 Habits lists Habit 2 as “Begin with the end in mind”. This means keeping our end in mind when we set out to do something. It’s hard to do a particular thing if you don’t know what it is, but you will do something even if you don’t know what you’re doing simply by doing at all.
So if you want to accomplish a particular thing, you must have that particular thing in mind when you begin.
But this, I am learning, is not enough. You must also keep the end in mind.
When you begin on a path that is long, it is easy to forget what you are trying to accomplish, and to get off track. To start doing good but less important work. To start doing side quests that feel like you’re taking action, but are not strictly essential.
You must keep referring ALL of your decisions back to the end you are pursuing, or you will likely end up somewhere else, or end up where you’re going much much later than you could.
Sometimes, there are long side quests needed. Perhaps before you can start a new business, you need to read a few books about a particular topic. Perhaps you need some expertise.
But do not be tempted to think that there is no such thing as wasted learning.
I once knew a man who in the process of trying to learn to code learned 4 different text editors. After he had settled on a favorite editor, he decided he wasn’t typing fast enough, so he learned not just one, but two additional keyboard layouts.
There is definitely wasted learning that we do – learning that gives us a new skill that does not in any way affect the bottleneck, or attack the actual obstacle that is in our way.
It’s important to ask “Am I making progress, or just making myself busy?”
When you can’t figure it out, it’s better to do something instead of obsessing about making sure you’re doing the right thing. But a quick check-in on your plan every day or week can save you a tremendous amount of wasted time, or time doing things that are totally irrelevant to your purpose that you don’t actually need to do.