Monday, June 3, 2013

Don’t Let Twitter Distract You From Your Goals

First, congratulations to the five students of mine who successfully completed the CCDE Practical Exam on May 30th. For students (and others) who were unsuccessful, please let me know what I can do to help you achieve your goal. This is a difficult exam program, so don't get discouraged!

Everyone knows Twitter and blog reading can be a huge distraction. It is easy to 'jump on Twitter' after your morning coffee and before you know it, it's time to go grab lunch. Where did the time go?!? That's just the obvious way that 'the web' can distract you from achieving your goals. The more insidious type of distraction is how what we read on Twitter and our favorite blogs causes us to question our goals. How many times have you read a particularly insightful 140-character post from @etherealmind or @ioshints and thought to yourself 'Wow! I've got it all wrong; I need to drop my pursuit of <Technology A> and start studying <Technology B>, now!' (as an aside... how do these folks make salient points in 140 characters? My initial Twitter posts are always witty and insightful, but they're also 300+ characters. Once I distill them down to 140 characters they all end up saying the equivalent of "Yeah, me too" or "Ntwkring is imprtnt!!!")

Don't get me wrong -- These Twitter and blog posts can (and should) be a source of great inspiration for your career and life goals. The problem is that constantly churning your goals is self-defeating. You will never get anywhere if keep changing your destination. My strategy for dealing with these sorts of distractions is to reserve a couple of hours every few months to evaluate my written goals and determine if I have learned anything new over the preceding months that require me to modify my goals. Often I do make adjustments because facts have changed or because I have achieved one or more goals. In fact, I'm quite surprised on the rare occasion where my goals remain intact after a review.

BTW, you did write down your goals, didn't you? If you didn't, minimize this browser window or put down your smartphone/tablet and spend 15 minutes writing down your professional goals. I can't think of a single person who has told me that they were better off for not having written down their goals, once they've done it.

What is the downside to this strategy? Well, infrequently I will find that a course correction is necessary, and I could have saved myself some unnecessary work if I had modified my goal earlier. On the flip side, I have more often found that the shiny object that drew my attention in a blog post isn't quite as brilliant with the passage of a few weeks' time. Or it may still be hugely important, but isn't worth my time yet based on the items already on my plate. It's surprising how slowly technology develops... There is almost always time to defer to others for the initial exploration. Once they figure it out, sweep in and grab the benefit of their knowledge-sharing. You shouldn't feel bad about this either; it is more efficient for the industry as a whole. The whole thing is reciprocal, if you are publicly sharing the knowledge that you are gaining in pursuit of your own goals!

Next time you see something that seems valuable on Twitter or in a blog post, write it down or clip it in Evernote. Then review all these scraps of paper at your next 'Goal Review' meeting with yourself. If the information is going to change your life, it's okay to put it off for a few weeks. After all, you'll have decades to reap the benefits. Delaying for a month is not going to matter much in hindsight.

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