04/30/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Mar 17, 2015

How Multi-Goaling Beats Multi-Tasking Every Time

Of course you have multiple things to do. That's a good thing. In fact, if you didn't have multiple things to do you might be coming near the end of an active life. Even if you've lost your job, and I know what that one's like, you still have multiple things to do.

More accurately stated, you have multiple goals you are seeking to accomplish, each of which requires multiple tasks in order to complete.

Can you hold multiple goals at the same time? Of course you can.

Can you work on multiple goals at the same time? Of course you can.

Can you work on multiple tasks at the same time? Well, that's another story.

Last week we talked about how multi-tasking often turns into "half-tasking." Over the years, I have coached many executives who consider themselves to be "power multi-taskers," apparently able to keep a whole lot of balls in the air at the same time. Now if keeping the balls in the air were the goal, that would be great.

However, those balls are simply actions that need to be completed for the real goal to be accomplished. Keeping actions in the air, or juggling multiple actions at the same time, is not the same as completing those actions.

Many multi-taskers I have worked with tend to get part way into one task, then notice a sticky note by the computer and start working on that one, when the next email ping shows up and they start on that one, when the teleconference starts, etc. You get the idea - the multi-tasker will often sit on the conference call while answering email while working on the budget.

Many of these multi-taskers, often wind up at the end of the day with an interesting conflict: whereas a number of tasks have been completed, a handful that were started in the morning, wind up still incomplete at 5:00 pm having been juggled all day long. The person "worked" all day long, is often tired, and feels a bit frustrated.

That's because they were "half-tasking" not "multi-goaling."

When I can get someone to focus on one task at a time, they typically become quite excited about how much they can actually get done. To do lists shrink and, more importantly, goals and projects wind up getting complete. On time, even!

Someone who is multi-goaling, understands that they have any number of goals that are important to them. Maintaining health, launching a new product, finding a new job, finishing your taxes, setting up a service project with your kid's school, are all examples of goals that can be held simultaneously; however, each of them requires very distinct actions, most of which are incompatible with one another.

Of course, every goal requires a number of tasks or actions to be completed. The challenge is how to keep your eye on the prize (accomplishing the goals that are most meaningful) while handling the dozens, if not hundreds of actions that are on your plate.

How to Become a Multi-Goaler

1) Determine which areas of your personal and professional life are important to you. A couple of months ago, we gave you some tips about how to determine what areas of life are important to you and how to set goals in those areas. Clarify what areas of life are most important to you (Health, Wealth, Personal Growth, Spiritual Growth, Relationships, Family, Career, Service, etc) and set a goal or two for each area.

2) Make a list of actions you can take that will move you toward your goals. Don't get too obsessive about having to figure out all the steps for each goal - at a minimum, all you really need is to know is where you are now and what's the very next step required to get you moving toward that goal.

3) Be clear what it is you are trying to accomplish and why. In earlier posts, we have distinguished between what you want and why you want it. That's a pretty important distinction right there - just look at what you are focused on, why it's important to you, and you may find that some of those goals or tasks just go away because they aren't really all that important.

4) Create separate lists for each key area. Now that you know what's important to you, keep one list of your important goals, another list of projects you will have to complete in order to move you toward the goal, and a third list of action steps you can choose from.

5) Make a little progress each day. As you move through the day, pick off action steps that you can accomplish now, with the resources you have available at the time, and then move to the next one. (One of my big lessons has been to break my list of tasks into like actions - I have a phone list for example, and another that requires internet access, and another for errands - no need to be looking at my list of actions to do at home when I'm at work, unless I have to do something during the work day that handles something personal - like make that doctor's appointment for your child.

One of my absolute favorite lists is "Mind Like Mush." I use this list for simple tasks that don't require a whole lot of mental acuity and aren't that critical in terms of timing. I turn to this list when my brain is drained. I get to knock of a few items with little risk of screwing them up because I'm not sharp - and an amazing thing happens most of the time. By knocking off a few simple items, I seem to catch a second wind and can then focus on more important tasks.

6) Review and update your lists regularly. Once a week, review your goals list, to make certain you are making progress. Similarly, review your projects list to ensure you have a handle on those as well.

Hope this helps!

I'd love to hear from you. Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at)


If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life and to your job, about a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, please download a free chapter from my book, Workarounds That Work. You'll be glad you did.

Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at)