The direction you want to go

One of the smartest things I’ve ever heard came from my dad by way of his own father: “put your money in the direction you want to go.” It’s a simple adage. If you want to build a business, put your money into that business. If you want to become a famous pastry chef, invest your money into the ingredients, equipment, and training that will help get you there.

Recently, I’ve been at odds with where I invest my time. Something I’ve found difficult is deciding what the most important thing in a given timespan is (or isn’t). There is always something to be done and it’s easy to think everything is a priority. Earlier this week, I had a thought which involved the above advice. Put your time in the direction you want to go. Again, simple.

This all came about because I found myself with too many things vying for my attention. Everything was urgent, but not a priority. After a short fistfight with anxiety, I realized that the things that should be a priority are those that further push me in the direction I want to go. Writing it down now it sounds stupid. Of course that’s what you should be doing. As we all know, it’s easy to think one thing and say or do the complete opposite.

What sunk in at that moment was that of all the things I was doing, only a small subset were actually pushing me—and the ideas I most care about—forward. I was working, but I wasn’t necessarily working on what I wanted to. A voice in my head kept saying “hey, wait a minute, we should be doing…” but I ignored it. I ignored it in exchange for the urgent matters. The “hey can you”’s and the “please take a look at this” style of pokes. After awhile, it all wore thin. I decided to ignore the urgent matters and focus on the priorities.

The best part? That tiny bit of focus on what actually mattered—what ultimately pushed me in the direction I want to go—produced immediate results. The task at hand involved an improvement to a business I launched recently and within a few minutes of finalizing the changes, it made me a small profit. That was unique. In contrast, the other stuff was still there, still yelling from the other side of the wall. I’d complete it in due time, but nothing changed as a result.

This lesson was an important one: don’t be afraid to ignore urgent matters for priorities. More importantly, always know when you’re working on something that’s a priority—something that matters to your future—and something that’s purely ephemeral. It’s surprisingly difficult to trust yourself, but when you do, it can have a significant impact on where you’re headed. Something I read recently that further enforces this: “[y]ou are the only one who can make your time matter.”