For many years, I thought I could do it all. I was working full-time and trying not to sacrifice any family time while trying to finish my dissertation. On a typical day, the most time I could string together to work on my PhD was between 30 minutes to an hour and a half at night after the kids had gone to bed. For a project like a PhD that take thousands of hours to complete, you can already you can see the problem, right?

Most of us have multiple demands on our time, we:

  • work (inside or outside the home)
  • have family responsibilities (caring for our kids or our parents – or both)
  • nurture our relationships with our significant others
  • want to stay connected with our friends (in person and on social media),
  • do things for our physical, mental, and spiritual health, and
  • need to set aside time to de-stress, relax and have fun.

The list could go on and on. The main point is that we’re living in a moment in history where the most precious commodity we have is our time. As a result, we have to be diligent about how we prioritize all of our competing demands.

I was trying to do it all without any sacrifices – I wanted to make sure my PhD didn’t cut into my family time, my full-time work, and when I was still competing in beach volleyball – my practice and competition time. Only in the last couple of years did I start to admit that I had to put my sole focus on finishing my PhD to actually get it off my plate. I had to repurpose my time to make sure that I made finishing my PhD my top priority. After I prioritized my PhD, I did end up missing some family brunches, missing outings with my family, eliminating television, and spending less time with friends.

My PhD coupled with all my other responsibilities and the demands on my time and energy was my tipping point. Because of all that pressure and stress, I developed physical symptoms that made me rethink how I was living my life. I still whole-heartedly believe I can accomplish everything I want to achieve; I just realized that I can’t work towards all of my big goals at the same time. Something has to give

So the big lesson that I learned is this: you can achieve all your big goals but only by focusing on one big goal at a time. Focus all of your available time and effort on that goal (with rest periods scheduled in of course) and set your other big goals to the side for now. You won’t be able to make progress on all of the big things you want to achieve at the same time. But don’t worry about that for now… for us high achievers, there’s a lot of time in our lives to accomplish everything that we have on our bucket lists.

P.S. Oh and I highly recommend the book The One Thing by Gary Keller. It clearly outlines how to approach your next big goal with this sole focus in mind. In the book, Keller sets out the one key question you need to ask yourself to shortcut your way to achieving your next big goal. It is a great book for propelling you even faster to achieve the big goal you’re working towards. This might just be the most important lesson I’ve learned as a high achiever.

P.P.S. I did end up finishing my PhD. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done but I am so glad I did it! 

Originally published at