Can you sacrifice temporary pleasure for longterm goals?

We know what we need to do to reach our goals. But we still aren’t doing it. We’re checking our email 50 times a day. We’re browsing the web without any particular purpose. We’re watching TV or a movie or playing video games or chatting with friends. We’re doing any of the dozens of things we do to avoid constructive effort.

We do this because these activities are more enjoyable than work. They’re easy and there is no risk of failure. You don’t have to perform when surfing the web. You just enjoy the ride. Who knows, maybe you’ll even learn something valuable.

But probably not.

These activities are intentional time wasters; things we do to make the day go faster. Because working is a pain. Who ever knows if it will pay off? There is so much uncertainty. If we aren’t going about it the right way all our work will be wasted anyways.

It’s easy to make excuses for why it doesn’t matter. It’s easy to waste time, to succumb to temptation. As I write this, I have constant urges to check my email, to open up GoogleReader, or check out today’s traffic stats.

Nothing really constructive comes from these activities, but they’re easier than trying to coherently express my thoughts. They’re things that I rely on, things that I do when I don’t want to work.

Wasting time is addictive. The more you do it, the more excuses you make so you can keep doing it.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how I spend my time and what it takes to succeed. As I analyze my actions, I realize that I’m constantly making decisions that hinder my success. We become so habituated to wasting time, to passing the day, that we forget that it’s a conscious choice.

But realizing this also makes me optimistic. Recognizing a weakness is the first step to eliminating it. It makes me understand, every time I’m tempted by one of my favorite time wasters, that I’m only hurting myself. And suddenly that temptation isn’t as strong as it was before.

The skill I need to master is the ability to delay gratification. This means resisting short term pleasures in favor of a longterm goal. If you can’t resist short term pleasures, you won’t do the work that needs to get done.

It isn’t easy. Most of us are stuck in bad habits that we don’t even recognize. You need to think about what you really want. Are you willing to sacrifice your biggest dreams for temporary satisfaction?

I’m not.

From this point forward I’ll be making a concerted effort to delay gratification and work towards longterm goals. It will be less comfortable, but knowing that I’m doing everything I can to succeed will easily outweigh the sacrifice.


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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