Are You Accomplishing or Achieving?

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accomplishing or achievingA typical work day for me starts off with me checking my emails and then running through my to-do list see what I have scheduled for the upcoming day. As I go through my day and complete tasks, I get excited to cross things off my to-do list. For every line I cross out, I build motivation to cross something else off the list. I get excited because I am getting things done.

On the surface, you might see a completed to-do list as having accomplished a lot in a given day. That is how I looked at it as well. But recently things changed and I started to look at this very differently.

I work for myself running a couple of different websites in various niches. I am busy every day but even though I was crossing off task after task on my to-do list, my business wasn’t really moving forward. Confused, I thought it was just a phase my business was going through and I needed to keep forging ahead.

But after a few weeks turned into a few months, I knew something was up. I looked through my old to-do lists and realized something that amazed me. I was accomplishing things, but I wasn’t achieving things. I realized there is a difference between accomplishing or achieving.

Accomplishing or Achieving: There Is A Difference

Accomplishments are great. You get things done. But they don’t help you get to where you want to go. Achievements on the other hand, do get to you to where you want to be. When you achieve something, you get things done but with an intended result.

There is a great anecdote to drive this point home:

A stranger walks by a construction site and sees a stonemason. When he asks the mason what he is doing, the mason replies, “I am laying stones”. The next day, the stranger walks by again and sees a different mason. When he asks the mason what he is doing, the mason replies “I am building a wall”. On the third day, the stranger walks by the construction site and sees yet a different mason. When the stranger asks the mason what he is doing, the mason replies “I am building a cathedral”.

In each case, the stonemason is accomplishing something by laying stone. But only the second two masons are achieving something. They have an intended result with their work. This isn’t to say the first mason will never build a wall, but he is focused on the task of simply laying stones.

In a one month’s time, the first mason might still simply be laying stones whereas the other two mason have built something. The first is wandering around, the second two have a purpose.

We often distort accomplishments and achievements. This is most evident in terms of education. We pride ourselves on earning an “A” when we really should be focused on learning and mastering the subject at hand and not on the ending letter grade we receive. When we master the subject, we achieved something. When we receive a letter grade we accomplished something.

Understanding Goals and Achievement

I write about personal finances on one of my websites. I know that many people have a goal to get out of debt. This is a great goal to have as debt holds you back financially. But I’ve found so many people who have followed through paying off their debt to be right back in debt a few months or years later. I was one of them. What happened?

It turns out that having the goal of paying off debt, as great as it is, is only an accomplishment for so many people. When they paid off their debt, they checked that goal as complete and went back to living their normal lives.

Since nothing changed, they found themselves right back in debt because they didn’t have an achievement tied to getting out of debt.

For me, this is exactly what happened. I wanted to get out of debt just because I didn’t want to be in debt any longer. When I accomplished this, I kept living my life as I did before and slowly started racking up debt once again.

I overcame my debt once and for all when I had an achievement I wanted to reach. I want to retire early so I can enjoy my days as I see fit. I cannot do this when I am in debt to someone else. I wanted to achieve financial independence and one of the steps along the path is living within my means, or being debt free.

I am and have been debt free because of I have an achievement I want to reach. If I didn’t have this achievement, I would most likely be living the debt cycle of being in debt, paying off my debt, and then finding myself back in debt once again.

Final Thoughts

Getting back to my business, I can do stuff every day and be busy and earn some money by simply checking things off my to-do list. But if I were to set my sights on achieving certain things, I could grow my business and as a result earn even more money and get greater satisfaction from helping more people.

So going forward, my to-do lists are changing. No longer am I just putting things on the list so I can cross them off. Rather I am putting things on my list that will help me to grow my business over time. While I may not see results immediately from doing the tasks on my list, I know I will be moving towards achieving my ultimate goals.

The question I have for you then, is are you accomplishing or achieving things? Don’t do things for the sake of doing something, but rather do things that will guide you farther down the path of achieving your dreams and goals.

Figure out what your purpose is and start making strides to reach that instead of filling your day with things to get done.

[Photo Credit: James Jordan/Flickr]

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