I’m all for the pursuit of ambition. In fact, I’m a pretty ambitious person myself. I’ve got a lot of projects that I’ve taken on in the past, and still have few on the burners as I write this. But there is definitely a problem with having too much ambition. Just ask MacBeth.1
While ambition can heighten focus on a single-tasking basis, when one is trying to accomplish several things at once the focus is naturally split. Being ambitious is all well and good, but ambition without priority in mind is what amounts to productivity poison.
It’s hard to avoid this pitfall. We’re taught to be driven because that leads to success (eventual or otherwise). But the problem lies in when we bombard ourselves with ideas that we take on as they com to us, instead of taking a step back and looking at the big picture. We can thank the Internet for that to some degree; it’s what most of us use to get a steady stream — or firehose — of information.
We also worry that if we don’t capitalize on the ideas we get quickly, we run the risk of having someone else steal our thunder. This worry then makes many of us steal focus away from the task at hand, making the results of those tasks less an what could be achieved.
But there is an antidote.
When you have an idea, write it down. Evaluate it. Better yet, share it (especially with those you trust). See if it has legs — or more legs than one of the things you’re working on. If, after all of that, you find that it’s worth tackling now…then do it.2
Being ambitious is one thing. Being overwhelmed is too much of a thing. Relentless ambition leads to overwhelm, which means you get less done.
Get stuff done…and then move on to more stuff. That’s ambition enough.
1 I learned that from Cliff’s Notes. You can learn it here.
2 But then you have to let something else go — or get it done quickly.