I know you have a million things to do. You need to take care of your health and good nutrition. You need to learn useful skills, nurture good relationships, complete your projects. But right now, there is only one thing you need and can do.
And to help you find out what is the only thing in your life right now, let’s summarize Gary Keller’s book The One Thing, which shows how focus can bring extraordinary results to your life.
The more things you do, the worse you do.
Many people believe that they can do many things at the same time. They even boast of being able to balance many activities, believing that everything matters equally.
They are people who try to make money as a professional investor, to have the body of an Olympic athlete, to cook like a professional chef, to meditate like a monk and still have fun and travel the world like a digital nomad. Now, imagine trying to do all of this and also continuing to work every day to pay the bills and take care of the family.
When all of our commitments appear to be important and urgent, we have a problem. The idea that everything matters equally and therefore we must do many things at the same time is one of the lies that most affects your ability to focus. But it is not the only one.
There is a myth that we should put our time and attention a little bit on each thing. This way we would take small steps in several directions and be able to balance everything at the same time.
This idea is mistaken. It is not efficient for you to try to advance slowly at the same time in multiple directions.
You have to go far enough on one thing and then go on to the next destination.
For example, imagine that you want to start a business and would also like to speak German. You’d better stay focused on creating a well-run, profitable business first. And once you reach that big goal of making your business profitable, then you go after the next big goal of learning to speak fluent German.
It is better for you to look for great results, one at a time … than to divide your focus and do everything at the same time, accepting mediocre results from having a poorly managed unprofitable company and speaking basic German full of mistakes.
When you set a big goal and go for it, you will develop along the way. Your thinking, your skills, your relationships, your sense of what is possible also grow on the journey towards the big goal.
On the other hand, small goals do not require extraordinary actions, so they do not lead to extraordinary results. It’s easy for you to start a company that doesn’t sell anything. It’s easy to open a free app to learn German, just memorize a few words and say everything wrong. It is easy to split the focus and accept mediocre results with the illusion that you are being balanced.
Even in a balanced life, you will have to ignore several important areas of life.
Instead of being afraid of the great, you should fear the mediocre. Mediocrity is a waste of life because you are not looking to reach your maximum potential.
In other words, the idea of a balanced and optimized life is in practice something impossible to achieve. No matter how hard you try to do a few things in a balanced way, there will always be incomplete aspects of your life.
Going back to the example, even if you divide your time well to run the company and learn German, you may find that you did not assign enough time for your friendships, for the family, to eat well, to practice a hobby, to learn to speak Mandarin, to exercise. This example shows that it is impossible to do a little bit of everything. You need to make choices.
Then do what is really important and accept that there will be other areas of your life that will be incomplete. Accepting that some things will be incomplete is the price to pay for achieving great results. This is “focusing on the one thing”.
The problem with depending on perfect discipline is that perfection does not exist.
There is a myth that if you live a life with perfect discipline, you will be able to do more and better. The problem is that such perfect discipline is simply impossible. You would need to behave like a robot that faithfully follows the original schedule, maintaining perfect morning and evening routines, eating correctly one hundred percent of the time and always acting on reason and not emotion. Of course, nobody in the world has perfect discipline, so looking for something impossible will only bring frustration.
You don’t have to do everything perfectly. You just need to do the right thing. When you are moving forward in doing the right thing, the most important thing, you can free yourself from the unrealistic expectation of having to have perfect discipline in everything.
When you see an apparently disciplined person, what you are actually seeing is a person who has built useful habits for his own life. They probably concentrated their energy on building a good habit, focusing on that until the activity entered autopilot.
So, the trick to success is to choose the right habit and focus on it until the habit is established in your life. But it only works if you stick to one habit at a time. Leaving some things for a while is a price you have to pay to have extraordinary results in the long run.
You cannot depend on willpower to accomplish what is important.
Another myth is that if you have the willpower, you will be able to do more even when discipline fails. This is a myth that we talked about in episode 131 of the Hello! Seiiti Arata series.
The summary is as follows: your willpower is an extremely limited resource, which is spent as you use it, as if it were your phone battery. Willpower is not always available and because of that you should not create a strategy that depends on willpower.
The path to productivity is simplicity.
Think of something you have done well in your life. It can be an activity at school, a sport or some professional work. When you achieved this success, were you focused on that activity or was your attention dispersed in many other things?
If you look closely, it is likely that whenever you have had great success in one area, you have focused your concentration on one thing. The opposite is also true: whenever you have obtained average results, your attention was probably divided between several concerns.
The simpler you are when pursuing a goal, the better. You may have heard of the Pareto Principle, which says that eighty percent or more of your results come from twenty percent or less of your actions. But do you take this principle of being simple in your daily life seriously?
Being simple means ignoring all the things you could do… to worry about just what you should be doing. It means recognizing that not everything is of equal importance and clearly identifying the things that are most important. In short, it means understanding that extraordinary results are directly determined by your ability to focus on one thing.
Your amount of time and energy is limited and that is why you must be selective and strategic.
We all tend to want to do many things at the same time. We want to do well at work, but without leaving health behind. We want to take care of health, but also have fun. We want fun, but without harming finances. And so we try to do everything at the same time and end up doing nothing right.
The first step therefore is to be clear that you have a limited amount of time and energy. When you spread this energy in different activities, you end up being too dispersed. You want your achievements to accumulate, but for that you need to do LESS things and not MORE things.
It seems contradictory, but it is not. You need to think of your goals as a series of dominoes aligned. When you focus your energy on knocking down the first piece, the others will fall in sequence more easily, taking advantage of the energy of the previous piece. Your success must be built sequentially, one piece at a time.
Do not confuse lists with strategy. If you don’t have a strategy, your to-do list will only keep you busy. You can survive one day after another feeling that you are always working, but you need to create a strategy in order to make each finished task help you to complete the next tasks.
For your strategy, instead of thinking about a task list, think about a list of successes. And a task list becomes a list of successes when you apply the Pareto Principle, focusing on the few tasks that represent the most good results you can get.
Unfortunately, the dominoes metaphor does not adapt perfectly to real life. The biggest challenge is that, in real life, things almost never line up for us, they almost never show us exactly where to start, where to put our energy first. How to do this? Using the Focus Question.
The Focus Question is the best and fastest way to have more focus right away.
Knowing how to define your focus is the key to achieving extraordinary results in a short time. The problem is that defining which task to focus on has never been an easy activity.
The Focus Question is a powerful question that is able to help you define your focus with great precision. This question is capable of raising both long-term and practical questions as to which task you should focus on next.
Pay attention and write this question down, as it can revolutionize your personal productivity system. The Focus Question is as follows:
“What is the ONE Thing that you can do, such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
What is this one thing you can do that, by doing this thing, the rest of your to-do list becomes easier or even unnecessary?
By answering that question, you aim to achieve clarity in what you should do. Focus your energy, your time and your resources exclusively on that. Until that one thing is done, everything else is distraction.
See that when you answer that question, you are at the same time aiming for your long-term goals and also for what you must do right now to get on the right path and not waste time and energy on irrelevant activities.
The Focus Question is interesting because it shows how great your life can be and also how simple you need to be to achieve that greatness. Think of it as a map or a compass that will get you where you want to go in the simplest possible way.
You will hardly get extraordinary results in your life if you behave randomly. You cannot choose which of the tasks on your list you are going to do depending on your willpower or interest at the time. Those who do this end up spending their whole life jumping from branch to branch, putting their energy and time here and there, without ever being able to accomplish great things.
Extraordinary results are rarely the result of chance. To achieve this kind of result, you need to make the right choices and put your time and energy into what you have chosen. The Focus Question allows you to better decide what you need to do now.
Your difficulty in focusing on one thing comes from the fear that you cannot temporarily set aside some areas.
Maybe you are thinking that right now you cannot focus all of your energy, time and resources on one thing. You cannot dedicate yourself exclusively to work and leave your family behind. You cannot dedicate yourself exclusively to your health and leave your finances behind.
This thought that you cannot focus on one thing makes you make the mistake of dividing your time and efforts into multiple tasks at the same time, in the hope of reaching a balanced life.
If that is your case, then I’ll ask: has it worked for you? Are you advancing in all of these areas at the same time, with extraordinary results? Or are you simply having mediocre achievements, with an average career, average health, mediocre finances and a family environment with a tedious routine?
If you are not satisfied with the results of devoting yourself to multiple goals simultaneously, try the one thing strategy. This way, you will not be working in all areas at the same time, but you will not leave any of them aside for long.
Even if you focus on one thing, the other areas of your life will not be left behind for long.
The first step is to identify where you are going to focus your efforts. What is the ONLY Thing you can do now so that everything else becomes easier or unnecessary?
The answer depends on your current life situation. If you have an illness with an acute crisis, all your efforts have to be directed towards your health. If you have debts that grow exponentially, you need to focus on your finances. If you have serious family problems, you need to focus on your family.
Even if you have all these problems at the same time, you need to choose only one and focus on it. As strange as it may seem, you need to set aside other areas for a while.
If you do that, what will happen? When you put all your energy, time and resources into one thing, you are very likely to get extraordinary results. When that happens, build a system so that that result becomes a habit in your life.
For example, let’s say you got a highly contagious virus. You concentrate all your efforts on not contaminating other people and on healing yourself, leaving aside your work, your family and even your finances for a while. You don’t abandon any of these things, but you do only the basics, while focusing your attention on health.
With total focus, your health will improve much more quickly. When that happens, create a system so that the activities you have done become a habit. Habits consume much less energy, time and resources when they are formed.
Now, with the health problem solved, you are encouraged to attack a second problem. So, you ask yourself again: What is the ONE Thing I can do that, by doing so, the rest becomes easier or unnecessary?
Then you focus on your career, or your family, or your finances, whatever. You totally focus on that, get extraordinary results and move on to the next goal.
And so, as in a domino effect, in which each success drives the next, you build an extraordinary life in several areas of your life, even if you have to momentarily leave some of them aside.
Align your priorities each day by repeating the Focus Question from time to time.
The Focus Question addresses what is broader in your life and also what is the focus on the next task to be done. So you can find the right direction and also the right attitude that needs your attention.
You must have a life plan that gives you a long-term direction, that guides you to where you want to go. But it is difficult to make long-term plans because unforeseen events happen.
So, ideally, you should start each day by asking yourself “what is the ONE Thing I can do today that, by doing so, the rest becomes easier or unnecessary?”
Ideally, today’s answer should be similar to the previous day. If one day you focus on your health, another on your career and another on your family, in fact you are not focusing on anything.
Aligning your priorities does not mean changing priorities every day, but rather readjusting your performance in the face of a change in context.
Repeating the Focus Question daily also helps you break down big goals into smaller tasks.
For example, if you keep asking yourself, “What can I do to double sales in six months?” it’s best to turn this into a focus question. “What is the ONE THING I can do TODAY to double sales in six months so that, in doing so, the rest becomes easier or unnecessary?”
This question will take you to the core of the task, the most important thing. Until today’s task is done, everything else is a distraction.
No one can achieve great results alone. It is always possible to learn from others.
The first thing to do is ask yourself, “Has anyone else studied or managed to do this or anything like that?” The answer is almost always yes. Then, your investigation begins with finding out what others have learned, what these people have done.
You do not necessarily need to have direct contact with the person who achieved that result. You can find the lessons documented objectively in books and published works. This information will be useful for you to be able to adopt the procedures that lead to the same results.
The second step is to understand how that person’s solution can apply to your life, with the conditions and resources you have today. This will give you an original answer, so you will have to reinvent yourself in some way to implement this solution.
Your focus should bring intention, priority and productivity together in a block of time.
In Martin Seligman’s model of positive psychology, there are five factors that contribute to happiness: positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishments. Among these, engagement and meaning are the most important.
If you can become more engaged in what you are doing, finding ways to make sense of your life, you will also find lasting happiness. This happiness comes from the fact that you are daily carrying out actions aimed at a greater purpose.
Because of this, your focus should always bring together intention, priority and productivity. Intention to achieve great goals, one at a time. Priority to always focus your energy, your time and your resources on the one thing you can do to make everything else unnecessary. And productivity to forget everything else and focus exclusively on that priority, reserving blocks of time for each task.
Imagine that, starting today, you had the ability to focus like a laser beam on one thing. This laser beam would be focused on a single obstacle, a single barrier that separates what you are today from what you really want to be.
Now imagine that you have the ability to destroy, one by one, each of these barriers, knowing exactly what to do next, always acting with intention, priority and productivity.
What would your career be like if you managed to do that? What would your health, your finances, your family environment be like?
The good news is that you have this super power. All you have to do is identify it. What is this one thing you can do so that by doing this thing, the rest of your to-do list becomes easier or even unnecessary?