Can one thing really increase your productivity at work? It sounds too good to be true. In fact, in this article I’ll contradict this by saying there are no silver bullets. BUT, this approach, and this very simple question can re-shape the way you approach how you work. All I ask is, after reading the article, you give it a shot and see what it can do for you.
Let me ask you, do you struggle to stay focused throughout the day? Do you get to the end of your week not really sure if you’re making an impact at work? Or maybe you’re feeling overwhelmed from the never ending emails that keep popping up in your inbox or the number of items you have on your to do list?
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been there. More times than I can remember.
I used to pride myself on juggling multiple projects, both at work and in my personal life. Whether it was taking on another project to impress at work, deciding to pick up a new hobby, or trying to respond to every email that I received, I thought I could do it all.
But as I took on more work, or added something else to my already hectic schedule, it was easy for me to think I was being productive, because I was busy. My schedule was full. And being busy meant I was getting a lot of productive work done. Right?
I was busy, yes. But I was busy planning, researching, or doing tasks that felt good because I completed them, but weren’t actually moving the needle. I fell short on executing what was important because everything was important. And when everything becomes a priority, there are no priorities. Progress at work languishes and passion projects fall by the wayside.
Does this sound familiar to you? Maybe you’re a superstar productivity human machine already, in which case this isn’t really for you 🙂
But if you’re like me, and staying focused is something you’ve struggled with and you’re tired of not producing results you know you’re capable of, read on.
I’m going to show you how one simple question can help transform your focus. This simple question will keep you from getting distracted with busy tasks that aren’t important and will get you lasered-in on your most important tasks.
“Success is built sequentially. It’s one thing at a time.”
– Gary Keller
There are no silver bullets to increase your productivity at work. There’s no one hack, or app, or quote that’s going to trigger something in you to magically make you limitless. But there are basic principles you can use to help get you there.
You won’t get there today, or tomorrow, or the day after that. But over time, if you apply the principles in this article and stick with them, you’ll get there.
What I’m going to share with you comes from Gary Keller’s excellent book, The One Thing.
The premise for the book is success doesn’t happen overnight. Success is built over time, by focusing on one thing at a time.
One thing at a time sounds so simple. Surely you can handle more than one thing at a time?
Of course you can. You’re capable of walking and talking on the phone, taking notes during a meeting while listening to what’s going on, or finishing up that big report for your boss while taking calls and handling your inbox.
It is possible to multitask, but what happens to your focus in that moment? When you’re not focused on one single thing, your attention is divided. That means you’re not putting your best self forward for either task, and splitting your focus.
When it comes to walking and talking on the phone, that doesn’t really matter. Walking is a fairly innate movement.
But what about when you’re trying to focus on two important tasks. And you’re trying to get them done at the same time, going backwards and forwards between the two?
I don’t know about you, but when I’m working on a big project, I need to get in a state of flow to do my best work.
That means uninterrupted, in-distractible time blocks where I can put all of my focus into the task at hand.
My phone goes on silent, I cut my wifi if necessary and banish all potential distractions from my work environment.
This is easier for me now, working remotely and having access to the right tools to manage my remote work productivity. But it wasn’t so easy when I used to work in an office. A simple phone call, a colleague coming to ask me a question, or countless other potential disruptions could take my focus away and it would take me another 20-30mins to get back into my groove.
And I’m not alone. In a study by the University of California, Irvine, and Humboldt University Berlin, it took participants an average of 23 mins to get back on task after an interruption.
When you work on more than one thing at a time, you’re creating distractions and interruptions for yourself. That’s before you add in notifications from your inbox, your phone, your work environment, and everything else trying to grab your attention.
At this point, you’re hopefully seeing how focusing on one thing can increase your productivity and effectiveness at work. But you’re probably not convinced just yet.
How does it actually work? How is it possible to focus on only one thing when there’s so much going on in your life?
“Going small is ignoring all the things you could do and doing what you should do. It’s recognizing that not all things matter equally and finding the things that matter most.”
– Gary Keller
Do you have a goal? Any goal? Something to do with work, or your personal life, relationships, money. What is it? Don’t have one? Don’t worry, create one now.
What’s something that you’ve always wanted to achieve? Is it financial independence? Running a marathon? Getting that promotion?
Whatever your goal is, make it clear in your mind.
For example, “getting promoted to Senior Manager 6 months from now” or “running a marathon in 3 months.”
Settle on something that works for you.
Now ask yourself: “What is one thing that I can do today, that will make everything else easier or unnecessary?”
If your goal is financial independence and you’ve been struggling to save, your one thing could be to set up an automatic payment to a savings account for the day after you receive your salary in your bank account. Or it could be to sign up to a digital bank that automatically rounds up your payments, and adds the surplus to a savings account.
If your goal is to get a promotion, your one thing could be to prepare for a meeting with your boss by outlining exactly what you’ve achieved so far, what your objectives are for the next 3-6 months, and how that can translate to a promotion.
If that seems like too big a task, you could make it smaller, and simply create a bullet point list of achievements and ideas that you might want to bring up.
As Gary Keller puts it, going small is about realising what is truly important, and recognising what isn’t.
When you start breaking your tasks down into smaller pieces, it can be easy to get distracted by all the small things you need to do.
This is where the 80/20 rule, or the Pareto principle, can help. The Pareto principle is based on the idea that for any particular event, 80% of the effects arose from 20% of the causes.
Put another way, for any results that you produce, 80% of those results come from 20% of your activities.
Applying this rule will help you hone in on your one thing. You need to find the 20% that will get you 80% of the way to where you want to get to.
Most people put off the 20%, because it’s the higher impact tasks that people tend to procrastinate on. They tend to focus on the 80% of the tasks that give them a marginal 20% of outcomes, but because these smaller tasks are easier to do, they still make a little progress, and they feel like they’re getting things done.
In reality, they could be moving a lot faster and impacting their own results more significantly by focusing on the ‘vital few,’ the 20% that’s going to create 80% of the results. Getting this right means you’ll be spending less time on menial tasks that don’t move the needle, and focusing instead on bigger impact activities to leverage your results.
The Domino Effect is another key principle from The One Thing. Gary Keller explains that one domino on it’s own doesn’t amount to much. It’s a small 2inch rectangular shape that appears insignificant.
But one domino has enough force to knock over another domino 1.5 times its size. Which again doesn’t seem like much. Now think about lining up a long line of dominos, with each proceeding domino 1.5 times larger. And you knock over that first 2inch domino, which knocks the next one over, and the next one, and the next one.
By the time you get to the 57th domino, the domino that falls is as tall as the distance between the earth and the moon.
From one small insignificant action, a monumental and transformative force occurs.
And that forms the basis for your future success and the basic principles laid out in Gary Keller’s book.
Success isn’t one thing. There is no silver bullet.
No matter how long you look for that one tactic, or one tool that’s going to magically solve all your problems and give you everything your heart desires, you will not find it.
Success is a series of building blocks. Steps, or dominoes, that build up slowly at first, but compound over time to help you reach your true potential.
Let’s finish off with an example. Let’s assume that you want to build a great career and you’re looking to land your dream role, or get that promotion.
Landing your dream role, is a big domino to knock down. It’ll take a series of actions for you to get there from where you are now.
So let’s go to the start of the line, and find the smallest domino. That first domino might be reaching out to one person on LinkedIn at a company you have your eye on. Or it might be texting a friend whose job you admire.
From there, you knock down more dominos, talk to more people, expand your network, build your sphere of influence. Start improving the skills you need to get the role you’re after.
You start to get an idea of how one small step (sending someone a text) can lead to a big impact move like landing your dream role.
And all this time, you’ll focus on one step at a time. One thing that moves the needle the most and makes everything else easier.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed when we start thinking about grand visions and big goals. Big goals aren’t the problem. It’s the lack of process and clarity in between where we are now and where we want to get to that causes us to fail.
Over to you now, what is one thing that you can do today that will make everything else easier or unnecessary?
Need help figuring out what to focus on? Check out our guide on how to skyrocket your productivity and focus with our simple tools for creating and tracking your goals.