One Lesson on Productivity that Changed my Work Life

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“If you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one.” — Russian Proverb

If there is one lesson that has increased my productivity tenfold, then it’s this:

Focus on one thing at a time—and finish that thing as if your life depended on it.

My company’s third-quarter marketing plan is due in the next few days. Nothing else matters today.

I schedule some alone time to go through the marketing team’s proposal, and I plan to meet them immediately afterwards to finish. We’re done by noon, and the plan is ready to be executed in the next few days, weeks, and months.

I feel ecstatic, like I scaled Mount Everest, and an energy and calmness that I rarely feel fills the rest of the day.

Real estate magnate Gary Keller is an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year and finalist for Inc. Magazine‘s Entrepreneur of the Year. He explains how we can be more productive in his book, The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results.

He attributes his success to always asking himself one question:

“What’s the ONE Thing I can do, such that by doing it everything else would be easier or unnecessary?”

I like to break the question into three parts, like this:

“What’s the one thing I can do?” — I focus for a few hours solely on the marketing plan with no phone calls, emails, or even “good mornings.”

“Such that by doing it.” — The “it” is the rolling out of the marketing plan, which is the most important and meaningful task I can complete for my company right now.

“Everything else would be easier or unnecessary.” — When I’m done with the plan, it’s like a heavy burden is lifted. All the indecision and waiting disappears. Action is now possible.

“Success is sequential, not simultaneous.” — Gary Keller

As I experienced with the marketing proposal, focusing on one thing has a domino effect. When one thing is done, I can fully focus on something else. It doesn’t mean I rest on my laurels and take the week off. Rather, I focus on the next “One Thing”—in this case, the financial budget for the third quarter.

I’ve found the following three methods particularly helpful in implementing the “One Thing” method:

  1. Blocking Time

If a task is not scheduled, then the odds are that it won’t happen. We should put important work sessions into our calendar as far as a month in advance, and treat this time as we would a meeting or special event. Make it fixed and non-negotiable.

If possible, we should set the exact time and location so that it becomes an easy-to-follow habit. The time put aside should be no longer than an hour, depending on how long we can focus. And always allow for breaks in between scheduled tasks.

In my calendar, I’d marked out Monday morning at 10a.m. for my hour-long study of the marketing plan. I wouldn’t see anyone or take a call until I finished reviewing the plan.

  1. Cutting Internet, Email, and Social Media

Technology is an undeniable asset; however, we must know how and when to use it. Re-reading the same news, sports and entertainment sites is superfluous. Checking mail every ten minutes is distracting. Social media is a unique marketing tool and entertainment platform, but can take over our life without us noticing.

We can simply schedule the right time for internet, email, and social media. For example,I decided to remove all social media and email from my phone. I’ve set some time in the morning and late afternoon to check email, surf the net, and look at my social media accounts—but not during the time I’ve allotted to deep, focused work on my “one thing.” I dare not glance at my phone during this time.

  1. Monotasking

Multitasking simply doesn’t work. What we think is multitasking is only task-switching. Brains are limited when it comes to attention and productivity and are set to complete one task before moving onto the next. As we switch rapidly from one task to another, we lose focus on both, our productivity suffers, and we limit our chances of getting fully “in the zone,” where all magic resides.

I remember once I was working on reviewing the company’s quarterly numbers and I had my telephone on; emails were coming in, and internet links were inviting me to surf. What was supposed to take an hour lasted the whole morning. What was worse, I had to go through the numbers again, as I’d missed a few important details.

Once we grasp the “One Thing” concept, then our singular goal is to finish that one task before moving on.

The only thing that matters is what we are doing right now.

Finish the work. The marketing plan. The book you’re reading. The article you’re writing. The early morning run.

Finish it, dammit!

1 Comment

  • Nice message but I have a caveat. The “one thing” is great but at times, emergencies cut in.

    So we may try to focus on one thing, and another pressing thing comes up. Please don’t you think compromises are welcome if they are so very necessary. I believe slow and steady wins the race. Thanks.

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