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How To Achieve More By Doing One Thing

Updated on January 18, 2016


I recently read the Wall Street Journal bestseller The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. In the book the authors pose the question - “What’s the ONE Thing you can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

I was blown away by the simplicity of the central theme and how influential it can be in getting more done.

I don't want that last statement, 'getting more done', to give the impression that I am a supporter of the GTD movement. To be honest, I think the GTD movement actually introduces more complexity at a time when we're trying to reduce it. At heart, I just want to achieve 'more' than I am right now without working longer hours. I don't think I'm alone in this goal so I wanted to get on paper what I had learned from this book and to dispel some myths along the way that I believe are holding us back from achieving more.


The theme of the book is to focus on one thing. It's actually an extension of another concept called the Pareto Principle or the 80/20 rule. Essentially, the principle says that 80 per cent of the our results come from 20 per cent of our effort. Expressed the other way it means that 80 per cent of our efforts only achieve 20 per cent of the results. That's depressing especially as my results feel like that. We're busy, very busy, but the results don't live up to our expectations. The Pareto Principle is therefore about maximizing your effectiveness with the least amount of effort. The One Thing takes it further.


One of our modern day beliefs is that multitasking improves performance. Unfortunately this has been shown to be incorrect in numerous studies over the last few years. In one study at Stanford University they showed that test subjects who multitasked were less productive than those doing a single thing at a time. The test results went on to show that the multitasking subjects IQ actually went down!

Multitasking therefore is the opposite of doing one thing. If we have proof that multitasking causes performance degradation then choosing to focus on one thing should ensure that there is no performance degradation. Ironically, that alone will give the impression that there has been a performance improvement, when compared to previous results! I like the sound of that.

Work/Life Balance

An extension of multitasking is another of our modern day beliefs, the work/life balance. The idea is that we're able to contribute equally to all the areas of our lives all the time. To date I have not met anyone who has been able to balance spiritual, physical, personal, job, business, finances and key relationships all at the time. In fact, each of these areas is competing for our time and just like multitasking, the end result is less than what we want. And if I'm brutally honest some of these areas come off worse, in particular relationships.

In the book the authors address this too with the concept of the one thing and this is achieved by acknowledging that all these areas can't be balanced equally all the time. The solution is to push out the timeframes; to think longer term. As an example, it means focusing on work for a bit and then focusing on family, relationships etc.


Obviously this is easier said than done when work is 5 days a week, sometimes more. At this point we need to recognise that not everything is equal. If we're going to work 5 days a week it means that we only have 2 days a week to do something else. What it does means is it's going to be really important that we start planning how we use our non-work time.

That's an alien concept to most people especially me. In fact, I've always prided myself on being adaptable and flexible. The reality is that I go with the flow and when work overruns or life's side show turns up I end up focusing on that rather than what I had needed to do. Work is the greatest culprit for stealing my time. And as we all know we only have 24 hours to play with so an hour extra for work means an hour less for family.

When Is Your Best Time?

When is the best time to schedule time? It depends but there is another book which I read recently called The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod. The take away from this book in the context of this post is that first thing in the morning is our most productive/ creative/ energetic/ motivational time. By getting up a little earlier every day we're able to spend quality (uninterrupted) time doing the one thing.

Interestingly I now get up an hour earlier every day, and it's great, but it wasn't easy in the beginning. I listened to an interview with the author Jay Papasan today and he recommended starting the process by just getting up and doing whatever you wanted e.g. read a book, go for a walk, watch catchup TV, whatever is easy for you. Don't focus on the one thing just yet. After a couple of months, when the habit of getting up early is formed, then move onto the one thing. That way you're only creating one habit at a time.

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


So, imagine getting up a little earlier every day, getting the one thing done that then frees up time later in the day to do what you really want? More time with the family, go swimming, work on the side business, give back to the community. All without the stress!

When you think about all the elements I've mentioned so far the core theme is gaining an awareness of where your time is being spent and, most importantly, consciously deciding what is the most important thing. Most of us instinctively know what the most important thing is but we get easily sidetracked by events and quickly forget what we were going to do. We only remember later in the day when it's too late or we've run out of energy. By being aware of the impact of the one thing we can get it done early and if an event arises we can make a knowledgeable decision about how important it is.


I quickly want to mention one last book which is Willpower by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney. The stand out takeaway for me is that willpower is a limited resource and when drained, people make less effective decisions or no decisions at all. So, in alignment with the concept of doing one thing and doing it first thing in the morning, you are more likely to complete the one thing. I like that. It makes it so much more achievable with the least amount of effort.


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