The one thing that matters most

COMMONNESS - Bong R. Osorio (The Philippine Star) - January 10, 2016 - 9:00am

It’s the 11th day of a brand-new year, and by now you have undoubtedly started implementing a work plan for the things you need to accomplish in the coming months, what priorities to make, how to stay focused on them and generate the best effects. 

The book The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan pushes for one focusing question to help us discover the surprisingly simple truth behind extraordinary results. That question is: “What’s the ‘one thing’ I could do, such that by doing it everything else would be easier or unnecessary?” This truth is anchored on these premises: Success is sequential, not simultaneous; if you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one; think big, but focus on one specific thing at a time.  Keller and Papasan posit the following ideas to achieve your desired outcome.

• When doing any work, always start with a focusing question: What’s the “one thing” you can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary? Then do a timeline to make it happen. It doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that. When you ask yourself the question, you’ll most likely be accurate. You instinctively know what matters most. If you’re not sure, get mentored by those who came before you. Chances are others have already accomplished what you’re trying to achieve and you can learn from them. Start with their answers and move from there.

• The key to success is figuring out “the one” most important thing in your business, career or life over the long run. Think of this as your “someday” goal.  Once you’ve figured that out, identify how many dominoes you need to line up — and eventually knock down — in order to achieve it. It sounds simple, but just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s easy.

The book shares the story of American entrepreneur Bill Gates, which is an excellent example of the “one thing” lifestyle in action. Gates’ “one” passion in high school was computers, which led him to develop “one” skill, computer programming. In high school, he got “one” job in the computer-programming field, and this led to him to eventually start “one” company: Microsoft.

Microsoft focused on “one” thing: the development and sale of basic interpreters for the Altair 8800, which eventually made Bill the “one” richest man in the world for 15 years in a row. After Bill retired from Microsoft, he and his wife Melinda formed “one” foundation that focused on one thing: to tackle some of the world’s “really tough problems” like health and education.

The majority of the foundation’s money went to “one” area, their Global Health Program, which had “one” goal: the use of science and technology to save lives in poor countries. To implement this, they settled on finding a solution to the “one” major cause of death: infectious disease. The “one” solution they came up with was vaccination, because it’s the one most impactful thing they can put their money towards to solve their one ultimate focus: to tackle some of the world’s “really tough problems.”

The minority of your efforts leads to the majority of your results. This is the 80/20 or Pareto principle at work: 20 percent of your customers usually account for 80 percent of your profits; 20 percent of your investments usually account for 80 percent of your returns; 20 percent of your habits usually result in 80 percent of your success. Put on paper those things that you can extract from your to-do list that would have the biggest impact on your results. Figure out those high-leverage activities and turn your to-do list into a success list. And once you’re done doing that, Keller recommends that you take your success list and whittle that down even further until you’ve gotten it down to the vital few.

• What’s most important should be given your undivided attention. In this era of multi-tasking, you’re separating things and tasks. Your brain has channels, and as a result you’re able to process different kinds of data in different parts of your brain. This is why you can walk and chew gum at the same time. You’re not really focused on both activities, though. One is happening in the foreground and the other in the background. When you focus, it’s like shining a spotlight on what matters. And make no mistake: take on two things and your attention gets divided. Take on a third and something gets dropped.

• A small dose of discipline develops into a long-lasting habit. In any discussion about success, the words “discipline” and “habit” ultimately intersect. Though separate in meaning, they powerfully connect to form the foundation for achievement — regularly working at something until it regularly works for you. When you discipline yourself, you’re essentially training yourself to act in a specific way. Stay with this long enough and it becomes routine. It turns into a habit. So when you see ultra-disciplined people, what you’re truly noticing are individuals who embedded a number of habits into how they approach life.

• Success is actually a short race — a sprint fueled by discipline just long enough for habit to kick in and take over. And to create a habit, you will need a mega dose of willpower or discipline from the get-go. This is challenging, but keep at it. According to research, it takes an average of 66 days to develop a discipline into a habit. This number might vary depending on your situation, but remember that it’s not something that you can do overnight and it’s possible. Once you turn a discipline into a habit, you become better at it and it becomes easier to execute.

• When you ask the wrong question, you get the wrong answer; when you ask the right question, you get the right answer. Ask the most powerful question possible, and the answer can be life-altering. Thus, the way you phrase the questions you ask yourself determines the answers that eventually become your life. Keller suggests that you break down your “one thing” question into three parts:

First is, “What’s the one thing I can do?” The word “can” implies action. The second part “… such that by doing it…” says you’re about to get specific, that you’re about to take action on something that actually has a purpose. The final part, “everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” is about leverage. It says that when you do this one thing, everything else you could do to accomplish your goal will now be either doable with less effort or no longer even necessary. For example, hiring a driver is a levered action that frees up the time you used to clean the car, find parking and maintain it, thus making it easier for you to focus on other important matters.

Purpose and priority come before productivity and profit. Purpose is the foundation. It comes first because that’s what the best people and organizations are made of. After purpose comes priority. You should only have one at a time. Productivity and profit are the results of an organization being run by people who have a purpose — not because their boss told them to — but because they really give a damn. And when you have a strong purpose, you can become clear about your highest priority.

• Set a future goal and methodically drill it down to what you should be doing right now. To do this, you have to line up your dominoes within the context of your professional and personal life: Define your goals from “someday” to “five-year,” to “one-year” to “right now.” Knock each goal down until you’ve hit your future aspiration.

• Dedicate yourself to mastering of your craft and being accountable for it. Keller quotes Michelangelo, who once said, “If the people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it wouldn’t seem wonderful at all.” He also cites the book Mastery by George Leonard, which shares a story about Jigoro Kano, the founder of judo, and how he was so dedicated to the concept of mastery that when he was on his deathbed, he asked his students to bury him in a white belt to symbolize his new journey in his next life and beyond. If that’s not mastery, what is?

• Half of knowing what you want is knowing what you must give up before you get it. Keller lists four thieves of productivity to avoid at all costs: the inability to say “no,” fear of chaos, poor health habits, and an environment that doesn’t support your goals. Avoid saying yes to most things unless they connect to your “one thing.” As Seth Godin says, “You can say no with respect, you can say no promptly, and you can say no with a lead to someone who might say yes. But just saying yes because you can’t bear the short-term pain of saying no is not going to help you do the work.”

Plan your days to include: meditating or praying for spiritual energy, eating and exercising right, sleeping sufficiently for physical energy, and spending time with friends and family for emotional energy, setting goals, and planning.

• Actions build on action, habits build on habit, and success builds on success. Try doing this Keller exercise. Close your eyes and imagine your life as big as you have ever dared to dream, and then some. Can you see it? Now, open your eyes and listen and believe that whatever you can see, you have the capacity to move toward. And when what you go for is as vast as you can possibly envision, you’ll be living the biggest life you can possibly live.

Live with no regrets. Keller cites a passage from a book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, written by Bronnie Ware: “I wish that I’d let myself be happier. I wish I’d stayed in touch with my friends. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

Steve Jobs once said, “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”

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Email bongosorio@yahoo.com or bong_osorio@abs-cbn.com for comments, questions or suggestions. Thank you for communicating.

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