Director of Marketing & Managing Partner for
“Take one day at a time
Everything else you can leave behind
Only one thing at a time
Anything more really hurts your mind”
Panda Bear (aka, Noah Lennox) in the song “Take Pills”
Panda Bear’s album Person Pitch is in my pantheon of albums, and the lyrics above are from that album. The lyrics are straightforward: focus on one thing at a time.
When it comes to business leadership, this sentiment can seem cute. “One thing at a time?! There are a million things on my plate!” a business leader might say.
But this is no idealistic musing; it’s the key to both sanity and success.
That’s the contention of the book The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, the NYTimes best seller by Gary Keller, cofounder of the real estate empire Keller Williams Realty. The book cuts through the busyness fog of business like a laser.
Your ‘one thing’ is the most strategically important thing you should do for your business right now. Not all the things you could do, but the one thing you know you should do. It’s that thing that’s in your mind that you know would put you in a better place and a better position for success, but that just keeps getting put off due to pressing daily realities. It might be coming to mind right now as you read this.
How to Determine Your One Thing
How do you determine your ‘one thing’? I’ll get right to it: here’s the diagnostic question you can ask yourself to discern your ‘one thing’:
“What’s the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
Ask yourself that question. Answer it well. Make a list from most important down to least. And set aside just about everything until you tackle the one that’s on top. Then ask the question again and work on the next most important thing. And so on.
[bctt tweet=”Without taking the time to step back and discern your ‘one thing’, you’ll almost never get to it. There will always be things that are more immediate and urgent.” username=”LeaderReality”]
I’ll give you an example from my own work. My company is an investment company and we practice values-based investing. We started the company with a heart to help people reach their financial goals by investing in companies they could be proud to own. But over time, this heart message got lost among other messages — about investment process, market views, and product details — important things, but not why we existed. In the back of our minds we knew we needed to take the time to do the hard work of really crafting our brand story around the deeper kinds of value we hoped to provide. And finally, after several years of delay, we decided to take this ‘one thing’ seriously and address it. We abandoned our marketing plans for several months while we developed presentations and content that we knew our audience would love. Looking back now, it’s painfully obvious that this was a huge ‘one thing’ for us, but it was always more convenient to tend to the day-to-day and to put off this work to a future day.
Here’s the thing: without taking the time to step back and discern your ‘one thing’, you’ll almost never get to it. There will always be things that are more immediate and urgent.
Are you familiar with Franklin Covey’s matrix of urgent and important? It looks like this.
On one axis you have urgency: urgent and not urgent. On the other axis you have importance: important and not important. Most business leaders have so many fires to put out that they tend to always focus on the urgent-important (quadrant 1) and urgent-not important (quadrant 3), and never seem to get the time to work on the not urgent-important (quadrant 2). (I’ll assume all of us spend very little time in quadrant 4 – that would be your meme-consumption category). But the key to long-term success is found in the not urgent-important. That’s your one thing.
[bctt tweet=”Working your to-do’s is not how your company will become great – it’s working your should-do’s.” username=”LeaderReality”]
Not urgent-important has another name, of course: strategy. And in business, strategy is terrifically important to business vitality, competitive advantage, and long-term sustainability and growth. Working your to-do’s is not how your company will become great – it’s working your should-do’s.
One of the core values for my company is “Thoughtful”. Here’s how we define it:
“Eventide people seek to be disciplined and rational. We seek to read broadly, contemplate from diverse vantage points, and to act thoughtfully and for good reason.”
In short, we want strategic people. And when I interview prospective candidates for our company, I ask all their references, “In your opinion, based on your first-hand experiences, what is this person’s capacity for strategic thinking?”
And the first book I assign upon starting is The ONE Thing. I’m not interested in people who know how to be busy – that’s virtually all of us. I want all our people to be ‘one thing’ people, who can discern what’s most important and prioritize those things above all.
Don’t let busyness get in the way of your ‘one thing’. Figure out your one thing. And do it. It will radically simplify your work life and lead you down a path likely to succeed.
Jason Myhre is Director of Marketing and Managing Partner for Eventide Asset Management, an investment company managing more than $2.8B in assets.