Focus On Just One Thing

In their book, The One Thing, Gary Keller, co-founder of Keller Williams, and Jay Papasan, writer and business executive, ask this question: “What is the one thing such that by doing it everything else becomes easier or unnecessary?”

Typically, you’d think about this in terms of your processes. For example, how could you streamline your assembly line? What steps could you remove or combine? Or how could you reorganize your staff responsibilities so that fewer people could accomplish more.

This is what business process re-engineering was intended to do. It was to help you to re-examine and re-design how you did your work at all levels in your organization, so that you could improve each part to create a more efficient whole.

Keller and Papasan adopt a completely different approach. Instead of looking at how you do things, they suggest that you think about what you want to do - your goals, or more specifically, just one goal.


Allen Blue, co-founder of LinkedIn, says that that platform was intended to be a people-search engine. That’s what they were building. That was the goal. And to do that, they determined that they had to grow their network.  And so their one thing - indeed, the only thing - that they had to get absolutely right was how to do that.

According to Blue, they put two-thirds of their staff onto solving this one problem.

You have to do exactly the same thing. You have to find and pursue that one thing, and then focus on just it. That means, according to Blue, that you have to define the problem as narrowly as you can.

Big problems consist of smaller ones; but big problems can often be distilled into one that, if solved, would fix a lot of other things, too.

It’s easy to get caught up tinkering with the smaller stuff because you can make progress on them without ever really tackling the thing - the one thing - that matters most.

There are a lot of problems that you could solve, or even that you must solve, but Blue, Keller, and Papasan all say that you must find that one thing that if you solve it will make everything else easier or unnecessary.


In other words, don’t try to solve everything. Instead, solve one thing.

Before you can decide what your one thing is, however, you must first of all define what success is for you.


Define success

What does success look like to you? Is it your net profits, number of customers, market share, or something else?

All of those things are measures of success, though they’re not necessarily the best ones. Remember Einstein’s famous missive that “not all things that can be counted count.” That means that you shouldn’t try to fix some things simply because you’ll know when you have.

You must recognize, too, that your one thing will always produce a result. It’s a means to an end; not an end in itself. It’s so easy to be consumed perfecting the process while losing sight of its purpose, which is to achieve a particular result - a result that needs to be more than simply correcting that one issue.


What do you want that result to be?

Whatever it is, it needs to be extraordinary, and that’s because if you’re going to devote the majority of your resources to finding the one thing that will make everything else easier or unnecessary, then you can’t settle for less.


Pitfalls of pursuing success

Most of the time, however, managers aren’t content to devote the majority of their efforts to just one thing. They may start out that way, but then the proverbial squirrel comes along, and they begin to see all of the others things that they could do, too. Before you know it, they’re right back to where they were when they started: Trying to solve everything all at once.

This comes not only from putting the cart before the horse, but also from a failure to define success correctly.

The horse is your one thing.

The cart is all those things that will become easier or unnecessary once you solve your one thing. Without that one thing, however, you’ll find that you’re drawn towards things on the periphery; things that are comparatively easy to do. You’ll feel as though you’re working because you’re busy and because you can tick things off of your list.

That’s a false sense of progress because it’s likely that all those things that you’re busily fixing wouldn’t need to be done at all if you just identified your one thing.

In order for everything else to become easier or unnecessary, you need to fix ONE thing; not ten things.


Progressive results

Success should be thought of in terms of progressive results. That is, results that improve as your one thing changes.

For example, in the beginning your one thing might be to train your employees so that they can fulfill a number of different roles at will. One reason you may want to do that is so that you don’t have to hire new people whenever the needs of the organization change. Startups are like this. Everyone has to pitch in wherever and whenever they can.

Once that one thing becomes part of the company culture, however, you no longer have to pursue it with the same vigor as you did in the beginning, and so now you can switch to something different.

The opposite of progressive results is total success. It’s a binary. You either make it or you don’t. It’s either 100% or 0%. That doesn’t even make business sense.

But those who insist that it’s either all or nothing set themselves up for failure because anything less than the epitome of success is a catastrophe.

For instance, your ultimate goal might be to write a New York Times bestseller, but if you make that your goal on the first attempt and don’t achieve it, you could erroneously conclude that you’re not a writer.

Even though that may sound absurd, it’s the way a lot of people think. Indeed, it’s the way the heads of organizations often think. And so their definition of success defeats them before they even get started.

You have a binary choice, too. It’s to either try to fix everything all at once, something that Blue advises you to avoid, or to choose just one thing such that by doing it everything else becomes easier or unnecessary.

To do that, you must define the problem as narrowly as possible.


How do you do that?


How to find your one thing

Your one thing may seem unrelated to your goal

The first thing you must recognize is that your one thing may seem unrelated to your goal.

For instance, let’s say that you work from home. ( A lot of people do now.) What you’ve discovered is that for some reason you run out of day before you reach the end of your to-do list. When you worked in an office, this was no big deal. But now that you’re home, you’re finding it to be more of a challenge, and you know that it shouldn’t be.

It’s true that you’re working fewer hours, but you also have fewer interruptions. When you put your head down, you can accomplish a lot in a remarkably short period of time. The problem seems to be getting to your desk in the first place. When you worked in an office, you were there promptly at 8.30 or 9.00. Now it’s more like 10.00 or later.



After some reflection, you realize that you’re getting up later in the morning. Instead of getting up at five or six, you don’t really get going until 7.30 or 8, and sometimes later.


How can that be?

It’s because you’re staying up later the night before. Instead of going to bed by 10 pm, you’re staying up to watch television. Most nights, you’re not in bed, lights out, before midnight. So you’re getting just as much sleep as you normally would, but your schedule has shifted forward by a couple of hours.


Why do you do this?

It’s because you’ve persuaded yourself that you have the time because you don’t have to commute and hour and a half each way. And so that means that you have more time to relax.

What’s your one thing? What’s the one thing that will make you more productive during the day? It’s going to bed on time the night before.

And so in this example, your one thing is apparently unrelated to how much work you accomplish. The problem isn’t that you don’t work the hours. Instead, it’s that you start later.

You have to look for the one thing for your organization in exactly the same way.


Your one thing takes less time and money

The second thing is that your one thing may occupy fewer resources than all of the other things that you’ve pursued.

No doubt, you’ve heard of and may even be familiar with the 80/20 Principle. In a nutshell, 20% of your input will give you 80% of your output. The opposite is also true: You’ll expend 80% of your input in order to obtain the remaining 20% of your output.

There are two observations that need to be made in this respect.

The first is that the percentage differences may be even bigger than this. For example, there are likely to be times when 5% of your input will give you 95% of your output. To look at this another way, there will be occasions when 95% of your organizational headaches will come from just 5% of your clients or your staff. And so instead of spending all your effort trying to iron out all those issues, the simplest and most effective way to eliminate them is to fire them, whether they’re clients or employees. Not everyone is a good fit for everyone else, so why pretend that it is?

The second observation is that there’s an 80/20 ratio inside of every other 80/20 ratio, and so the more you narrow down that ratio, the easier it will be to find your one thing.

A little basic multiplication will enable you to see its power.

If 80% of your results comes from 20% of your input, then 80% of 80% equals 64%, and 20% of 20% equals 4%. That means that you get 64% of your results from just 4% of your input.

Now let’s do it again.

Eighty-percent of 64% (0.8 x .64) equals 51.2%, and 20% of 4% is 0.8%.


Are you following this?

In just three iterations, you can now see that less than one percent of your input will give you more than half of your results! More than HALF.

These calculations alone should make it easier to see your ONE THING.


It’s not about balance

The third thing is that you must recognize that when you pursue just one thing, then you’re not setting out to achieve a balance.

Balance comes from putting a more or less equal effort into many things in the hope that you’ll get results that look the same way.

Blue and his team never would’ve been able to make LinkedIn into a success if they had tried to pursue many goals simultaneously. And neither can you.

There will always be a lot of thing that you can do. There may even be many things that you should do. But if you don’t find that one thing that you must do - that one thing upon which everything else becomes easier or unnecessary - then you’ll spend at least 80% of your time and other resources trying to achieve only 20% of your results.

That’s the flip-side of the 80/20 Principle. With just three iterations, you now know that less than 1% of your efforts will give you 51% of your results; but you also know that that means that 99% of your efforts will only give you 49% of your results.


Can you see the power of discovering your one thing?

If you do nothing else, then you must find out what is the one thing such that by doing it everything else becomes easier or unnecessary.

When you do that, then you must devote all of your efforts and resources to it, because when you do, you’ll get bigger and better results than you ever imagined.


If you'd like to learn more on how to focus on one thing, contact me here.


If you like to know more check out our weekly free Webinars

Leave a comment...

If you found value in this blog you might also be interested in one or more of these…

Playing to Win

Why do some sales people insist on holding onto the clients who cause the most grief and give so little in return? Wouldn’t you love to be someone like Alan Sugar and say, “You’re fired!”?

Is An Empty Inbox a Worthwhile Goal?

With our inboxes becoming increasingly full and demand for reply, ever higher, what can we do to reduce our inbox and therefore our stress levels?