Have you ever heard of the 80/20 rule?
The rule goes that 20% of the effort creates 80% of the results. Here’s how to see if it’s true in your life: if you think about this past month, were there meetings or tasks that made a bigger difference in getting results? It may have been a phone call that closed your biggest sale, or a study session that prepared you to pass a heavily weighted test.
Oftentimes, there are a few actions that will make every other task easier… or even unnecessary. When you pick the #1 task each day that is the most important to get done, you can save time and allocate your resources where it matters most.
In this post, we’ll show you how to identify your #1 thing for the day, week, or month, and how to give that #1 thing your best focus.
Identify the #1 Thing
In his book The One Thing, Gary Keller shares the question to ask yourself to find your most important task:
“What’s the #1 thing I can do that will make everything else easier or unnecessary?”
When you’re able to identify this task, you can set aside a block of deep work time to tackle it to the exclusion of everything else. You prevent minor tasks and petty demands from consuming all your time, and you force yourself to say ‘no’ to requests or tasks that don’t really matter.
What could happen when you save your best attention for the most important task each day?
Create Compound Interest
If you’ve ever seen the trope about the path to success… you can probably relate to the trajectory. It’s an arrow that starts going up and to the right… then it tangles and loops in every direction… and finally, it continues up the slope.
There are always factors we can’t control on the path to success. But something we can control is where we put our attention.
When you put your best focus and attention on the #1 task that will move the needle toward your goal, you make a bigger stride forward. With each #1 thing you accomplish over a week, month, or year, you compound your accelerated success and skip many of the loops and pitfalls that distract most people.
That means that no matter how tempting it is to do the most fun tasks, or the easiest tasks, you plan to tackle the most important task before anything else.
Let’s talk about how to do that…
The Urgent/Important Framework
In the book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey provides a 4-quadrant matrix to help prioritize tasks.
How to use this matrix:
- Quadrant 1: Schedule these tasks into your calendar to ensure they get done.
- Quadrant 2: Set aside at least one deep work session per week on these tasks.
- Quadrant 3: Re-evaluate if these tasks are actually essential to get complete? If so, schedule in a time outside of your best focus hours to complete. If possible also push out the deadlines so they don't interfere with more important projects.
- Quadrant 4: Avoid these! Say no.
When you look at your tasks from the perspective of their urgency and importance to your main goal, you may be surprised by how much time you spend on things that don’t matter.
It can be challenging to delegate tasks, and even more challenging to say ‘no’ to tasks or requests that are neither urgent nor important to your role or goals. This level of discernment protects your time and helps you distinguish the highest-leverage tasks to help you reach your goals.
The Myth of Multi-Tasking
If you’ve ever heard someone brag about multi-tasking, what they’re really saying is that they either have too much stress or too little discipline to make clear priorities and work on one thing at a time. Multitasking doesn’t increase speed or make you more effective. It spreads your limited time and attention thinly over many tasks. Usually, those many tasks have not been evaluated for their urgency, relevance, or importance to your goals.
If working on one task at a time feels uncomfortably slow on the path to your goals, it may be time for a reality check. Who made up the timeline? Beware of comparison creeping into your mind and telling you that you should be someone that you’re not… and tempting you to take on everything at once. Though the approach is tempting, it’s ineffective.
When you identify your #1 most important thing to accomplish, your path becomes clear and your focus and time are easy to assign.
Enjoy the Journey
As achievers, it’s easy to fixate on the destination we can’t wait to get to… we’re often so enamored by our goals that we miss out on the journey. When you commit to taking one daily right action, you can be content with your progress each day and remember to enjoy the journey.
After all, we are only ever guaranteed the process in life, not the outcome.
How's your #1 thing going? We want to hear from you! Shoot us a note @ firstname.lastname@example.org