My kids have been on summer break for a couple of months. Now school is just around the corner. My kids and I have a fun tradition each morning as I take them to school. Each of them gets to pick a song they want to listen to along the way.
This past year, one of my daughters frequently chose “One Thing” by “One Direction.” She and I cruised to school belting out, “You’ve got that one thing!” as we pointed to each other and raised a finger in the air.
That’s right. I’m cool like that.
The Essential Superpower
Lately I’ve been thinking and writing about superpowers or strengths that leaders, entrepreneurs, and successful people in general have. Not everyone has the same superpowers, but I have noticed that virtually all successful people share at least one common superpower. They know what their “one thing” is–their top priority–and they are relentless in working on it. That is a superpower worth having.
In Stephen Covey’s book The 8th Habit, he describes it this way: “The main thing is to keep the the main thing the main thing.”
Easier said than done.
I’m still working to develop the superpower of getting the most important things done. However, I know this much: if we are going to get the most important things done, we need to know what they are.
If I could only get one thing done today, what would it be?
There are countless approaches to identifying priorities, but I make this as simple as possible. Every day, I try to write down my top 3 priorities for that day. I use a 3×5 card to do this so that I can keep it with me.
If you want to try this, start by asking yourself, “If I could only get one thing done today, what would it be?” Write that down. Repeat that for a second and third priority.
(I outline this approach and two other simple techniques in my guide “3 Easy Things You Can Do to Gain an Hour of Freedom in Your Day.”)
Then comes the hard part. Do everything in your power to accomplish your top priority as early as possible in your day. I’m not the only one who suggests doing your “one thing” first in your day. James Clear calls it, “The Only Productivity Tip You’ll Ever Need.”
Why is this so hard? First, most of us don’t write down our top priority. And even when we do, we react to whatever comes our way and push aside that priority when we see more urgent things. We act like robots who are programmed to respond immediately to whatever comes into our field of vision, whether it’s email, phone calls, or people approaching us directly.
We often let other people haphazardly determine our daily agendas. We say things like, “I’m just putting out fires,” but most of the time there is not actually a fire or it’s completely inconsequential.
As a general rule, I find that most things I deal with everyday are urgent, but rarely important, and almost never more important than my top priority.
Most things I deal with everyday are urgent, but rarely important, and almost never more important than my top priority.
We have to learn to avoid the barrage of inevitable urgent and distracting requests. I don’t respond particularly quickly to email most of the time because I don’t check it constantly. In fact, I turned off email autosync and notifications on my phone a long time ago.
Sometimes working on our top priority takes some trust, particularly if we work on a team. My colleagues trust me to get the most important things done and trust them to do likewise.
If I send someone a request, I have to be willing to let them determine how and when they will respond. If it’s truly urgent and important, I’ll let them know. Similarly, they can do the same with me. I’m willing to adjust my agenda for truly important things.
However, I’ve experienced “message attack” many times for things that just aren’t important.
What is message attack?
Usually it starts with someone sending me an email. Then I get a text telling me about the email. Then I get a chat message. Maybe a phone call. Then maybe even multiple texts, emails, phone calls, voicemails, chats, etc. saying things like, “Can you respond when you get a chance?” or “I just sent you something I need you to look at.” Believe me. I know you did.
It feels something like this:
When I take a look, it turns out to be something that can wait, or is “really urgent,” but absolutely not important for me to manage.
So how do you handle this? Here’s three options.
- You can just respond to “put out the fire” and “get it off your plate.” Just know that it will happen again. And again. And again.
- You can just ignore it. Usually this works out fine and eventually people recognize that you don’t work that way.
- You can let people know that for most things, sending an email is all that is needed. You’ll respond to it when it works for you. You can even let them know that sending a barrage of messages in every conceivable messaging platform “to make sure you got it” is counterproductive and that you won’t respond to those. Ever.
Usually people get it and adjust. After all, it actually works better for them most of the time.
Of course, there are other ways we get distracted from our “one thing,” but I find this to be one of the most common.
Do you have that one thing?
What is your “one thing” today that you must get done? Share it in the comments. What will you do to ensure you get it done? By writing it down, you will be more likely to accomplish it.
P.S. If you now have “One Thing” playing in your head, it will probably continue to do so for the next 72 hours. You’re welcome 🙂 Use it as a reminder to keep your one thing the main thing. And you’ve got that one thing!
P.P.S. If you want to learn more about my approach, you can grab my quick guide “3 Easy Things You Can Do to Gain an Hour of Freedom in Your Day.”