As a working mother you are probably juggling more balls up in the air than most circus clowns. If you’ve ever done a Google Search on how to multi task you probably discovered over 6 million hits offering to help you figure out how to get everything on your to-do list done.
Like most working mothers you may dream of having less distractions and less on your plate but don’t see how that’s remotely possible. Maybe you’ve started to believe it’s just the way things are so you’ll just have to power through or maybe it’s become so overwhelming that you’ve started to buffer away your stressful feelings with other things like alcohol, shopping or social media.
Has anyone ever said to you “I don’t know how you do it all” and you immediately thought “I don’t know either”? What often happens when you try to do too much is missed deadlines, disappointing results, more stress, longer hours, less sleep and missed moments with family and friends to name just a few.
If only there was a way to focus on one thing at a time that would actually shrink your to-do list. It would be great to have a way to know exactly what to do in each moment that would create a domino effect and help alleviate overwhelm and stress while increasing productivity.
The NY Times and Wall Street Journal best-selling book “The One Thing” by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan teaches just that. It teaches you that when everything feels urgent and important, everything seems equally necessary.
The authors explain that multitasking is a lie that has become a strange badge of honor and is actually a quality that employers mistakenly target. Of course humans are capable of doing two things at the same time like walking and talking, but you actually aren’t capable of focusing on two things at the same time which is costing you more than you realize.
This week I’m going to discuss how to decrease your to-do list by asking a powerful focusing question and how to apply it to any area of your life.
Decreasing your to-do list
To-do lists seem to be the only way to get organized and get things done in this distracted, overworked world. Whether you choose to use paper and pen or the many apps available for your smart phone, making a list and checking it twice seems to be the best way to get things done.
However, what the author’s research shows is that the 80/20 Principle is at the heart of managing your time. This principle is as provable and predictable as other laws of nature and it states that the minority of your effort (20%) leads to the majority of your results (80%).
So if you were to make a to-do list with 10 items on it, choosing the best 2 out of the 10 would turn out to be worth more than the other 8 items put together. However, most people have a tendency to believe that everything on the to-do list is vital. But just because you could do something on your to-do list doesn’t mean you should do it. By focusing on what you should do, you let what matters most drive your day.
The authors take this a step further by suggesting that from those 2 out of 10 on your to-do list, you then narrow those 2 “shoulds” down to 1 (ie, the ONE Thing). With practice you will learn how to develop the mindset to narrow your list from the critical few to the essential ONE Thing, drastically reducing ineffective busyness and overwhelm.
If you feel like you just can’t get ahead of all you have to do, the issue isn’t that you have little time to do all the things you need to do; the issue is that you feel the need to do too many things in the time you have. Inevitably you wind up doubling your efforts to get it all done believing that multi-tasking is the answer.
However multitasking doesn’t save time because your brain is giving each task divided attention. When you divide your attention, you actually pay a price in time and effectiveness because your brain has to continually reorient between tasks.
By figuring out what matters most in the moment and giving that your undivided attention, you use your brain in the most effective way possible. To figure out what matters most, the authors suggest that you ask the Focusing Question.
The Focusing Question
As I’ve explained before, your brain is like a Google Search engine; ask it a powerful question and it will give you a powerful answer. Your brain doesn’t care whether you ask it a negative question like “Why am I such a bad mother?” or a positive question like “How can I make my commute to work more pleasant?”
The authors came up with a Focusing Question that basically hacks your brain and helps it to focus, not only on the few things that should be done on your to-do list, but on the all-important first thing to be done. The Focusing Question is:
What’s the ONE Thing I can do, such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?
In the analogy of dominos, the first domino is the starting point to be able to knock down all subsequent dominos. This Focusing Question doesn’t just help you to make ANY decision it helps you to make the BEST decision. It helps you to go from what is doable, to what is necessary, to what really matters.
By asking your brain this Focusing Question you are directing it to weed through what you previously believed you should do, could do or would do and instead find the ONE Thing you can do right now. The payoff at the end is that, by applying this to each area of your life, you will have trained your brain to declutter and avoid distractions.
Now let’s talk about how to apply the Focusing Question to various areas of your life. By getting clear about how to make the most of your time, you’ll begin to see how to simplify your life ONE Thing at a time.
Applying the Focusing Question
No matter what area of your life you are trying to improve or whether you are trying to increase productivity or create more time, learning how to focus your attention is a powerful habit to learn. Whether you are trying to decide what to do at home first thing in the morning or what to do at work in order to not miss a deadline, using the Focusing Question makes decisions easier and more effective.
The authors suggest that when you place the areas of your life in order of importance you can develop the foundational habit of focusing on the most important ONE Thing at a time. Their suggested categories and order of importance are:
- Your Physical Health
- Your Personal life
- Your Family/Relationships
- Your Job
- Your Finances
These are just suggestions but are helpful when learning how to apply the Focusing Question to whatever areas you choose. They suggest that you say the category first, then state the question, add a time frame and end by adding “such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” For example: “For my job, what’s the ONE Thing I can do to ensure I hit my goals this week, such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
Here are some examples in each category:
Your Physical Health
- For my physical health, what’s the ONE Thing I can do today to achieve my diet goals…?
- For my physical health, what’s the ONE Thing I can do this week to ensure that I exercise…?
Your Personal Life
- For my personal life, what’s the ONE Thing I can do this month to improve my skill at cooking…?
- For my personal life, what’s the ONE Thing I can do today to find time for myself…?
- For my marriage, what’s the ONE Thing I can do this week to improve my relationship with my spouse…?
- For my relationship with my children, what’s the ONE Thing I can do every week to spend more quality family time together…?
- For my job, what’s the ONE Thing I can do today to complete my current project ahead of schedule…?
- For my job, what’s the ONE Thing I can do before my next review to get the raise I want…?
- For my finances, what’s the ONE Thing I can do this month to reduce household expenses…?
- For my finances, what’s the ONE Thing I can do in the next 6 months to eliminate my credit card debt…?
As you can see, asking the Focusing Question helps your brain to not only focus on what’s important to you but to also conserve your energy by focusing your time and effort on what matters most. As a helpful tool the authors suggest putting up a reminder at home and at work that reads:
Until my ONE Thing is done, everything else is a distraction
By giving your brain the direction to focus on the ONE Thing right now, you have the greatest chance at effectively accomplishing it and then being able to move onto the next ONE Thing. You will no longer be that person who appears to be busy all day but doesn’t seem to accomplish much.
After reading the book I decided to put it into practice in a few areas of my life and I have to say that it was very helpful. When my brain wanted to become overwhelmed with all the possible things it believed I needed to do or could do, taking a few moments to apply the Focusing Question cut through it all like a knife.
Here’s how I applied it:
My Physical Health
For my physical health, what’s the ONE Thing I can do today to help with my health goals, such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?
- I chose to drink much more water as my ONE Thing because by being more hydrated I would feel better, I would feel fuller which would curb any hunger, I would get up more to go to the bathroom which would give me more steps in the day and I would reduce the headaches I get when I’m dehydrated.
For my marriage, what’s the ONE Thing I can do today to show my love to my husband, such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?
- My husband just got a new job and I’ve been making his lunch for him for the first time in our marriage. I chose to leave post-it notes on his sandwich each day as my ONE Thing because I used to do it when my kids were little and it made me happy, I would feel connected to him as I imagined him getting my note when he had his lunch, it was simple to do and it let him know that I’m thinking of him.
For my work, what’s the ONE Thing I can do this morning to be the most productive, such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?
- The first thing that came to mind was a client’s credit card statement. I had been procrastinating writing it up because I have a lot of resistance towards this client for various reasons. I kept moving the credit card statement from one corner of my desk to the next. I decided to break down the statement first thing the next morning. Afterwards I felt such a sense of relief, I wasn’t distracted anymore, I appreciated the empty space where the statement had been sitting and it energized me to take a look at any other work I had been resisting so I could apply the Focusing Question and determine what was the next ONE Thing to do.
No matter how you choose to apply the Focusing Question, figuring out the ONE Thing helps you to take control of your to-do list, prioritize that list to what really matters and then constrain to choose the one domino in that category that may help knock down the others. So now it’s your turn to ask yourself “What’s the ONE Thing I can do right now to start using The ONE Thing in my life, such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
- The 80/20 Principle is as provable and predictable as other laws of nature and states that the minority of your effort (20%) leads to the majority of your results (80%).
- By focusing on what you should do instead of what you could do, you let what matters most drive your day.
- By asking your brain the Focusing Question you are directing it to weed through what you previously believed you should do, could do or would do and instead find the ONE Thing you can do right now.
- Whether you are trying to decide what to do at home first thing in the morning or what to do at work in order to not miss a deadline, using the Focusing Question makes decisions easier and more effective.
- As a helpful tool the authors suggest putting up a reminder at home and at work that reads: Until my ONE Thing is done, everything else is a distraction.
If you’d like some help learning how to use the Focusing Question in your life, please feel free to schedule a free mini session or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can get to work together.