The Surprisingly Simple Secret to Productivity

productivity Mar 31, 2021

I read a lot of books. I mean a lot. Nearly all of them are non fiction. If I want to be entertained, I'll watch something on Netflix or go to a concert or play. If I want to be educated, informed or enlightened, I go with a book. Learning is my jam. If it wasn't for the fact that I am a people person and I need to be physically active to feel good, I could just read and learn and take classes in whatever I was interested in at the time for the rest of my life. I have to push myself to do everything else but learn and nothing makes learning easier than books, especially e books. 

I can find out about a book (usually by listening to the author being interviewed about it on a podcast, my other obsession) order it from Amazon and voila! It's been automatically downloaded to my Kindle. I am not shilling for Jeff Bezos, I just love me some instant gratification when I want to scratch a learning itch with a book. I have read close to a hundred business, productivity and personal developments books in the last three years and I don't see it changing any time soon. 

A couple of years ago I was in an online group coaching program for adults with ADHD. I had been officially diagnosed about a year earlier and decided it was time to connect with others like me and maybe pick up a few skills and strategies I hadn't been able to figure out on my own. I enjoyed the group and met a couple of people I really hit it off with and am still connected to, but one of the biggest wins from the experience was that I was introduced to a life changing book, "The One Thing" by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. It's spun off a popular podcast, live events and online coaching group, in addition to the thousands of books sold. 

The title is such an attention grabber, especially for the uber curious like me, but what really drew me in and made me want to read it was the subtitle: "The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results." I mean, come on! Who could resist that? Especially when you know that Gary Keller is the American entrepreneur who founded Keller Williams realty, the largest real estate company in the world and who has a net worth in excess of $200 million. Yeah, I'm swiping through the pages as quick as I can to find out what the hell the One Thing is. 

So, I bet you are either enthusiastically nodding your head, because you've already read The One Thing and are remembering how much it impacted you or you are scratching your head, wondering when I am going to get around to telling you what The One Thing Is and tapping your foot, wishing I would just do it already. OK, sorry, I can be a bit long winded when I am excited about something. Here goes: The One Thing is a productivity principle that teaches the secret of productivity is not getting more done, it's getting the right things done. And how do we know that the right thing is? Well, it covers that too. The right thing=the one thing and the way you figure out what that is, is to ask yourself a surprisingly simple question: What is the one thing that would make everything else easier or unnecessary?" That's it. Now, on face value, it might not seem that earth shattering, but hold the phone. Maybe it will become more clear if we apply it to a familiar situation. 

Let's say that you are starting a new business and are overwhelmed with all the day to day tasks, from marketing to customer acquisition to book keeping and human resources. You're working way too many hours, getting complaints from your partner about being irritable and distracted and it's even affecting your health because you're not getting enough sleep and are skipping the gym to spend even more time on the business. While this may be a complicated situation, applying the principle of The One Thing makes the solution "surprisingly simple" just as the subtitle promises.

Our hypothetical entrepreneur would make a list of all of the things she needs to do in her business, from the large projects to the small tasks. Then, after setting the list aside for a bit, especially if it creates a feeling of overwhelm just to see how much there is to do on paper, she takes an objective look at it, with the question in mind: Which of these items, if I focused on this and only this, would make all of the other items either easier or unnecessary? If nothing reveals itself, it might be something else that isn't on the list that would make everything else easier or unnecessary. 

When I applied this principle to my own business, I was astonished at what it revealed to me. I recognized that while I was busy virtually all of the time because I was doing all the things, if I would focus on one thing only, marketing, I would be able to solve all my other problems because I would generate more revenue and could afford to hire help with the other tasks. My one thing in my business became marketing. By focusing on marketing as my One Thing, everything else I had to do for my business began to feel more manageable and less stressful. 

Then I applied the principle to my health. I had gained weight, was developing pain in my knees, had to drink coffee in the afternoon to get through the day because my energy levels were low after lunch and often struggled with low mood and motivation. After making a list of all the things I thought I needed to do to improve my health, I realized that The One Thing that would make all the other things easier (or unnecessary) was prioritizing my sleep. I just wasn't getting enough for all the demands I was making on myself and it was affecting me in every way. By making sleep my One Thing, I had more energy during the afternoon, felt more motivated, was more enthusiastic and optimistic and was able to get to the gym consistently and target weight gain. 

The book has been on the bestseller lists for the NY Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Amazon for a reason. It's freakin brilliant. But only if you actually use the "surprisingly simple truth" it proposes. When I first read the book, which was suggested, but not required reading in the ADHD coaching group, I immediately "got" the principle. It took me some time to actually put it into practice in my own life, which I finally did after enthusiastically recommending it to countless people- friends, family, colleagues, and clients.

Yeah, I can be a bit of a hypocrite sometimes. The reason why it was not so easy to put the practice into effect is simply that it requires a shift in mindset. And as we know, the mind may be willing, but the brain is weak, or to be more accurate, the brain is stubborn and lazy. It loves habit, the status quo and the comfort of what it's used to doing. In other words, it doesn't like to change, even when its for the betterment of the human it belongs to. Lazy brain! 

Sometimes your One Thing remains your One Thing indefinitely or at least for a really long time and sometimes it's more of a temporary need until you get the situation under better control. For someone like me who loves learning and trying new things, I need a strategy for focusing on what I really need to pay attention to now.

Each of us has the same 24 hours in a day, but few of us really make the most of those hours. We scatter our focus and energy, get distracted and respond to what feels urgent rather than what is truly important, ending each day feeling depleted but no further ahead. This is a lousy way to live and it's nearly impossible to reach your goals, live a healthy lifestyle and enjoy your relationships without identifying your most important priority in each area of life, your One Thing. 

I hope you decide to try it. If you're game, do it for a week. Write down your To-Do List of tasks for the week. Walk away. Go back later and review the list. Tell yourself you can only do one thing on the list today, so it has to be the thing that gives you the most bang for your buck. Challenge yourself to find the thing that will move the needle in your life, your business or your health the farthest or the fastest. Commit to doing that thing and ignoring all the others, no matter how much they call to you. See what happens. I bet you surprise yourself.

And, if you're ready to take the next step, here is the link to to the podcast:

and to the book, on Amazon (not an affiliate link):


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