As a busy professional, you know what it’s like to have a mile-long to-do list. But can you prioritize these tasks effectively?
In Gary Keller's book "The One Thing," he emphasizes the importance of using a focusing question to help identify one's priorities:
“What's the one thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
Asking yourself the “one thing” sparks focused action, and it'll work wonders when it comes to improving the way you prioritize your to-do list.
Read on to learn more about the benefits of asking a focusing question and find out how you can implement this practice into your professional and personal life.
What Is a Focusing Question?
A focusing question helps you place your attention on a particular idea or problem.
The right question will steer you in the right direction. And naturally, the wrong question will lead to the wrong answer. A small focus question prepares your mind for great answers.
For instance, Keller's focusing question helps you focus on the one thing you need to do in order to be productive. It forces you to be honest with yourself, rank your tasks by importance, and decide which one matters the most. This simple question provides a great answer that helps you achieve extraordinary results.
Every time you ask yourself a focusing question, you can set yourself up for long-term success and maximum productivity.
Why Should You Use a Focusing Question to Find the “One Thing?”
As mentioned above, we can find the "One Thing" by asking this focusing question: “What's the one thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
Keller explains that by asking this focusing question, all other questions about what to do are resolved.
This focusing question collapses all possible questions into a single one. Let's look at each of these three parts.
Part 1: “What’s the ONE Thing I can do…”
This first part of the question forces you to pick ONE thing from your list that you can do right now.
Our to-list can get overwhelming. By choosing just one thing, you're sifting through all those complex overwhelming tasks and settling on the best course of action.
Facing your task list head-on and choosing just one thing can help you focus (and combat overwhelm). This will make you more likely to make progress toward your desired goals.
Part 2: “such that by doing it …”
Many of us can relate to the feeling of wanting to check things off of our to-do list. We get hooked on the little dopamine hits whenever a task gets completed.
However, not all items on our to-do list are created equal. Checking off our to-do list doesn't necessarily mean we're moving closer to our goals.
This is where the second part of Keller's focusing question comes into play. It implies that there's a cause and effect relationship between your one thing, and its impact on moving you towards your goals.
So, we need to pick one task on our to-do list that, if completed, brings us the closest to where we want to be.
Part 3: “… everything will be easier or unnecessary?”
It’s also important to choose the one thing on our to-do list that, by completing it, makes the rest of our day, week, or month easier. This gives you leverage.
As a professional, you have enough on your plate. If you want to avoid burnout and feel as productive as possible, you'll want to simplify your life and eliminate unnecessary tasks.
The last part of Keller's focusing question encourages you to focus on the highest leverageable task. It'll speed up progress toward your goals and saves you time.
Keller explains that “many things don’t need to be done” at all when people “start by doing the right thing.”
How to Use a Focusing Question for Easier Prioritization
At this point, you’re likely more interested in putting this prioritization focusing question into practice. But you might be a bit confused about how to do this.
If you’re still feeling overwhelmed by your to-do list or are having a hard time finding the most important item on your to-do list, here are some tips that can help.
Breakdown the One Thing
A good starting point is to deconstruct your one thing, making it specific to you and your goals.
Generally speaking, begin by asking yourself “What’s my One Thing?” Look at your big-picture goals and figure out what your top priority is. Perhaps you want to focus on a big work project or start your own online business.
Next, you'll want to figure out your one thing within a specific time frame. This could include the current day, the next week, or the upcoming month. Giving yourself a time frame makes it easier to prioritize and figure out which task will help you get the most done by a particular deadline.
Ask the Question Regularly
If you want to see the greatest results from using a focusing question, you need to make sure to do it regularly. This can serve as a powerful success habit.
Ideally, you’ll ask yourself this question once per day — for instance, in the morning when you’re going over your to-do list and deciding what you need to tackle first.
When you're constantly prioritizing your to-do list, you'll have a success habit that helps you stay more engaged in your work and less prone to procrastination.
You may want to ask yourself the focusing question at other important points in time, too. For example, it may be a good idea to ask it at the beginning of the week, the beginning of the month, or the beginning of the quarter.
If you find yourself forgetting to ask the "one thing" question each day, set a reminder.
Set an alarm on your phone or computer to go off at a particular time. This will encourage you to ask the question before you begin tackling items on your to-do list.
Sometimes, telling others about your goals can make it easier for you to stay committed to them. Once you’ve decided what your one thing is, let others know about it—your team members, your supervisor or manager, etc.
When you tell others what you’re working on and what’s driving you, you create a sense of outside accountability. This can make it easier for you to stay on track and work harder toward making meaningful progress.
Encourage Others to Use a Focusing Question
Finally, you may want to encourage others on your team to use a focusing question as well.
If all your team members are prioritizing at the beginning of each day, they’ll be more productive and engaged in their work. This, in turn, creates a more productive environment to work in.
Start Prioritizing Your Schedule Today
If you struggle with procrastination or have a hard time figuring out where to start, then constantly asking yourself this focusing question is the most powerful success habit you can have. This will give you extraordinary results in your productivity workflow. Keep the tips listed above in mind so you can utilize this question appropriately and make more progress toward your goals.
To prioritize your to-do list and stay focused on your one thing, you'll want control over your schedule.
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You can set preferred times of day, meeting limits, focus time, and more to customize your availability to the world.