I’m pretty sure this is universal feeling, well, maybe not universal. We all know that there are people out there who somehow found the 25th hour of the day. They’ve managed to focus long enough on one thing to accomplish great things and have not, as Dr. Stephen Covey once said “gotten stuck in the thick of thin things.”
In 1991 when the movie city slickers hit theaters Jack Palance delivered a line that has been repeated time and time again. He told Mitch, played by Billy Crystal that the secret to life was just one thing. And that once you figure out what that one thing is you have figured out what life is all about.
Author Gary Keller along with co-author Jay Papasan take this one line, about the one thing, and show how to apply it to our daily organization and to our lives. The book is called “The one thing: the surprisingly simple truth behind extraordinary results.”
Interestingly enough, the one thing is not a gigantic secret waiting to be unveiled. It comes down to this, if you can put all of your focus into one thing, quite simply you will get that thing done. If you put all of your focus into becoming a master of one thing, you will become a master of that one thing. Dr. Stephen Covey called it Habit 3 “first things first.” Tony Robbins also talks about it when he says to apply laserlike focus to whatever it is that needs to happen in your life or in your day, and you will achieve it.
However, common sense, as we know, is not always commonly applied. Plus, I don’t know about you but when I spend an hour focusing on one thing I also get 100 emails, a few text messages and sometimes even a phone call or depending on where I’m at, and office drop it or two. Then I spend the next six hours playing catch up. How do we avoid this? How do we find the time to spend on that one thing, without drowning in all the other demands of our day. Remember when we said that email and cell phones were going to make our lives easier? How is that working out for you?
So really, the trick here is not the wisdom that you should just focus on one thing at a time, it is about setting up your life to be able to focus on that one thing while you are continually barraged by other urgent and less important tasks, and even by those urgent and very important tasks. Accomplishing big things means actually getting to the heart of the things. If you want to get more done, go small (Keller 10).
“Extraordinary results are directly determined by how narrow you can make your focus.” (Keller 10).
The one thing approach is contingent upon doing fewer things that offer greater effects instead of doing more little things with side effects(Keller 10). The problem with trying to do too much is it results in missed deadlines, disappointing results, high stress, poor diets, and missed special moments with family and friends (Keller 10). And even when you get that time with family and friends it is not quality time because you’re always thinking about what is not getting done.
Focusing on one thing however is not just about accomplishing the biggest thing on the daily to do list. It is about accomplishing the biggest things that will have the most impact to your life, professionally and personally. When you see someone who has a lot of knowledge or has incredible relationships they have accomplished that over time (Keller 16). Michael Phelps didn’t just jump into the pool one day and blow the competition away. When you see someone at an industry seminar or social event and they actually do know everyone, that’s not because of their great Twitter account – those relationships were built over time.
Even extraordinarily successful companies always have one thing that they are most known for, whether it is chicken, french fries, or coffee (Keller 18). I bet you just thought of at least KFC, McDonalds and Starbucks. Notice how when these companies go too far outside their “one thing,” they tend to lose focus (and market share). Remember when McDonalds tried selling gourmet coffee? I know they still have it but people didn’t rush out of Starbucks, past three more Starbucks, and into Mickey D’s to get a cup.
We’ve all heard the old saying “jack of all trades, master of none.” As I get older I am starting to believe this is more true. I am finding that it is getting harder, particularly in this age of an information deluge, to be an expert on many subjects. Meanwhile, I have watched one of my closest associates and friends focus her business on just one thing and she is highly successful at it and known throughout the industry for it.
“Success demands singleness of purpose.” Vince Lombardi (Keller 22).
I love the Lombardi quote mainly because I am incredibly jealous of people who work for the NFL. The coaches and athletes spend their time on the practice field, reviewing game tape and talking about football. I am envious because they seem to be spending all of their time on one thing, and many of them are very well compensated. I would not imagine that the demands of the job would allow them to have numerous side jobs so they could make enough money to make ends meet, nor would I imagine the high salaries inherent within the profession would provide them any incentive to get another job and split their focus.
With millions on the line every game, I would imagine splitting your focus would be a quick way to an unemployment line. I can’t imagine Peyton Manning wondering how his Papa John’s franchise is doing while making a read of his receivers and throwing the ball in 2 seconds. Manning is great because of his sole focus on his one thing. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t do other things, it means that he is focused on being a Quarterback and lets others handle the expertise required to manage his investments.
I remember the successful people in the Navy’s flight school in Pensacola. They were the ones who only focused on becoming Naval Aviators. I noticed that those who weren’t (including me – I was always trying to figure out how to study better or working on a novel), were focused on other things. When I was in US Coast Guard Officer Candidate School, after struggling for the first 5 of 17 weeks, one of my roommates got me squared away and focused me on the one thing (being in OCS and succeeding) and soon, not only did being there get easier, it became enjoyable (shhh, don’t ever tell my platoon officer that).
The one thing is also a theme that resonates in my aviation job target in class. One of the things that I tell my students is that a way to stand out from the competition is to become an expert at something, even become known for that thing. As I sit in my office looking at a copy of Rolling Stone collectors edition about Bruce Springsteen, and then swiveling my chair to Stephen King’s latest book “Doctor Sleep,” I see that I am surrounded by people who are successful because of their focus on the one thing.
What’s your one thing?
Keller, Gary, and Jay Papasan. The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth behind Extraordinary Results. Austin, TX: Bard, 2012. Print.