The Power Of Single-Tasking
How to focus on one thing at a time so you can achieve more in a stress-free way.
You can achieve almost anything in life…As long as you focus on achieving one thing at a time. It’s a time-tested strategy that’s been shared by many successful people.
Gary Keller and Jay Papasan even wrote a whole book about this simple idea. But don’t let the simplicity of this idea fool you. It’s one of the hardest things to implement in your life.
Last year, I published an article about focusing on one thing called “The Power Of Compounding.” I’ve received dozens of questions about it like, “I get the idea. But I struggle with putting it into practice.”
That’s because we, human beings, are fickle. Our desires are constantly changing. We pursue new things before we finish our old goals.
We’re dealing with an invisible force that is always trying to confuse us. Instead of focusing on one thing at a time, we set multiple goals, and think we can multitask ourselves to achieving them.
There’s a discrepancy between what we know ( to focus on one thing at a time) and what we do (focusing on everything at the same time).
The question is not whether focusing on one thing is a good strategy (just look at the image at the top of this article); it’s HOW can we stick to it? In this article, I share how I apply this strategy to my life. But first, let’s define the “One Thing” strategy.
One Thing Per AREA Of Your Life
Too often people assume that you should only focus on one thing in your life, period. But that’s not what this strategy is about. It’s about being smart about what you pursue. Yes, you can achieve a lot of things…But just not at the same time.
You can’t build a career, get in shape, compete in marathons, write a book, invest in business, get kids, and travel the world. But you can do all those things in a lifetime.
I stick to one major priority per area of my life. I’ve categorized my life as follows: Career, health, learning, money, and relationships.
That means I never work on more than one major project. I either write a book or create an online course. I also learn only one skill at a time. And I am either saving my money or am looking to invest it (naturally, I’m saving most of the time). For my health, I’m either building strength or endurance. And so forth.
These categories are not based on anything but my own perspective on life. You can categorize your life any way you want. And you don’t need to criticize how others compartmentalize their lives. What matters is that we understand how we categorize our own lives. Otherwise, there’s no structure.
And when there’s no structure. There’s chaos. And when there’s chaos, there’s no one thing: There’s everything. That’s bad.
Manage Your Desires
The natural thing to do for most people is to start setting goals or picking one priority they want to focus on. But unless you have trained your mind to focus on one thing, it’s not a smart thing to do.
You must improve your focus muscle first. Otherwise, you set a goal, focus on one thing, and get back to your old behavior within a week.
You want to change your mindset. Go from “I want everything” to “I appreciate what I have.”
That’s the only way to live this “one thing” idea. In other words, control your desires.
I recommend practicing Mindfulness or Stoicism for that. Both philosophies talk extensively about detaching ourselves from our desires. I think our excessive desire for more is the reason we can’t focus on one thing.
Remove your desires, and you will have true freedom. The Stoic Epictetus said it best in one of his classes (as captured by his student, Arian):
“Freedom is secured not by the fulfilling of men’s desires, but by the removal of desire.”
If you manage your desire, you attack the problem at the core. In my experience, you CAN’T live a calm and focused life if you’re always desiring more and new things.
All this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t desire to improve our lives. On the contrary, the whole purpose of life is to move forward. So don’t be afraid to set goals and aim for great things. Just achieve one thing after the other.
Now, it’s time to practice. For the next week, only do ONE thing at a time. If you’re a modern human being that is used to technology, that will be very hard. But I guess you like the challenge, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this. So try this:
- Go for a walk (or workout) without listening to music
- Put your phone in Do Not Disturb Mode for the whole day
- Don’t pick it up when you’re having a conversation
- When you are working, focus on a SINGLE task at a time
- In meetings, don’t check your email
This is also called being present. Just be less distracted. That’s all. And you can practice with anything by doing only one thing.
Time To Set ONE Goal Per Area Of Your Life
Only after you have controlled your desires and practiced doing one thing at a time are you ready to apply the “One Thing” strategy to your life.
The reason you want to practice is that life is long. If you take the time to become less distracted by desires, the more reliable you will become. You will become a person who does what they say. You will become a person who achieves what they set out.
And after you start achieving one thing after the other, you will get momentum. Your job is to keep the momentum.
This is how people become happy and wealthy. Both those things add up over time.
Remember to keep the bigger picture in mind. You WILL achieve all your goals. Who cares whether you achieve them now or in the future? What matters is that you are not influenced by desire or outside forces. You are the maker of your own life.