If you’re reading this blog post, then you’ve probably read the #1 Wall Street Journal bestselling book The ONE Thing: The Surprising Simple Truth to Extraordinary Success. While we offer a ton of practical applications within the book, we thought it’d be a good idea to offer some advice on how to get started with our tools and principles.
The biggest mistakes we see people make after reading the book is they want to try and do it all. And we get it. After getting through a book like The ONE Thing—it’s natural to be so energized and motivated to do everything. But when getting started, it’s important to remember some of the earlier topics in the book. Especially the one that talks about how success is built: sequentially, not simultaneously.
In the early moments of trying to take on your ONE Thing, it’s easy to lose sight of that truth. This is where the domino effect takes hold. And you have to trust in this concept. Every small change you make, day in and day out, builds up over time to create massive waves of progress. You’ll accomplish far more if you abide by the domino effect rather than take on a multitude of goals at one time.
The only thing you have to figure out is what to change first.
Build Productive Habits
Australian actor and educationalist Fredrick Matthias Alexander said, “People do not decide their futures. They decide their habits, and their habits decide their futures.” Change is difficult, but it can be done. And it begins with our habits.
When someone finishes reading The ONE Thing and decides they want to try and live the book, often, the first place where they get stuck is not getting into the habit of building purposeful habits. They want success without making the type of changes that facilitate success. Or, they make a change, but they don’t stick with it long enough to make the resulting action instinctual.
Goals have no power if they don’t have any actions driving them. And actions are difficult to sustain if we don’t do them consistently enough to make them “automatic”.
When you identify what your priority is—what your ONE Thing should be—then your first step should immediately be to identify a habit that, if you built it, would facilitate your success. That means taking an assessment of your own life and committing to enduring a 66 Day Challenge. And once you’ve successfully built one habit—instead of replacing that habit—add to it and build another that will further your chance of success.
Like a string of dominos, our habits create a long chain of change that adds up. For instance, if you want to get in shape, often the first habit we have to build is something that isn’t as apparent as we’d like to believe. For instance, you might want to wake up early in the morning to start going to the gym, but in order to build that habit, you might need to first build a habit of going to bed earlier. And in order to do that, you might need to get into the habit of shutting of the TV earlier—and so on and so forth.
Understand that there’s nothing easy about building a habit. No matter how confident or inspired you may be, we can’t always trust ourselves to stay on track. After all, we wouldn’t be trying to create the habit if it was a behavior that was easy for us to maintain. If you want to increase the odds of building a successful habit, you should find some accountability. Let a friend, family member, coworker or mentor know what you’re trying to accomplish. And then give them permission to check in on you and counsel you if you are about to get off track. We’ve written quite a few blog posts on the topic that should help you get started. But if you’re stretched for time, know this: no one should ever develop new habits without recognizing they may need support along the way.
Begin Time Blocking
Time blocking is critical. When we protect our time from distractions, we get more done. When we don’t protect our time, we leave our success up to chance. And that doesn’t cut it. That’s why, like other aspects of your success, it’s important to build a habit of time blocking. But while you may have read the time blocking section within the book and thought “that sounds simple”, the truth is, in practice, it isn’t.
Starting out, it can be easy to have eyes bigger than our stomach about how we use our time. Things get in the way, different tasks compete for priority in our mind, and we fail to keep the appointments we set for ourselves.
There are three things you can do to make it easier for yourself to make sure those things don’t happen.
The first step is figuring out your sweet spot. In other words, when are you most productive? When we reserve our most productive hours for our most important tasks—and protect that time—magic happens. In the book, we suggest that our most productive time is in the morning—but we do realize that given your situation and bio-chemistry, it might be later in the day. If you’re having trouble finding those hours, the second best thing to do is simply a block of time in the day that is absolutely under your control. If it’s before work, after the kids go to sleep, or some time in between like a lunch break, beginning the time blocking habit is made easier when you begin with time that you already understand is yours.
The second step is to get everyone else on board. Let the people around you know you plan to establish blocks of time when you need to focus and why. And then let them know when you will be available for them. When you communicate openly and set expectations with the people in your life — personal or professional — about the times you are available and the times you are predisposed, they’ll respect your wishes more often than not.
The third step is getting yourself on board. It’s pretty easy to underestimate the number of distractions we face at any given moment, and typically, the first habit of time blocking is learning to turn everything off. To give you an idea of how seemingly insignificant distractions can actually be, in a study of 263 students, researchers found that those who accessed Facebook while studying had a lower GPA than all of their peers. Dodge a bullet and find a way to cut yourself off from the rest of the world when you’re in a time block.
Once you get those three things down pat the only thing you have to worry about is what to focus on.
Identify Your Priority
Assuming everything has gone according to plan, you’ve probably walked away from reading the book with at least some sense of what your priority should be. However, there’s a difference between having a priority and building a habit of priority.
When we have a priority, we simply know what needs to be done. When we have a habit of priority, we have a set of programmed behaviors that accomplish two things: they keep us focused on our priority and they keep us hungry for identifying a higher priority.
One of the biggest struggles our readers have is carving out the time to make their priority happen once they understand the path they must take. After all, it requires a commitment to maintaining focus on that ONE Thing over the long-haul.
The other behavior simply keeps us searching for an even better path or opportunity when it comes along. When we set out to achieve a big goal, the path can sometimes be visible, but a little hazy. As we work on our priority, we often learn of new, alternative paths that will further ensure our success.
Doing these two things can be a little difficult, which is why, once you’ve set goals for yourself, we suggest you leverage a couple of tools to keep you focused on what matters most. We call these tools your GPS and 411.
Standing for “Goals, Priorities, and Strategies”, this worksheet helps us mull through all the different ways we can tackle the outcomes we have to have in order for us to achieve our ONE Thing.
At the top of your sheet, outline your ONE Thing you want to accomplish, then break down three different priority outcomes that would lead you to your ONE Thing. Then, underneath those priorities, list out five activities that would lead to you completing each priority.
If you work on a team, turn your GPS on its side and you’ll find it resembles an organizational chart. Each Priority and Strategy can correspond to a job that someone on your team should have. If you’re riding solo—you might have some tough questions to answer. If these are all the things that need to get done in order for you to achieve your goal—should you go at it alone or should you enlist the help of others?
Either way, the next move is to pull up your 4-1-1 and break down each priority and strategy into bite-size chunks for you to manage.
One of the best habits you can build right after reading The ONE Thing is to look over your 4-1-1 first thing, every morning, and give yourself a little bit of time to challenge your priority and to focus in on the greater picture.
Other than standing for “information services”, 4-1-1 in our world also means 4 Weeks, 1 Month, 1 Year. First, determine what your annual goals are and list them on your 4-1-1 in order of priority. Then break those annual goals down into what you need to do this month in order to stay on track to achieving them. Finally, you’ll need to determine what should be done on a weekly basis in order to complete the monthly goals. All together, these weekly, monthly and yearly goals will keep you on track to achieve your ONE Thing. To get started filling in your 4-1-1, look at your GPS. This should help you figure out what you should tackle first.
If you haven’t already, go ahead and pull up your calendar and time block a few hours to work through these two exercises. With that out of the way, download or pull up our Goal Setting to the Now walkthrough, a copy of our 4-1-1, and a guide we wrote for the tool on this blog. Within your time block, run through those materials and, at the end, time block a few minutes every morning to become reacquainted with your 4-1-1.
One of the biggest mistakes we make when we get into work in the morning is distracting ourselves with our email. Instead of opening ourselves up to the rabbit hole that email can often be, we recommend starting off each morning by looking at our 4-1-1. By doing this we can keep outside distractions at bay while simultaneously managing our priority and giving it some focus.
We’ve compiled an end-all-be-all guide on how to get started with your GPS and 4-1-1 within our Kick Ass Guide to Goal Setting. Go ahead and download it, and become acquainted with these tools as you step out on your journey.
Dive Into Our Resources
We’re here to help. Since the book came out, we’ve been hard at work, finding new and better ways to serve our community. You’ve already found our blog by way of this post, and undoubtedly you’ve looked at the menu above and found yourself curious—but there’s more.
We have a ton of different resources and Kick Ass Guides for you to download and use freely. From an in-depth guide on how to set your goals and leverage tools like the GPS and the 4-1-1 that help you put everything into action, to guides on questions that will challenge the way you think and behave—we’re constantly working on giving you the things you need, as well as the things you didn’t know you needed, as you strive for focus and productivity.
On top of all of that, we run a top-ranked podcast that posts new episodes every week. Each episode touches on the pain points, victories, and lessons around simplified success. Check back regularly or subscribe to keep your eye on the prize and your mind from wandering what matters most.
Training and coaching have been a big part of the ONE Thing community from the beginning. If you didn’t catch Gary or Jay on tour after the book published in 2013, you shouldn’t worry—there are still plenty of chances to receive hands-on training from our team. We offer corporate training and in-person experiences or workshops that you can attend twice a year. If that’s not your thing, we’ve also designed personal courses that you can take from the comfort of your home. Designed around key components of the book like habit building and time blocking, when you take these courses, you not only better yourself through education, but you also gain access to a community of like-minded thinkers who are working hard to better themselves. Like we talked about in the Time Blocking section above, achieving your ONE Thing is much easier when you include others on your journey. Learn from each other, help each other, and become more productive.