If you were born before 1995, you probably remember directory assistance and information services. By dialing 4-1-1 on your phone, you’d have access to a database filled with addresses and telephone numbers that you could use to help you get into contact with anyone you wanted to. Over time, the number became slang for getting the low-down on anything and everything. But here at The ONE Thing, when someone asks “What’s the 411?” the only thing that comes to our mind is our priority.
What would be possible, if every week, you had absolute clarity on your priorities?
If you’ve read The ONE Thing, then you’ve probably figured out that success isn’t about doing everything, it’s about doing the right thing. All too often, we find ourselves so lost in the weeds of our day-to-day life that we lose focus on what we need to do to succeed.
If we commit to holding ourselves accountable through a 411, that won’t happen anymore.
The 411 is a tool we use to keep track of all of our weekly, monthly, and annual goals. It breaks everything down methodically so there isn’t any confusion on what we need to do to succeed. And it extends well beyond professional use, too.
Everyone here at The ONE Thing, including author, co-founder, and chairman of the largest real estate company in the world (Keller Williams Realty), Gary Keller uses the 411 for accountability. When a team commits to using the 411, they commit to putting their priorities in writing and sharing them weekly. This brings clarity to roles and responsibilities, enhances performance and accountability, and ultimately gets everyone moving in step in the right direction.
If this sounds like something you’re interested in, then all you have to do is take the first step and find out what matters most to you.
Finding Your 20%
Before we begin filling out our 411, we have to get clear about our priorities. Like we talk about in our training, this isn’t another “to-do-list” for us to fill up with every little thing we have to do on a day-to-day basis. It’s more exclusive than that. It’s a success list. The only thing that belongs on your 411 is the personal and professional action items and goals that, when completed, will allow you to live the biggest life possible.
If you’ve read this blog, The ONE Thing, or any other success-oriented books in the past few decades, then you’ve probably heard of the 80/20 Rule (also known as the 80/20 Principle). For those that are unfamiliar with it, it’s a principle that postulates that 80% of our results are derived from only 20% of our efforts. The idea was conceived by economist Vilfredo Pareto in the early 1800s when he noticed that 20% of landowners owned 80% of the land in Italy. And since his observation, the relationship has been found in numerous other areas from our businesses to the clothes in our closet.
While it may seem like a fluffy idea on the front end, if you dig a little bit deeper into your life, you’ll find there’s truth in the rule. Nothing matters equally, and that includes all of the things we pile onto our task lists. Speaking from experience, the more complicated our lists are, the less happy we are with our personal and professional growth.
The thing that stands between us and our dreams—more than anything else—is time. Every time we add something to our list, we’re taking time away from ourselves. The problem with this is that big, life-changing goals aren’t accomplished overnight. Nope. They take time—lots of time. And the more time that wedges itself between who we want to become and who we currently are, the more we risk losing focus and the less likely we are to actually achieve success.
If you keep a tight, priority-driven 411, you won’t have that problem. You’ll keep your eye on the finish line from beginning to end.
Filling Out Your 411
Pictured below is an example of what your 411 might look like, if you want to use our template, you can get it here. If you want to create your own, feel free to do so! What’s important is that you have all of your annual, monthly, and weekly goals all on one, a single page with your personal and professional goals listed separately.
Take a look at the first two boxes at the top of the sheet labeled “My Annual Goals”. Everything you list here will be a big-ticket item, a “20 percenter.” Be selective. As you begin filling out your annual personal and professional-related goals, it’s important to list each goal in order of priority. What you put here, and the order you put it in will influence what you list further down the sheet.
We believe that when you focus on your activities (what you control) the results follow. It also has the added benefit of making your success formulaic. When we do X, we get Y.
So, a great test of your goals, is if you can answer all of these questions affirmatively. We call it making our goals “accountable.”
- Is the goal written as a specific, measurable activity instead of a result?
- Does it have a clear deadline or time frame for success?
- Is it within my control?
- Can an objective third party clearly see where the finish line is?
When we go to the gym, we keep track of how much weight we lift, how many reps we do, how far we’ve run, and in what time we ran it in. The reason is that we know that what we measure, improves and numbers are the definitive tool we use for measurement. They’re a standard for progress, and keep us focused on the activities we need to do to succeed, instead of the end result.
Once you’re satisfied with the goals at the top of your 411, turn your focus to your monthly goals. Here you’ll begin the process of breaking down your annual goals into stepping stones you can use to hop along toward a successful year.
Beginning with your biggest, annual goal, write down an accountable goal that, once completed, will put you on track for achieving that goal. You’re answering the question, what the One Thing I need to accomplish this month to be on track for my annual goal.
For example, if my annual goal was to write a sequel to The ONE Thing, I wouldn’t list my monthly goal as “Write a sequel to The ONE Thing.” There’s no way to measure progress for a goal like that. However, we could say that the book itself, when it’s all said and done would consist of over 300 pages of text and content. From there, my monthly goal would be to write 25 pages for the book. If I complete my monthly goal, I’ll know that I’m on track to accomplish my annual goal.
After you’re done filling out your monthly goals, apply the same philosophy to your weekly goals. What do you have to do each week this month in order to put you on track to hit your monthly goals, which will in turn put you on track to hit your annual goals?
The penultimate step of filling out your 411 is double-checking to see that everything adds up. Your weekly goals (activities) should account for your monthly goals (activities), which should in turn account for your annual goals. More than that, if you truly listed everything in order of priority, then your top weekly goal should correspond with your top monthly goal, which should in turn correspond with your top annual goal. While there will be exceptions depending on urgency and importance throughout the year, when you look at the full scope of your goals, everything should be in alignment like a chain of dominoes.
The final step to finishing your 411 is to time block your weekly activities so you stay on target for the week, month, and year. You may be tempted to skip this step, but don’t. That would be a horrible mistake. Doing that would be a lot like wearing shoes without tying your shoelaces, walking into a hurricane without Jim Cantore, or wrapping up a nice present for a loved one, forgetting to secure it with tape or string, and watching the surprise unravel before your very eyes. Yes, it’s that important.
In fact, this step is so important, it deserves its own header.
Time Block the Activities on Your 411
For those who are unfamiliar with the term, Time Blocking is the strategy of scheduling and protecting your time so you spend your most productive hours on your most productive tasks. It’s a way of getting things done in the most effective way possible.
We’ve written several guides on time blocking, so we’ll only hit the high points here. If you want the details, feel free to read about it here or watch a webinar with co-author Jay Papasan on the topic here.
Looking at your 411, half of the time blocking equation should be solved—you already know what you need to be working on—now all you have to do is find time to make things happen. There are three factors in a successful time block:
- It’s a time of day when your energy is at its peak.
- It’s in a time of day that you can control.
- It’s held in a safe bunker to keep you from distractions.
For many people, their energy peaks in the morning between 10:00 AM and 12:00 PM. But your own body might be a little different. Some people attest to getting their most important work done at night. Others get it done in the afternoon. Whatever that time is, mark it down and protect it. If you can’t protect that time, then the next best thing is going to be finding a chunk of time you can control. For many, that’s where the wee hours of the morning come into play. While the rest of the world sleeps, they’re making headway on their most important goals.
The last part is about protecting your time block by limiting both external and internal distractions. What you need is a bunker. A bunker is a safe place you can go, with all the provisions you need to stay focused on the task at hand. Maybe you have that special place in mind—an office or a corner in a coffee shop—but if you don’t, don’t worry, you can read all about building the perfect bunker here.
Once you’ve blocked off the time you need to complete the goals you’ve set on your 411, the next thing you should focus on is finding accountability.
Sharing Your 411
The people who experience the greatest success using the 411 understand that they can’t do it alone. If you want to commit yourself to achieving your goals, you should seek out an accountability partner to run through your 411 with you weekly.
Ideally, the person who holds you accountable should have a stake in your success—they should want and need you to succeed. The more involved they are, the more they’ll challenge your success and failures and work with you to find solutions to the problems you encounter.
At the start of each meeting, the first thing you should run through with your accountability partner is your personal goals. When we begin tracking our goals on our 411, our personal goals are usually the first thing to be overlooked. But our personal goals work in tandem with our professional goals. They’re two halves of a whole you. When we succeed on the home front, we’re freed to focus on the work-front. When we succeed in our work, our personal lives should be enhanced.
When running through your goals, it’s not a bad idea to have your accountability partner run you through the following questions:
- What were your priorities last week and how did you do?
- Based on last week’s results, what are your priorities this week?
- Are your priorities in order?
- What’s stopping you from getting things done?
- What’s the one thing you can do to eliminate that distraction?
Tough, challenging questions keep us focused in the right direction. Your 411 isn’t something that’s set in stone—it’s a living document that should be changed and updated every week. A good rule of thumb to follow is to never adjust your goals if you aren’t hitting them—adjust your actions. Big actions lead to big results, and one of the things a 411 reveals to us and helps us keep track of, is just how impactful our actions are. When an activity doesn’t produce the results we’re looking for, we should pivot to one that will.
Starting Your Day Off Right
Our 411’s keep us focused on what matters most. But it won’t do you any good if you don’t build a habit of making it a part of your daily routine.
In our experience, the most common habit professionals have built into their routines is to check their email first thing in the morning. There are two problems with this:
- We distract ourselves from what we know is important with what we think is important.
- We signal to ourselves and others that we are not in control of our time.
The first problem is something that just about every professional has experienced at some point or another. With a cup of coffee in your hands, you walk into the office wanting to take on the day, but the first thing you do when you sit at your desk is pull up your email and see a message that derails your attention. You spend time responding to one message, only to find another one was sent to you while you were responding. You’re already in your inbox, so you see no harm in knocking out another response. The cycle continues and before you know it, you’ve lost your focus, your morning, and possibly your day.
When we make a habit of checking our email first thing in the morning, we open up the door and signal to others that our time is not our own. Despite our intentions, we say, “My time is yours for the taking.” However, by building a habit of checking your 411 first thing in the morning, we start off the day with a sense of priority.
If you’ve read The ONE Thing, then you probably know that it takes, on average, 66 days to break an old habit and form a new one. So breaking your old morning routine is going to take a little work and dedication, but it will be well worth it.
Start by using your email habit as a trigger for building your new habit. When you sit down at your desk, and you feel your cursor running toward your inbox, pull up your 411 instead. Get a full scope of what’s really important for you, and if the email vying for your intention is more important than that, then go ahead and answer it. However, before checking another message, pull your 411 back up again, and ask yourself if it’s worth your attention.
Chances are, it won’t be.