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« The Menu of Life | Main | The "What's Better?" List »

If you could just do one thing...

As I have often written, one of the most fundamental principles of good time management is to aim to do a few things well, rather than lots of things badly.

This however raises the question of how to select those few things out of the multitude of different choices that we are all faced with these days.

Here is a technique which can help you with this selection process. You can apply it to any time period, ranging from “What do I want to achieve in the rest of my life?” down to “What do I want to achieve in the next five minutes?”

Let’s take the example of a year. The technique is simply to ask yourself the question “If I could only achieve one thing by this time next year, what would it be?” Really think about the answer to this. If you have several contenders then imagine yourself in a year’s time and ask yourself which would give you most satisfaction to look back on.

Once you have got the answer, then ask yourself “If I could achieve one other thing this year, what would it be?” Keep asking yourself this question until you have about five items on it on your list. The exact number is up to you of course, but it is essential that you do not put down more items than you would have time to do properly. So you now have a list of essential goals for the coming year that you should actually have time to do!

Keep this list where you can see it, and firmly resist all attempts by yourself or others to add commitments to the list. Next year of course you can make a new list!

Exactly the same technique can be used to set yourself clear goals for the coming week. Just ask yourself the question “If I could only achieve one thing this week, what would it be?” and then repeat the process as before. Resist the temptation to add more items than you would definitely have time to do.

And again you can use it for your goals for the day. You might prefer to use the word “do” rather than “achieve”. So the question would be “If I could only do one thing today, what would it be?”. And make up your list by repeating the process in the same way.

A variation on this which is very effective is not to write up a list for the whole day at once, but to keep asking the question as you go along in order to decide what to do next. So part of your day might go something like this:

Q. If I could only do one thing today, what would it be?

A. Get the finished proposal to the clients. [Take action to do this]

Q. If I could only do one more thing today, what would it be?

A. Ring John back before he goes on holiday. [Do that]

[and so on]

Reader Comments (5)

Great post Mark, I really love it! I think the first sentence is the most important of all. I think part of the issue lies in the pressures to always be doing things or to be seen to be doing lots of things. There is so much one could do, it's WAY too easy to start lots of things that never get finished.
April 30, 2007 at 9:42 | Unregistered CommenterNicky Perryman
Wow! The simplicity the other side of complexity.
June 4, 2007 at 23:50 | Unregistered CommenterMark M
Hi Mark
I hate to broadcast my ignorance but I don't understand your comment. Please explain.
Thank you
June 6, 2007 at 18:42 | Unregistered Commenterlearning as I go
I may have been a bit obscure...

I was just struck by such obvious simplicity in light of the fact that we often make the process of deciding what to do so complex.
June 7, 2007 at 4:13 | Unregistered CommenterMark M
Hi Mark
Thank you....and yes...I am quite guilty of that sometimes as well....especially choosing which next project makes it to my current projects list when a space opens up. Oh, how I'd like to do them all but I've restricted the current projects list to 8....not 9...not 10...etc....ONLY 8! LOL! This is what I do to myself most times when I'm allowed to choose from the candidates on the projects waiting list! I'm like a child in a candy store when it comes to doing projects! LOL!
June 8, 2007 at 4:07 | Unregistered Commenterlearning as I go

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