It’s Monday morning and you’re rushing to get ready and make it to work on time. At the office you are greeted by stacks of paperwork, 200 emails, and you have 5 meetings today.
You sit down and make a list of everything you can think of to do, including what you can do after work. The list is pretty long. As the day progresses you work through most of what’s on your list, starting with what’s easiest. When you get home, you cross off a few more items.
Feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, you call it an early night. While you crossed off a lot of items on your list today, you don’t feel productive at all.
Does this scenario sound familiar? Hint: this is not what it means to be productive; this is simply called being busy.
Being Busy Vs. Being Productive
The problem with being busy is that we can all come up with endless lists of things to do. However, you have to ask yourself, do you want to crazily run around all day, or do you want to slow down and focus on what’s really important?
You might be able to think of twenty things to do today but of those twenty, one will stand out as the most important. If you want to be productive that’s where you need to focus. Being productive isn’t about checking items off a list, it’s about results.
If you focus instead on the most important task – and nothing else – you will be more productive as you get closer to your goals. Clearing your inbox, going to every meeting, and doing everything everyone asks of you will not bring you to your goal.
Side Note: if you think multitasking is the cure for being busy, think again. A 2009 Stanford study found that multitasking doesn’t work and that multitaskers are “suckers for irrelevancy”.
But What About All My Busy Work?
For most of us this is the hardest part, you have to let some of it go. To put it in layman’s terms; your marriage to busy work is tearing you apart and it’s time for a divorce.
Many times we gravitate towards busy work because it’s easier, and we too often use it to avoid the one or two tasks we know we should do, (the tasks we procrastinate because they’re more difficult). The problem with busy work is there is an endless supply of it and it doesn’t get you more clients, increase your performance, or get you a promotion.
Think about it this way, you can find other ways to accomplish busy work (delegation, time management, asking for help), but if you don’t focus on what’s most important every day, you won’t move closer to your goals. You can’t find a substitute for the really important work; if you don’t do it, it doesn’t get done.
Life is full of making tough decisions. The thing that helps me is thinking about the ‘worst case scenario’. Would you rather live in a reality in which some busy work don’t get done and face the consequences later, or a reality in which the important work doesn’t get done and you never accomplish your goals? This is the decision we all face every single day.
The Power of One
If you focus on one really important task every day you will turbocharge your results; you’ll outperform your competition, accelerate closer to your goals, and earn more profit. I have affectionately dubbed this the Power of One.
Think about it this way, you could spend 7 hours doing busy work and 1 hour writing, or you could spend 4 hours writing and the other 4 doing whatever busy work is necessary. Which would be more productive?
This principle ties in perfectly with the 80/20 rule, or Pareto’s Principle, which states that 20% of your actions accomplish 80% of your results. If you think about your ‘To Do’ list, there’s going to be one item on it which will account for 80% of your results.
If you do that every day, imagine what you’ll accomplish!
How to Decide On Your ‘One’ Task
This all sounds great, but how do you know what one task to work on every day? Here are two different exercises to help you get specific:
Think about where you want to be 5 years from now. Then think about what you need to accomplish in one year in order to achieve your 5 year goal. Then think about what you need to do this month to achieve your one year goal. Next, think about what you need to do this week to achieve your one month goal. Lastly, think about what you need to do today to achieve your one week goal. This is your one task to focus on today.
Imagine a big circle with a dot in the middle (please guys, no inappropriate jokes). The big circle is your big goal; this is where you want to be 1, 3, 5 years from now. The dot is one thing you can do today that will get you closer to that big circle. Think about this every day to help you prioritize the one thing you must do.
*The one task you focus on every day should be so important that if you accomplish nothing else that day, you will still feel really good about yourself. If it doesn’t meet that criteria then think bigger.
Whether you use exercise 1 or 2, I highly suggest writing down your goals. A 2008 study found that those who wrote down their goals were 42% more likely to accomplish them than those with unwritten goals.
Will This Be Scary?
Absolutely! If it’s not scary it’s probably not worth it. Your one goal every day should be something that is challenging you and likely pushing you out of your comfort zone.
This is precisely why many people avoid their most important tasks or procrastinate on them. However, disproportionate happiness and results await those that seize the opportunity found here.
The road will not always be easy, but if you focus this way every day, you will be years ahead of the majority in working towards your goals.
How This Can Impact Your Freelancing
How exactly will this help with your freelance writing? As a freelancer you already know that you are your own boss and therefore setting priorities is entirely up to you.
It’s easy to get distracted with email, trying to make a million little changes to your website, chasing every new idea you have, or trolling social media. But is everything you’re doing having a large impact on your business or your profit?
If the most productive things you do are write content and make sales, for example, then shouldn’t you be spending 80% of your time in those two areas? Imagine if your one thing each day was either to write for 4 hours or to make sales for 4 hours (reaching out to existing clients or reaching out for new ones)? What effect would that have on your business?
John is an entrepreneur. John is also a hypothetical person and he doesn’t really exist.
He is smart and creative but he’s consistently overwhelmed with an endless list of “To-Dos”. He is constantly thinking of new business ideas and as soon as he gets a new one, he neglects his other ideas to chase the viability of his latest shiny toy.
After a few months John finds that he’s not making much money and he hasn’t accomplished much. Despite running around constantly he has no significant results to justify how busy he’s been.
John uses the Power of One to analyze his business. After considering his five year plan he picks one business to pursue and he shelves all his other ideas. He also keeps a journal to write down any new ideas because he won’t be pursuing them right now.
In order to work towards his five year goal John spends 4 hours a day, Monday through Friday, working on just the one most important task each day for his business. After a couple months John finds that his business is growing fast, profits are rising, and his expertise in his field has tripled.
Did John achieve this by working harder and working more hours? No, John simply worked smarter and prioritized efficiently.
P.S. I was John.
As you can see from the examples, and probably relate in your own life, the biggest killer of massive results is a lack of focus. No matter how hard you work, if you don’t apply your energy in the right way you won’t get closer to your goals.
By focusing on one important task every day you can dramatically increase your results and your business. To get there you can start by envisioning your five year plan, and drilling down to get more specific from there.
For further reading check out The One Thing, by Gary Keller, it’s a great read. Additionally, if you have noticed how a lack of focus is impacting your work, or you have a story about how the Power of One has dramatically improved your results, please share by tagging Writers in Charge on social media.
I’ll conclude with a question: what’s one thing you could do today that would get you closer to your goals, and even if you accomplished nothing else, would make you feel like you had a very successful day?
Garik Himebaugh helps freelancers turbocharge their results at Turbo Results. In the last couple years, he went from someone who wasted much of his free time, had $20k in debt, and social anxiety, to becoming organized, debt free, and super productive.