I was more stressed than I had ever been in my life.
In my first business I was chronically busy, but getting nowhere.
It felt like I was running around in circles.
I thought if I just work harder and put in more hours, things will start to get better.
No such luck.
To avoid this happening again, I started to learn about productivity.
From everything I've read, ‘The ONE THING’, by Gary Keller is by far the most effective tool I've found. The book offers a refreshing insight on how productivity really works.
It doesn't involve more discipline, willpower or working longer hours.
If you ever feel like you're going around in circles, and not getting very far then this it's definitely worth a read.
Below I've summarised some of my key takeaways from the book.
Equality is a Lie- Pareto’s Principle
'It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?' Henry David Thoreau
Vilifred Pareto was a 19th Century Italian Economist who discovered that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the people.
He found this to be just as natural as 20% of the peapods in his garden producing 80% of the peas.
Pareto's principle states that 80% of results come from 20% of the inputs. This is the minimum ratio. It can also be be 85/ 15, 90/ 10 or even 99 /1.
This law surrounds us everywhere in nature. But like gravity, it’s hidden in plain sight.
In business, 80% of the profits come from 20% of the customers. In your personal life, most of the problems are probably caused by a small number of the people. And if you've ever done group work, you'll know that 20% of the team end up doing 80% of the work.
The key thing to remember:
80% of the results, come from 20% of the inputs.
If this is a law of nature, then when it comes to productivity, the most productive skill you can develop is being able to identify the 20% of tasks that lead to 80% of the results.
In other words, how to leverage the effort you put in for the maximum results.
And how do you do that?
The Focusing Question
‘Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.’ Voltaire
The quality of your answer is directly related to the quality of your question.
Great answers can only come from great questions.
When the answer is productivity, what is the best question you can ask?
The Focusing Question is the central idea of this book. If you take just one thing away from reading this post, make sure it is this:
‘What’s the ONE THING I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?’
This works for long term and short term answers. It leads you to the 20% of effort that generates 80% of the results.
It can help you find the right career, and it can help you find the exact thing to focus on right now.
How will you know if you've got the right answer?
You will know by asking: 'If I do this, will it make make everything else easier or unnecessary?'
Being productive is about doing the ‘right thing’ day in, day out.
The focusing question is your best tool to find what that right thing is. Now, it’s only a matter of getting it done.
And the only way to get it done is to make time for it.
‘If disproportionate results come from one activity, then you must give that activity a disproportionate amount of time.’ Gary Keller
Every day great artists paint, great writers write and great runners run.
They make the time for what's important to them.
Greatness shows up only when time is devoted every day to becoming great.
When you know what your ONE thing is, it’s essential to block out time every single day to get it done.
Think of it as making an appointment with yourself that can't be interrupted. No matter what.
At the start of your time block, you can ask the focusing question to find the most productive thing you can do for your one thing that day.
‘Today, what’s the ONE Thing I can do for my ONE Thing such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?’
If you can answer this, you’ll be doing the most effective task possible for your most important work. And with your time block, now you have nothing distracting you from getting it done.
Running around in circles is painful, and once you get going it can be very hard to stop.
Time is your scarcest resource. You only have a very small amount of it.
One of the best investments you can make is to learn how to put your time to good use.
The ONE Thing is probably your most productive tool (the 20%) for doing that.
Just make sure you block out the time for it.