The Fall season always seems to revive a sense of order for me. I guess its because it represents the start of a new school year with the ending of the summer break. The crisp fall weather also helps to refresh my attitude in starting new projects, even with a little excitement. This time of the year draws me back to a valuable management principle that I learned early on in my career that is called “One Thing”.
What is the Principle of One Thing?
Basically, in its simplest form, One Thing is a management concept based on breaking through that feeling of being stuck. That place where you mentally cannot get yourself started in completing your duties. Whether it’s a to-do list of tasks, a new project, new semester, or a life discipline like managing your health, sometimes you just get stuck in taking that first step.
The One Thing principle is to not focus on all of the tasks at hand, but instead focus on doing just one of them. Generally, if you can complete one task, you break through a mental barrier. One task can be both manageable and less intimidating. The One Thing strategy can really help to reduce your stress in approaching a new project. You will find completing one step leads to two and then three, and before long, your well down the road toward meeting your goal!
How do you choose your One Thing?
I had some mentors tell me to always pick the most impactful task you have on your list to start with as your One Thing. Others lead me to just the opposite, to pick the most insignificant, simplest task to get done. So, as you can see, there is really no right or wrong answer.
What I learned over my career is to just pick something and get started on it. Usually what works for me is to pick the item that comes to mind first as that usually is the one that is blocking the rest! Once I accomplish it, the rest just seem to flow, and I generally achieve my goal.
The key is to not make another chore out of choosing the first task. Just pick something and start. Maybe the worst that can happen is that you actually get something accomplished. Even if it’s only One Thing!
What About the Timing of the One Thing?
A basic principle of time management is to not let the time manage you, but rather you manage the time. I know that is easier said than done, but employing the One Thing strategy can really help in this area. Deadlines are real and most of the time necessary. So, use them to your advantage by breaking the timeline down into individual segments.
Deadlines usually have the effect of either shutting you down or motivating you to get into action. Regardless of how you respond, each One Thing step can add up very quickly towards meeting the deadline, while helping to take the time pressure down a notch.
I really like the fact that when I focus on One Thing, I am usually more efficient as I am not wasting my time or effort having to multi-task as I solve problems. In the healthcare industry, this technique offered a very welcomed reprieve from the usual management challenges.
How do you Apply the One Thing?
There are so many applications of this concept. In starting a new semester, you can use it to break down the assignments of an intimidating course. With a new job, it can help you to master the key responsibilities of the position. In regards to a physical challenge, it fits perfectly into taking one step at a time. One of my favorite applications is to use it to help break through the “paralysis by analysis” syndrome. A trap that I can often fall into!
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So, as we come into a new season on the calendar, I wanted to try and convey the importance of sometimes just narrowing your focus when facing a new situation or complex task. I hope that you too will be amazed at how good it feels to just complete One Thing!
David W Clark, MPA, CPA
Instructor of Accounting & Healthcare Management
West Texas A & M University