1. Think Big From the Get-Go
Extraordinary success comes from thinking big from the get-go—before even properly beginning! J.K. Rowling knew that there would be 7 books in the Harry Potter series before she’d written chapter one of the first book. Similarly, Arthur Guinness signed a 9,000 year lease on a building when he was only just setting up his now world-famous brewery.
We know from history that we wouldn’t be where we are today if certain people didn’t dream big. We wouldn’t be jetting all over the world if it wasn’t for the Wright Brothers, never mind having landed on the moon and still be continuing space exploration to this day. However, dreaming big feels daunting to most people, bringing with it feelings of overwhelm, intimidation, and anxiety that cause them to stop before they’ve even begun. When we think small, we alleviate the negative associations of thinking big, which can make us feel safe. But at the same time, we lower our trajectories, actively limiting our potential and condemning ourselves to a mediocre life.
To achieve something big, you have to take action; but to take action you first have to allow yourself to think big, as this brings opportunities. The trick is to focus on one thing, not many.
2. Prioritize Your To-Do List
With a to-do list as long as your arm, it’s important to understand that not all tasks are equally important. Therefore, by tackling your to-do list by the order it’s written or by how easy/fast the task is to complete, you won’t make a profound impact.
You need to prioritize tasks on your list, remembering the 80/20 rule: 20% of the tasks on your to-do list will contribute to 80% of your success, so identify those tasks that will bring the greatest proportion of results.
3. Ask the “Focusing Question” to Help Prioritize and Create Actionable Tasks
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and starting on the first one.”
-- Mark Twain
Knowing which task to do first can be overwhelming when you’re unsure exactly where it is you’re going. But by asking yourself the following “focusing question,” you’ll soon be able to identify where you want to go and how you can get there.
The question is, “What’s the one thing I can do now so that everything else becomes either easier or unnecessary?”
The question can be asked on two levels; the first level helps you to identify the big picture of what you want, your overall goal, while the second level is more practical and helps you select the right action.
For example: Asking yourself the question on the first, macro level might result in you saying, “I want to get a pay rise.” When asking yourself the same question a second time to determine what your immediate focus should be, the answer might be, “schedule a meeting with my boss to ask what my options are.” This is much more actionable and focused than saying, “I must work harder in the hope of being noticed!”
You should ask yourself the focusing question repeatedly, so that you keep taking actionable, prioritized steps that build on one another, and you’ll eventually achieve your goal.
4. Implement Sequential Habit Forming
You might think that you must be extremely self-disciplined to stay on track and achieve success, but that’s not quite the case; you don’t need superhuman discipline in every area of your life, you just need to muster all the self-discipline you can manage and use it to form good habits.
Michael Phelps, the Olympic swimmer, didn’t become successful because he was extraordinarily self-disciplined (in fact, diagnosed with ADHD as a child, and focus was something he was particularly lacking in). But by channeling all of his energy into one habit, swimming every single day, he made it to the Beijing Olympics.
It all starts with forming one habit (this being easier said than done, since it’s harder to start a habit than maintain one). But once you have one habit under your belt, you can keep using your discipline to form new ones, building them up sequentially. Your first habit might be to start getting up 30 minutes earlier or to write for 30 minutes a day. Once that habit is established, you can either challenge yourself to stay focused on the habit for longer (write for 1 hour every day) or add a new habit, such as do yoga for 30 minutes every morning.
5. Stop the Inefficient Multitasking
Most people think that multitasking is a good thing and how you get ahead in today’s fast-paced world, but it’s not true—multitasking is incredibly inefficient. You probably don’t realize it, but the term was originally used to describe a computer using a single processor to work on multiple tasks, alternating back and forwards between them at lightning speed. It was never meant to describe one human working on two or more things at the same time!
Sure, some tasks we are able to do at the same time, such as walking the dog while catching up with family on a phone call. But we’re not able to focus on two tasks at once, so we either switch focus back and forth as the computer does, or we go into autopilot on one task.
You’ve probably spent years thinking that multitasking saves you time, but in reality, it robs you of time, as you can’t refocus instantly. Just think what happens when you’re busy working on a document or spreadsheet...you’re in the zone, but then a colleague interrupts you or the phone rings. You deal with the person, and when you go back to the task you were working on, you have to pause to work out where you left off. These time penalties might not seem like much, especially when the tasks are not that complex, but it’s estimated that employees are distracted every 11 minutes and spend a third of the workday recovering from these distractions. Therefore, it’s far better to shut the door on your colleagues or turn your phone off for 30 minutes while you focus on completing one task rather than attempting to multitask!
6. Treat Your Willpower Like Your Fuel Tank: Remember to Refill It!
Our willpower is not an unlimited resource that we can tap into whenever we want throughout the day; it drains at various rates depending on what we’ve been doing. Making a conscious decision to stay focused, keeping our emotions in check, and modifying our behavior all drain our willpower the most. So if you try to resist reaching for a snack, or try to motivate yourself to go to the gym at the end of the day, you’ll be less likely to manage it.
This means that decisions that require the most willpower are best scheduled at the beginning of the day when your willpower tank is full. This can be as simple as choosing to go to the gym before work rather than after work or scheduling meetings in the morning rather than at the end of the day. Your willpower can begin to replenish after a break, so if that meeting that requires all of your willpower to stay calm isn’t possible for the morning, schedule it for straight after lunch before your tank runs dry again!
7. Say No to Unimportant Tasks
Being amenable and saying yes to everyone and everything because you’re a “nice person” won’t get you closer to achieving your “one thing.” You have to learn to say no to unimportant tasks that don’t move you closer to your goal, so as to conserve your incredibly precious time and energy. This doesn’t make you mean or selfish; it makes you focused.
You may need to help people find other solutions at first (why don’t you ask Sue if she can do that from now on?) or implement strategies like lists so that people can find out the information for themselves. But over time, the number of requests should go down. Just remember to keep your impulse to say “yes, I’ll help” in check and keep practicing how to say no.
8. Have Purpose and Visualize the Steps You Need to Take
Have you ever drifted, not having any real ambitions or goals in life and no real focus for the days ahead? Having a goal, something to work towards (and knowing why you’re doing it) gives your life meaning and purpose; it provides you with enough motivation to overcome problems and even gives you greater clarity, helping you to make faster decisions.
Knowing the steps you need to take to achieve success is good, but being able to visualize the steps you need to take is better. It’s not enough just to visualize the end result.
Let’s use Mount Everest as an example: It’s not enough to imagine yourself standing at the summit, you need to research, train, and buy the necessary equipment. When you visualize each of these steps (the day you buy the equipment, the day you arrive at base camp, etc.), you’re more likely to progress through each stage and make your dream come true.
9. Don’t Compromise Your Personal Life for Your Professional Goals
We all strive for a work-life balance, but you have to remember that it’s impossible to do everything—you can’t keep everyone happy. Saying that, you may have the misconception that to get ahead at work, you need to compromise your personal life for a short while, until you’ve achieved that promotion, etc. This is the wrong way of thinking; instead, you need to prioritize and protect your precious work time, not lengthen it by borrowing time from your personal life, as the damage can be irreparable.
The author James Patterson had the right idea when he said, “Imagine life is a game in which you are juggling five balls. They are called work, family, health, friends, and integrity and you’re keeping them all in the air. But one day you finally come to understand that the work ball is made of rubber—if you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four balls are made of glass.”
Therefore, your top priority at work takes precedence with everything else at work becoming negotiable, less of a priority, until your most important task or goal is completed.
10. Some Chaos Is to Be Expected
When you have landed upon your “one thing” and know the actions you need to take to get there, don’t panic when life starts getting in the way. little chaos is to be expected, as you can’t pause the ups and downs of life!
This is where you need to have effective time-management strategies in place. Sacrifices will be required, and you’ll need to delegate some of your regular tasks to other people, as well as learning to say no (which we mentioned before)!
As the chaos builds, so does the pressure. Trust that the work you are doing is the top priority, and that it will come through for you to make your life simpler/better in the long run. Don’t consider interrupting your momentum to focus on all the other things that need your attention, just minimize as many distractions as you can, and let the chaos pile up as you fiercely defend your blocks of time dedicated to working towards your dream.
The above is inspired from the bestselling book "The One Thing" by Gary Keller.
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