It’s important to have balance in your life.
We’ve heard the advice before. We even strive to obtain that holy grail of work-life balance. Just the right amount of career and family time so that everyone is happy.
But what if I told you that this is a lie?
A lie that is holding you back from reaching your real potential and achieving your goals.
Trying to lead a balanced life often contributes to stress, frustration and overwhelm. In the attempt to do it all, we end up multitasking, switching from one task to the next, wasting valuable time instead of being truly productive.
It’s time to ditch the balance and start focusing on one thing at a time. And not just any one thing, but the ONE Thing that will make the most impact and drive the greatest results.
In this post I’ll review why trying to balance too much is actually holding you back and hurting your productivity. Then I’ll provide the steps you can take to divide your time more effectively, determine what task is most important to achieving the results you want, and then how to focus on that one task and be more productive. You’ll find that once you narrow your focus to your one most important task, you will be more efficient and finally start making the progress you know you’re capable of.
Contents and Quick Links
Deep work to increase your productivity
Have you ever been so deep in thought or entrenched in a task that you didn’t hear someone calling your name even though they were right in front of you? This is that magical state called deep focus, and it’s where we are able to achieve the greatest amount productivity and results, in the shortest amount of time.
In his book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Cal Newport defines deep work as the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. Deep work is achieved when we are motivated to work on something important, and aren’t compelled to succumb to outside distractions or tasks.
Unfortunately, everyday life tends to prevent us from ever achieving this zen-like zone of focus and productivity. Instead, we are torn in many directions and left trying to balance too many tasks at once.
Multitasking prevents deep work
Creating balance in your life, and multitasking so you can fit everything in, is preventing you from prioritizing what is important and focusing intently on your top goals. When you try to do it all, you are torn from one task to the next, shifting focus every few minutes. Every time your focus shifts, you lose minutes of your day, not only on the thing that distracted you, but then the time it takes to refocus on what you were doing in the first place.
Instead, if you can remove all the other distractions and allow yourself the time to clearly focus on one thing, you achieve greater results in much less time.
The 80/20 rule and productivity
The 80/20 rule states that 80% of our productivity comes from only 20% of our effort. This means that we are really only utilizing 20% of our time effectively.
But what if you learn to focus intently on our ONE most important task? This is when you can maximize the greatest amount of productivity in just a fraction of the time.
Instead of spending 80% of our time multitasking ineffectively, focus intently on what is most important and then use remaining time for everything else.
The steps to achieve deep work and be more productive
Define what is most important
Determining what you need to focus on at any given time might seem like an overwhelming task at first. After all, there are so many things you want to check off on your never ending to-do list.
But it’s that very urge to tackle the to-do list which leads to ineffective multitasking. How do you instead clear your mind to only the tasks which matter most and produce the greatest amount of results?
First, define what is most important.
In Gary Keller and Jay Papasan’s book The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, they recommend taking your long to-do list and narrowing it down to just the top 25% of tasks that are most important. Then, narrow that list down even further so that you only have 5 things. These five tasks now make up your success list. Instead of random tasks that need to get done, you have a list of the most important things which will bring about your greatest results.
Next, go even deeper by choosing just one task from your success list. This is the one thing that, should you focus your time and energy on this alone, will bring about the greatest results.
Set long term goals and break them down into short term goals
Another process I like to go through when I need to define or revisit my top priorities is to think about what I want to accomplish over the long-term. Then I work backwards to create the list of goals I need to focus on now, in order to accomplish my long-term goals.
These are the steps I use to determine my short-term priorities and daily tasks:
- Imagine where you want to be in 10 years. What job will you have, how will you be spending your time, what will your finances look like, what will your health be like, etc. Make a list of the top goals you want to achieve 10 years from now.
- Narrow that list down to just a few core achievements that are most important to you and your life.
- Now imagine where you need to be 5 years from now, in order to be on track to achieving your 10-year goals. These are your 5-year goals.
- Next, think about what you need to focus on over this next year in order to be on track to achieve your 5-year goals. These are your 1-year goals.
- Finally, think about what you need to accomplish over the next quarter, and the next month. Break down your one month goals even further until you have a list of actionable tasks that you can focus on this week.
You can view my own personal 10-year, 5-year and 1-year goals by visiting my 10-year goals page.
Define your personal short and long-term goals
By recording your dreams and goals on paper, you set in motion the process of becoming the person you most want to be. Put your future in good hands—your own.
—Mark Victor Hansen
This isn’t a quick and easy process. But it is so worth it. If you want to achieve extraordinary results and live your best life, you need to define your goals.
Not only do I have an entire post dedicated to creating these 10-year goals, I also have an in-depth worksheet that will help step you through the process. Visit How To Define Your 10-Year Goals And Live Your Best Life.
Break short term goals into action steps
It’s one thing to write down your goals. Even if this is all you do, research suggests that you’re way ahead of the game. In a Dominican University study on goal-setting, conducted by psychology professor Dr. Gail Matthews, those that wrote down their goals were significantly more likely to achieve success than those that didn’t write them down.
But taking this even further, breaking your goals down into actionable tasks that you can schedule into your day, makes you even more likely to succeed.
Define your one thing for each goal
Start by writing down the top 3 goals for the month. Each day, review each goal and the action steps you need to do today. What is the most important step? Which task will result in the greatest amount of results and requires the most from you? That is your ONE thing.
Schedule your one thing
Schedule your ONE thing for each goal. While I like include all three of my most important goals, be sure to highlight the single task that drive the greatest results. Each of your goals has high priority, but schedule the one task which will demand the most focus and drive the greatest results. Do this task first and do it with deep work.
Stay focused on your one thing
Time block and protect your time
In order to be in the moment and focused on your one thing, you need to protect the time you have. You can do this by scheduling your one thing, and nothing else during this time. Time block what is important, preferably early in the day when you are most focused and productive, then fill the rest of your time with everything else.
For example, if you have an important work project, schedule uninterrupted time in your office between 8am to 12pm, with a Do Not Disturb sign on your door, then use the remaining work day for meetings, email and lower priority tasks. Similarly, when you are home and schedule quality family time, be focused and refrain from checking your email or mapping out your next workday. Schedule that after your important block of family time.
Learn to say no
There are so many distractions in our life. Too many unproductive meetings on the calendar, emails pinging our inbox, social media, habitual phone checking during your well deserved mini mental break, the list is endless. Regardless of what you are trying to focus on, you are likely being pulled away from what’s actually important by countless things that are not.
- Turn down invitations to meetings that aren’t strictly necessary. Instead, find a way to obtain the minutes or the pertinent information you need at a later time.
- Post a sign on your office door stating that you aren’t available and to come back after a particular time. This way you can prevent people from stopping by with the random question or comment.
- Turn your email notifications off so that you aren’t distracted by incoming messages. Better yet, install an app, such as Focus, Offtime or Freedom. These apps will block your ability to check or receive updates on email, news and social media.
- Turn your phone off or have calls go straight to voicemail so that you aren’t distracted by phone calls or messages.
- Map out your day in advance so that you know just how much you can do and when. Then, when someone asks for more, you can politely say no for today, and then redirect them or schedule time later in the week to help.
Revisit this post later by adding it to your favorite Pinterest board!
How to include everything else
Start leading a counterbalanced life. Let the right things take precedence when they should and get to the rest when you can.
– The ONE Thing
The balance you chose to have in your life depends on the goals you set and what is required to achieve them. This won’t be a balance but a counterbalance that heavily focuses on one goal or another for specific periods of time.
Specifically, your work day will be a counterbalance of what matters most and then everything else. Using the 80/20 rule, important tasks which produce the greatest results will be 80% of the focus, with the remaining time to take care of everything else, such as meetings, email, and smaller tasks.
Similarly, life and family will be the counterbalance of multiple areas that require your attention. Be aware of where your focus needs to be, give it your full attention for the time that it requires, then move on to the next.
When you’re supposed to be working, work, and when you’re supposed to be playing, play. It’s only when you get your priorities mixed up that things fall apart.
– The ONE Thing
Trying to do everything at once and balance all areas of life is killing your ability to actually get things done. Multitasking might provide the illusion that you are making progress, but switching from one task to another is wasting both time and mental resources. Instead, focus on the single most important thing you can do, your ONE Thing, and learn to live a counterbalanced life.
A counterbalanced life allows you to focus on what matters most and brings about the greatest results. Put the majority of your effort into the tasks that help you achieve your goals, then do the rest when you can. Use your most valuable resource, time, to your greatest advantage and live your life to your greatest potential.
Ditch the balance, go for a counterbalanced life instead.