The One Thing

Focus and prioritization help me lead and live on purpose.  The word priority has been around since 1350 and means one thing that is most important.  Around 1940, Americans started believing that more than one thing could be a priority, and the word priorities came into our vernacular. A life on purpose is best centered on ONE thing, one priority, from which actions should flow.

How do we focus on our one thing?  

1)     Define your one thing. Soren Kierkegaard once said, “purity of heart is to will one thing.” I spent a full year exploring my heart, my gifts, and my calling to ensure that my time is focused on things of significance, not just worldly success.  For many years, my one thing was security; I focused on providing financially for my family, and on my career.  Now I have begun to focus my heart and efforts on love: love of God and love of others.  I have come to realize a life well lived is not about money and self, or safety/security – but about impacting others.

2)     One thing at a time: I used to think I was an effective multitasker.  I would often be on a call while simultaneously working through email or on a spreadsheet. Now I realize that I was giving neither priority my best effort, I was simply depleting my energy.  I am a better leader when I focus my energy and work on one thing at a time.  I make a list to start my day ( and I keep a clean desk. My workspace isn’t filled with piles of possibilities; I focus on one thing at a time.  

3)     Macro to micro: Strategy is a macro prioritization exercise, it is deciding both what you will do and what you won’t do. I coach people to focus on macro plans and then work them down to detailed actions that support the big picture.  Too often I find leaders focused on actions that are easiest to accomplish simply for the short term ‘high’ of doing something.  It is important to focus energy and actions on pieces of your larger strategy.  If a task isn’t on the path to achieve a higher order goal, then it should not be done.

4)     Consider longer timeframes: Life is short, I encourage you to play for impact of decisions and priorities in your life that will live beyond our time on this earth.  Most often these will be investments in relationships and others.

5)     Eliminate hurry: In American culture, ‘hurry’ is rewarded and encouraged, and we often reply to a salutation with how busy we are.  It’s not busyness or hurry that drives purposeful living or business – it is depth of understanding relationships and insight.  Hurry diffuses and dilutes our efforts, leads to mistakes and work on non-important (but urgent) matters – and just isn’t sustainable. I love the story of Abraham Lincoln, who did not read much – but when he read he took his time, to truly deeply understand and apply them to his mission.  A friend recently described his time without hurry as ‘soaking’ – in conversation, book, or nature.  That sounds better for your soul than hurry, doesn’t it?

Here are two practical next steps to focus on your one thing:

·      Write it down: take a few minutes and write down what gives you joy, what impact you make on others, and what will and can live beyond you. Ask yourself what you would do if you weren’t scared.  What thing does your heart will?

·      Prune the unimportant: take a look at your calendar.  What can be pruned that doesn’t fit your life’s priorities and your one thing? Highlight those things in gold that fit your mission and support your one thing, and work on culling out the rest.