One Powerful Technique to Get Things Done

I watched a recent talk by Getting Things Done (GTD) author David Allen. A ton of folks in the technology community like the approach, possibly because it appeals to highly structure folks and those that love to create systems and use technology in new and interesting ways. I have no doubt that the GTD system could work well for people. I tried it for a week, but honestly didn’t give it a full go. It seems like overkill to me. Too much process. There are some good things about it, like the notion of writing things doing vs keeping lots of things floating around in your head makes sense. Writing things down is a cathartic activity. That is to say it makes it feel like things are under control and less overwhelming, especially when there is a lot going on.

However, I think the GTD system can easily fall into the trap of being too much of a system. I have friends that get so caught up in the process of tracking their to-do‘s that they have far too little time and energy left to actually make progress on the to-do’s! There must be a better way. In fact, I know that there is.

I do something that is different from most people I know, but I think it is highly effective. I just the effectiveness of my “system” strictly based my response to the following questions on a daily basis:

  • Am I confident with my direction in life?
  • Am I contributing to the world in a positive way?

I feel like a good a good amount of stuff done. I generally do not feel stressed (maybe the yoga has something to do with that!) and don’t consider myself a work-aholic either. My technique is the anti-thesis of massive never-ending list keeping, prioritization and long to-do’s. I am a fan of occasional list-making, but that is not the super powerful technique.

Instead, my technique is simple. It just requires the accomplishment of ONE THING EVERY DAY.

That’s it: ONE THING.

The trick is, this ONE THING must be the one thing that makes you answer yes to both of the questions mentioned above at the end of the day. The first thing I do when I get into work every morning (well, after getting my coffee or tea!) is take out a post-it note or index card, and write down the ONE THING I want to accomplish during the day.

I write it out by hand, and stick the card in my pocket. I carry it around all day, and occasionally take it out and look at it. Come hell or high water, I will get that thing done. It doesn’t matter what happens. The sky could fall and I will still get the thing done. There could be 10 meetings in the day and I will get it done. There could be a blizzard and traffic hell (like the past few days) and I will get it done.

My ONE THING could be finishing a paper or presentation, reviewing a project and providing feedback, having a tough conversation with a team member, etc. The one thing I write down is usually something that requires a good degree of effort – in terms of focus, courage or creativity.

My "ONE THING" from a few days ago...finishing Joshua Slocum's book "Sailing Alone Around the World"

On weekends, I do the same thing….only instead of being a work-related thing, it is usually personal. My ONE THING on a weekend might be “finish a long run of over 3 hours with a smile on your face”. Or it might be “talk to Mom and Dad”. Or it might be “Finish reading that book!” Something like that.

The biggest trick is to not try to list out more than one thing. This is the trap….it’s easy to write down 10 things that must be done and accomplish none of them. Instead just write down the one thing you want to do, the one thing you will be PROUD OF DOING….and make sure you get it done. NO MATTER WHAT.

Think about it this way, if you do one big thing every day…over the course of the week you will have accomplished 7 noteworthy things, after a month you’ll have 30, and after a year you will have done a whopping 365 amazing things that required some degree of effort, courage, creativity, etc.

I have found in my own life that when do this every day, you end up by default accomplishing far more than just the one thing. Having the single point of focus is what makes it possible….your brain will start hunting out things and get the done…the trick here is focus. There is a saying that “how you do anything is how you do everything.” It is absolutely true. If you can accomplish ONE MEANINGFUL THING A DAY you can accomplish a lot more, but it must start with just one.

So there you have it, the most powerful technique for getting things done.

A CHALLENGE FOR YOU! Try it for yourself for the NEXT 10 DAYS. Every morning, write down on an index card the one thing you want to accomplish during the day. Make sure you get that thing done no matter what! At the end of the day, cross it off and be happy that you did something worthwhile. Keep the card visible on your desk and repeat for 10 days. After this challenge….look back on the 10 days and laugh at how much you were able to do, and how easy it was.

Give it a shot, leave a comment and let me know how it went!

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4 thoughts on “One Powerful Technique to Get Things Done

  1. Our brain (memory) doesn’t have room for more than a few things to deal with. Jonah Lehrer, a neuroscientist and author, gave an interesting example on an interview: if someone (let’s call him/her the subject) was asked to memorize a few items the probability to accept a chocolate instead of an apple (I’m not sure if it was an apple) was higher than if you haven’t ask the subject to memorize the items. So, memorizing only one goal a day, takes into account our brain limitations. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Hey Ravi! Thank you for the post… not quite sure if its psychological, but I came across your post a couple of days ago and haven’t looked back since. My productivity has improved tremendously :D
    There are projects that have been pending for months now and reading this post made it possible for me to cover a lot of ground in just a few days.

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