Focus on the Next Right Thing

The Magic of Doing One Thing at a Time…

In his Harvard Business Review blog post, Tony Schwartz shares The Magic of Doing One Thing at a Time, asking: 

Why is it that between 25% and 50% of people report feeling overwhelmed or burned out at work?

It’s not just the number of hours we’re working, but also the fact that we spend too many continuous hours juggling too many things at the same time.

What we’ve lost, above all, are stopping points, finish lines and boundaries. Technology has blurred them beyond recognition. Wherever we go, our work follows us, on our digital devices, ever insistent and intrusive. It’s like an itch we can’t resist scratching, even though scratching invariably makes it worse.

Multitasking saps individuals and organizations of effectiveness AND energy. And it is a vicious cycle, tied up with task prioritization, deadlines, work overload, work-life balance, and many other familiar topics around human performance. Doing one thing at a time can be the secret both to personal effectiveness and successful project management.

What’s Wrong with Multi-Tasking?

The downfall of multi-tasking comes from task switching. I am not particularly interested in aspects of walking and chewing gum, or driving while talking on the phone. Multitasking in the business context means working on multiple tasks “at once.” Or as we know, having a big pile of work and being forced to SWITCH between them without ever getting them done. Throw on top of it the problem of interruptions and too-many-meetings, and you get a great ball of nothing-gets-done.

So How Do I Get This Magic Going?

Here are three behaviors Schwartz says will help you set your boundaries:

1. Do the most important thing first in the morning, preferably without interruption, for 60 to 90 minutes, with a clear start and stop time. If possible, work in a private space during this period, or with sound-reducing earphones. Finally, resist every impulse to distraction, knowing that you have a designated stopping point. The more absorbed you can get, the more productive you’ll be. When you’re done, take at least a few minutes to renew.

2. Establish regular, scheduled times to think more long term, creatively, or strategically. If you don’t, you’ll constantly succumb to the tyranny of the urgent. Also, find a different environment in which to do this activity — preferably one that’s relaxed and conducive to open-ended thinking.

3. Take real and regular vacations. Real means that when you’re off, you’re truly disconnecting from work. Regular means several times a year if possible, even if some are only two or three days added to a weekend. The research strongly suggests that you’ll be far healthier if you take all of your vacation time, and more productive overall.

According to Schwartz,

A single principle lies at the heart of all these suggestions. When you’re engaged at work, fully engage, for defined periods of time. When you’re renewing, truly renew. Make waves. Stop living your life in the gray zone.

Here’s to living in black and white…and may the force of singular focus be with you!

3 thoughts on “Focus on the Next Right Thing

  1. Pingback: Blogging | Clare Flourish

  2. This is particularly difficult for perfectionists. Often, a project can be improved, but if I decide that it is Finished I have to accept its imperfections. So I put off deciding it is finished, imagining I will go back to it later to Perfect it.


    • Indeed, Clare, the word “done” is a difficult one for the perfectionist. How do you find the balance between good-enough and never-quite-done?

      I enjoy the message of freedom to be imperfect in these two quotes:

      A man would do nothing if he waited until he could do it so well that no one could find fault. ~John Henry Newman

      Ring the bells that still can ring
      Forget your perfect offering.
      There is a crack in everything,
      That’s how the light gets in.
      ~Leonard Cohen


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