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!

For small change, Vide Poche

Making room for small change can lead to big benefits…

Consider a Vide Poche.

One of my favorite interior design websites,, gave me the idea:

French for empty pockets, the vide poche is simply a small bowl or container kept in a convenient location to empty your pockets into when you walk through the door. Having somewhere to put your keys, loose change and wallet when you take off your coat helps minimize clutter and reduces the chance that you will be scrambling around looking for your keys next time you are late running out the door.

Here are four easy ways you can use a vide poche for increased effectiveness:

  1. Add vide poche to your leadership approach: Leave room for silence in your coaching sessions. Empty spaces in the conversation allow powerful introspection to take place. Resist the urge to fill in spaces with witty advice or riveting questions.
  2. Add vide poche to your instructional design approach: Create activities that encourage learners to reflect, not just produce the correct answer.
  3. Add vide poche to your graphic design approach: Remember the power of white space. It gives content room to breathe and have more impact. Enough said!
  4. Add vide poche to your home routine: Place an empty shoebox-sized container near your garbage can. When you bring in the stack of mail from your mailbox, place junk mail directly in the garbage and place bills or other actionable pieces into the shoebox for later addressing.

How can you use a vide poche to make space for increased success and life satisfaction?

A Call to Action: Once! Now!

Bestselling author (and personal superhero) Kevin Kruse laid down some serious wisdom today. I am highlighting Kevin’s message here for two reasons:

  1. By sharing Kevin’s time management notion of “Touch it once” in this post, I’m doing just that – taking a cool idea that can be executed in less than five minutes and acting on it now, rather than adding the idea to an endless pile of “I oughtas.”
  2. By sharing this creative cadence with you, perhaps we can collectively amplify the drum beat of chaos-free productivity.

Here’s Kevin’s “Touch It Once” Cadence Call…

January 24, 2012 0 Comments

10:00am. My hour of power for health is complete, and I’ve finished an hour of focused writing time. Time to open my email accounts…deep breath.

The Google alert on my own name shows that my previously scheduled blog post went live this morning. I hop over to to make sure it’s all good and notice a typo (“they” should read “my friend”). Damn, I’ll have to fix that in a few minutes after I scan the rest of my emails.

“No! Touch it once,” my inner voice reminds me. I quickly open WordPress and fix the typo.

Next email is from a freelancer giving me his EIN number so my accountant can prep a 1099. I’ll have to send that along with a note to my accountant later.

“No. Touch it once.” I hit Forward, add a few lines and off it goes.

Next email. New invoice from an advisor. “What?! I wasn’t expecting this,” I think to myself. Double-click the PDF. Yep, it’s right. Damn, I just finished paying bills yesterday. I’ll have to stack this for my next scheduled bill pay session.

“No. Just do it now. Touch it once.” Fortunately he takes credit cards. Open the form, type in my info. Email it back. Good, only 3 minutes.

Next email. I joined the Pennsylvania Society. Somebody needs to know if it’s a non-profit or not. How the heck do I know? Who can I pass this onto? Oh,

“touch it once.” I open a new tab in my browser and go to their page. Quickly scan 2-3 of their pages. No mention of 501(c)3 status. Reply to email: don’t think so.

Hmmm, I should write a blog post someday about how the voice in my head chants “touch it once” as I clear my inbox each morning. Yeah, that would be a good one. Wait!” Open WordPress, start typing the new blog post. Title, “Touch It Once.”

Touch it once. Touch it once. Touch it once. It’s the cadence call of efficiency and productivity.

Whether I’m going through my paper inbox on my desk, or the email inbox on my computer, if the item at hand can be taken care of in less than 5 minutes I do it right then and there. If I can delegate it, I’ll do that. Otherwise I’ll schedule time to complete it.

Touch it once.

[Now clicking the Publish button] 

Check out Kevin’s blog post for more.