The One Thing
In every part of your life and business, you will have a long list of things you need to get done. In truth, you may feel overwhelmed by all the “important” and “urgent” items on your to-do list. However, you really should simply focus on The one thing that moves you closer to your goal, the one thing that allows you to focus on your highest level of contribution.
Transcript (Click To Open)
Hi there, and thanks for joining us for another episode of the ‘Build a Better Business’ podcast. I’m again today joined by my colleague, David Brown, up in Scotland.
And today’s topic is on the face of it extremely simple, but we notice that it has an enormous impact on your business but we also notice that’s it very hard for people to actually implement. We are specifically today just talking about the ‘One Thing.’ In our own business we focus very strongly on this. It’s one of the reasons we are able to do the volume of work we do, but we find that it’s particularly tricky for people to actually get their head around it. They all understand it on paper, but to actually do it seems to need more force of a crowbar and to get people to actually implement it.
Really what we’re talking about today stems from the book ‘The One Thing,’ by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan.
It was a book that was given to me by Nigel Botterill, probably more than a year ago and it’s had quite a significant change on the way I do things because essentially what the book is about – and it’s a really, really simple book and I certainly recommend getting it on your list of books to read. In fact, getting it right to the top because it’s the one book you should read because it’s called ‘The One Thing.’ What it’s about is making sure that you actually choose the one thing that is the most important thing to do at any point in time.
Now this is not just necessarily relating to business. It’s the most important thing you should be doing in all niches or aspects of your life, both business and personal. It’s about making sure that you do the right thing at the right time, the most important thing.
In the book you don’t have such a thing as a ‘to do’ list. A ‘to do’ list, I think, for most of us… Well, certainly for me, for a long part of my career, was just an ever expanding list of things that needed to be done. Some were important, some were not important, but they all ended up on a big long list that just got longer and longer and longer and you never actually got to the end of your ‘to do’ list.
What Keller and Papasan suggest is you have a success list, which is considerably smaller. I actually found that I got to the point of starting to follow the principles in the book, that what was my ‘to do’ list – and I still used to write things down “I need to do this, I need to do that. I need to call this person,” but I didn’t and I started to work on the most important things. When I got to the end of the week and looked at my ‘to do’ list or what was my ‘to do’ list at the beginning of the week, things that appeared to be unbelievably urgent got to the end of the week without me doing anything and the urgency had disappeared. In fact, the requirement had probably disappeared.
So we all in danger of reacting instantly to whatever the moment brings along and I know we are all really, really guilty of – we look at Facebook. We look at our emails and we react. And basically what’s happening is we are essentially dancing to somebody else’s tune. We are working to somebody else’s timescale. What is extremely important to somebody else may not be important to you particularly if you are engaged in that particular project.
I know just in the last few weeks, Pieter might have decided that what we’ll do with emails… We’re not being rude when we don’t respond to emails, but we’re now going to allocate specific times of the day when we will only look at emails and only respond. Now, to be clear to any of our clients who are listening, we are not being rude. What we’re seeing is that we are, or we will be, watching on projects and that if an email comes in we will see it at the designated time, but we are now in control of our own timescale and our own priority list.
I think it’s also one of the things it got me to look at that more seriously and the email in particular is… There’s different numbers being thrown around as to how many emails does the average person a day get, whether it’s 40 or 100 or 140 or however many it is?
Because we’ve eliminated email as a form of communication internally within 48 Hour Launch altogether, I started looking at how we’re using email with our clients and just in general and I realised probably within two or three days of deciding “Well, there’s two designated time slots for me to look at email.” The rest of the day my email app is not open. I’ve not had email on my phone for months. By opening it up say at midday to see what’s come in in the morning, is there anything that I need to deal with, I spend 10 or 15 minutes going through the emails and maybe out of the 40 or 50 that came in, there were two or three that actually need a reply or some action. The rest of them can just be ignored and that takes 10 minutes to get to. I can reply to the ones I need to reply to and I quit mail again and I’m off, rather than having 50 points of interruption during the course of the morning where there’s still only three or four that are important and the rest of the time you’re just being distracted from what you’re actually doing by mindless rubbish that you don’t need at all. It’s proving to be a very easy lever to pull to increase productivity quite a lot.
I was talking to one or two business owners about this. I am a one-man band and email is my source of potential customers contacting me, but even in that situation I think my response is that unless you’re one of the emergency services where you need to respond instantly, even if your only source of new leads are people emailing you, I still think it is eminently sensible to choose times in the day.
It might not necessarily be like Pieter and I twice a day. It might be that you look maybe four times a day, but at least you schedule those times and at other times you know you’ve got some uninterrupted work time.
Now one of the other things that’s really got me going on ‘The One Thing’ and I know a lot of people that know me, there’s not a day goes by when I don’t mention ‘The One Thing’ to them, so it’s probably getting a bit boring, but in speaking to other business owners when I ask them “What’s the most important thing that you do in your business?” To a man or a woman it’s speaking to potential clients, speaking to potential clients face to face or over the phone, and I know it’s true for most good business owners that they’ll say to me that if they get an opportunity to speak to a potential client over the phone or face to face, they have a very, very high percentage chance of winning the business. That’s understandable because they are passionate about their business or their product or their service. They are exceptionally knowledgeable and that comes over as far as the prospect is concerned and that’s why that situation – as long as you’re speaking to somebody that has the ability to say yes to your proposal – that’s why that situation often results in the sale or a movement towards a sale of a product or service.
The trouble is that what I’m finding speaking to the business owners is that whilst that’s the one thing they should be doing, it actually comes out that in a lot of the cases it’s the one thing that they’re not doing. There seems to be a lot of time spent trying to get good at things that with the best intentions in the world they’ll never be good at, because to be good at – and I think I read somewhere that to be really, really good and a master at something you need to spend about ten thousand hours working on it. So quite clearly if you’re trying to get good at Ad Words, and thereto reading Perry Marshall’s book, or if you’re trying to get good at Facebook or understanding how a CRM system works, then at best you’re going to just have a passing knowledge. But it never ceases to amaze me the number of business owners who want to spend a lot of time doing that when in actual fact if they could get somebody else to do that for them – and that’s another subject – but if they could just spend as much of their day as possible, as much of their week as possible, in front of or on the phone to people who have the ability to say yes to their proposal, then their business would be in a significantly different place.
So what I’m saying is that the one thing here for most of us business owners is to be in front of, or speaking to on the phone, people who can say yes. Any other time we spend is actually time stolen from us. In fact, money taken from our pockets and money taken from our families and food taken from our family’s mouths because we are doing things that really don’t make us any money at all despite the fact the chances are that the action is done with the best of intentions.
So to be playing around – if I can use that term – with Ad Words, or playing around on Facebook or playing around with Infusion Soft, that’s not really in the best interests of your business and if you are a one-man band as opposed to having a team of people around you where you might be able to delegate some of these tasks, then it becomes more of an issue because a one-man band really has to be in front of potential clients as often as possible.
So I do get a little concerned when I speak to business owners and find that an awful lot of time, a disproportionate amount of time, was spent on things that will never ever make them money, knowing full well that if they were able to be in front of people who can say yes, they would make money.
I also think it’s sometimes overlooked and not just with this subject, but with making decisions and choices in general where people might pay lip service to this and say “Yeah, I read the book and I’ve had a look at what my ‘one thing’ is. I’ve put it on a board. I’ve put it on a sticker on my mirror in my bathroom so that I can see it every morning when I get up.” But in reality you have to keep making the decision and distinction continually all day long every day. It’s not a one-off decision that you say “Okay, that’s my ‘one thing.”
I run training courses from time to time and what I find a lot is people travel two, three hours to come and sit in a lecture room for a whole day and on a subject directly related to their business, which seeing as they turn up I’m going to assume they have an interest in the subject and they feel their time is well spent and it will improve the business, but they’re in the lecture checking their email, sending messages on Facebook, anything like that. In that moment they are not deciding that is the ‘one thing,’ and maybe it stems from the fact that turning up for the lecture was the wrong decision in the first place and that it’s perhaps not the ‘one thing,’ and you realise that an hour into the lecture. That’s why you need to day to day keep deciding what is the ‘one thing’ and it’s a very strong message.
Another book that deals with the same subject is called ‘Essentialism’ by Greg McKeown, and he goes on with it a lot outside business as well in just life in general, your daily life, family, anything you’re trying to achieve. And for everything each of us are trying to achieve, whether you’re trying to write a book or you’re trying to start a business or improve your business or improve your relationships, you have to make these decisions every day. It’s not a one-off and then you can tick the box and say “Well, I’ve done the ‘one thing.’
Yeah, actually just to introduce yet another book which shapes our business lives. Michael Gerber’s ‘The E-Myth. We were fortunate enough to be in conversation with Mr Gerber and we did suggest to him that really our approach at 48 Hour Launch is to be the thinking entrepreneur’s technician. Anybody that’s familiar with Gerber’s work sometimes – and I know when I first read the book, I had a bit of a challenge with it because there are three types in business. There is the entrepreneur, the manager, and the technician, and what Gerber is saying is the technician actually is the person who does all the work. But really the business owner should be the entrepreneur and not be the technician.
But going back to the one-man band, I know it’s really, really difficult. You get a bit confused because you think “Well, Mr Gerber, how can I be the entrepreneur when to get the work done I need to be the technician as well?” So we came up with the phrase what we would be is the ‘Thinking Entrepreneur’s Technicians.’ So basically what we were doing at 48 Hour Launch was to take all the things that bog a business owner down, trying to get together with Ad Words, trying to get together with Facebook, trying to get in touch with Infusion Soft or CRM system, trying to get to grips with the integration of it all. So effectively we take all that away and what we then do is after a brief, produce a system and a funnel that provides leads.
Now the bizarre thing is I’ve come to the conclusion that some business owners actually have a bit of a difficulty working out what to do when all these things that they used to do have been taken away from them. The working day is now no longer filled with trying to get to grips with all these tools, trying to integrate all these tools. The working day has loads of space in it where you could be on the phone or speaking to potential clients, and that seems to then become an issue. It’s almost like some business owners are really, really busy doing the wrong thing and you’re getting back to the ’one thing.’ The ‘one thing’ for most business owners is to be in front of potential clients as often as you possibly can. And because we’re actually taking away the things that some business owners used to be really, really busy with, that almost exposes them to the fact that the crux of the problem is not trying to get to grips with the tools, but the fact that there is a reluctance or almost a fear possibly of getting out and selling things.
I’ve taken over the years many, many courses in teaching people how to sell because basically that’s what I was in my earlier life, a salesman in the computer industry. I remember my mother’s original comment after I’d gone through my degree, studied really hard, got a degree, got a proper job and then decided I’m going to go into sales. My mother was horrified. She said it was a complete waste of an education, but then I told her how much I was going to be earning and she soon changed her view on that one.
But it’s almost like in this country certainly there’s a dislike of selling and a lot of business owner’s see the business, not necessarily consciously, as almost something like Sainsbury’s where you open the door at eight o’clock in the morning and hopefully customers arrive and then you close the door at eight o’clock at night after the last customer leaves.
I think for most businesses, most business owners, we have to accept that selling is actually a very, very big part of what we do whether we like selling or not, and your face to face conversations and your telephone conversations with prospective clients are in fact sales situations.
So I think what we’re starting to expose at 48 Hour Launch is when we take away all the things that bog business owners down to free them up to do the thing that they are good at, there’s a little bit of reluctance because all of a sudden they’ve got all the hours in the day that they need to do the thing they’re good at and there’s just a little bit of reticence to get on the phone, to make the phone calls, to be in front of people.
I think to a certain extent it’s understandable where it comes from because the majority of small businesses are started by someone just selling their skill and they have confidence in their own skill, not necessarily their skill in selling it, but they have confidence in what they do and therefore they try and busy themselves with as much of that as possible because it keeps them from the uncomfortable situations of actually having harder conversations with prospects.
In the early days when you sell to your mates and your family and whatever it’s reasonably easy, but then the more the business grows and you have to start selling to people you know less or people you don’t know whatsoever and they start asking harder questions and you have to become more business like, you can understand that all of a sudden you’re in a territory that you’ve not been qualified for at all because all trades, all industries, it seems, are very good at training technicians but there’s no overlap. You can either go and do a MBA. They purport to teach you all you need to know about running a business or you can go and become a technician. But there doesn’t seem to be an avenue of development and education where you can actually say “Well, I’m going to be an electrician,” for instance, “but I actually want to learn how to run a business as well.” You’re just not taught it. You’re given the tools to physically do the job but with absolutely no understanding of the greater construction industry or anything like that. You just pick that over the first few years of being knocked about.
Yeah, I find it interesting that again speaking to business owners that they will say to me “Oh, David, I hate selling.” And it’s because there is this concept of almost barrow boy selling that you see in the market. “Ten towels, but I don’t want £20. I’m not even going to ask for £15. In fact today I’m not even going to ask for £10.” That’s barrow boy selling. That’s a completely different thing altogether.
When I’m coaching people on selling, what I will say to them is selling is not telling. A lot of people think it’s the ability to speak for long… That’s a stage presentation if you speak for a long time, but what’s selling is a face to face situation, is taking the sale you already have and we’ve already accepted that the business owner himself – the reason he started the business is he’s very good at his particular subject, he’s very knowledgeable, he’s very passionate, and so what selling really is – and it’s maybe a shame that we call it selling – it’s about having a conversation with somebody who is interested in your knowledge and your expertise and wants to avail themselves of that knowledge and expertise. Now that’s selling but it’s just a different way. It’s a conversation. It’s just a simple day to day conversation that you have with your colleagues. It’s a simple day to day conversation you have with your friends and family, but you’re having it with somebody who… And I think part of the problem is that in this country we seem to equate selling to cold calling, those annoying phone calls we get in the evening just as we’re about to sit down to dinner, when somebody is trying to sell you PPI or fix your boiler or whatever.
A conservatory for my first floor flat.
Yeah. Proper selling is just the conversation between you, the business owner, and someone who would like to avail themselves of your services because of your passion and your knowledge of your product. I think if you think about it that way it loses its stigma, it loses its fear.
I remember when I was originally taught selling back in the ‘70s, we used to have 15 different closes – the assumptive close, the Benjamin Franklin close, the puppy dog close. It was just a whole bunch of nonsense because selling is simply about having a conversation with somebody who wants to avail themselves of your knowledge, passion and expertise. We were supposed to, but I personally never did, get into any of these bizarre closes. I looked back at one of my old sales manuals the other week. Well, it’s just a whole bunch of nonsense. It’s really just as simple as a conversation. That’s all it is. Nothing to be frightened about. You’re not going to future dump. You hear of the 17 zillion things that my product or service does. Nobody’s interested. They’re interested in how you can help them.
Yeah, well in fear of us going off on a tangent a bit there, which is alright. It’s what we do.
Actually one thing. Sorry, Pieter to interrupt you. One thing, this always makes me smile when I was reading the first time… My first read of ‘The One Thing’ is I’m thinking actually this is all really smart stuff but there’s a problem here that they haven’t addressed. If you’re only going to do the ‘one thing’ but what about all the other things that you think you should be doing? What happens to them? This is going to cause chaos. I turned the page and Gary Keller says, “This causes chaos.” In actual fact that’s what endeared me to the book because what he’s saying is chaos is acceptable. This is not going to be perfect. People are not going to like you for this. There’s going to be all things that pile up and things don’t get done, but the point being is if you’re in control of your own destiny, you’re in control of your own timescales and you’re doing the ‘one thing’ that’s most important to you – you know what you can do? You can go home at night and you can sleep soundly.
Now whether you carry that out or not there’s always going to be chaos. The world is full of chaos. We can’t change that. So that’s what endeared me to the book was that as I turned the page thinking “This is going to cause chaos,” Keller says, “This causes chaos.” It does, but if you can get to the end of the week and have achieved ‘the one thing’ for every day and ‘the one thing’ for that week, it’s absolutely brilliant.
But also it’s that kind of chaos that opens things up to new opportunities and new ideas. If you just sat doing it the same way the whole time and nothing ever upsets the apple cart, nothing makes it change direction, you can soon find yourself ten years down the line just as miserable as you might be and in exactly the same place. I think over the last couple of days there’s been a Gary Vaner video that’s been going round where he’s talking to someone and this guy… they discuss the fact that you’ve got the dirt or you’ve got the cloud, and everyone wants to live up in the clouds with all the shiny things and it’s all pretty, but it’s in the dirt that the real innovation happens. Things come from the dirt. Nothing grows in the clouds and I think the chaos that happens when you really embrace this kind of thing is really valuable as well.
But there’s also the element of focusing like this and I know we say ‘the one thing’ but at different times in the day there might be a different ‘one thing’ you could be doing. It’s not that you focus on a singular task for the week necessarily unless that is the right thing to do. What also happens it does allow you to provide your customers with a better service and this is all about educating your own customers and getting the message across of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.
So for instance, we’re about to let all our customers know that we now only open emails twice a day and we’ll explain the reason behind it because for the rest of the time during the day, if we’re working on your project, we are focused on your project. We’re not being pulled here, there and everywhere by an email or a text message or a message here or a message there. We are doing focused efficient work on your project and by the same token when we are busy working on another project, then we apply the same level of respect to that client. That’s why when I go in and I do full consulting days for someone, my phone is off for the whole day. It might upset someone here or there that they couldn’t get hold of me, but when I go into their business and do a full consulting day then I afford them the same level of focus and respect.
And that’s the chaos. That’s the chaos in other people’s eyes is all round about, but what you’re doing is you’re very focused and the other word that comes out in the book is being highly focused for periods of time. Now we’re not machines. It’s just being focused on a particular project or task for a certain period of time.
I would certainly suggest people give it a try. One thing I’ve suggested to a number of people is just for a week take your ‘to do’ list and look down at it and just pick the most important thing, the thing that will drive your business forward – only as something we’re talking about ‘to do’ lists to do with your business here, and not the one that says you need to go to Sainsbury’s or Morrisons. If you take that list and put it to one side and by all means keep adding to it as the week progresses, but only do the ‘one thing,’ and then at the end of the week, as I’ve found, work out which important or partly important and urgent things have disappeared despite the fact you haven’t done anything to them. Which things have been answered, because often a lot of people take the easy way out and think “Do you know what? I’ll ring people up and ask them a question.” If that’s not on Pieter’s ‘one thing’ and he doesn’t answer that question, you find the answer somewhere else.
I shouldn’t say this on a podcast, but I do this with my daughter and son-in-law because they now run the family business. They’ll ask my questions by email and text messages, and sometimes I decide not to answer them. They’re urgent at the time but I decide not to answer them, but when we get to the end of the week and I ask “Sorry, I didn’t answer that question.” “Oh, it’s okay, Dad, we’ve solved it.” So I think I’m helping them grow. What was urgent in that very second, at the end of the week no longer becomes urgent, yet if I’d let it take over it would have interrupted something I was doing that was in my opinion the one thing I wanted to be working on at that point in time.
As I say, it can come over as rude. It can come over as you’re not concerned about things going on round about you. I’m not saying you do this 24 hours a day, but during chunks of the day if you decide this is the ’one thing.’ The phone goes off, the email goes off and your distractions go off and you focus. I tell you the other thing, you feel absolutely brilliant when you get to the end of it and realise what you’ve achieved. I know just working with Pieter and Jean the things that we get through in a day. We also set timers, by the way. We time our work. So the amount of work that we get through in a day is by far and away the most amount of work either of us working they’re working with anybody, and that’s because there is an exceptionally high degree of focus.
Yeah. It’s funny you say when you deal with your family in the business. I do something similar with my Mum. Most of the time when she rings I don’t answer the phone just because at that point in time I am actually busy doing something rather important, but like you say, we’re not robots. I do know that if my Mum rings twice in quick succession that I answer the phone because there is an issue, but if she’s ringing to say “Hello,” or just to find out how I am because that’s what Mums do and we really appreciate that, it’s just I can’t allow my focus to be shifted at any point during the day and do it that way.
The same goes, to be fair, for Sophie, my wife as well, which I suspect sometimes might be seen as a bit of a gripe, but…
You’ll find within the book, within ‘The One Thing’ book as well, is they do reference that. This is not just about business. This is about doing the ‘one thing’ in your family life as well so that you need to quite clearly put business to one side and then identify the one most important thing you could do with your kids or the one most important thing you can do with your partner.
I have to admit it’s interesting that way round. I’m not that good at it because as business owners it’s in our heads all the time.
What I quite like as well in Greg McKeown’s book, ‘Essentialism,’ he describes the thinking that you should have behind when you pick what this thing is that you’re going to do next. What am I going to do for the next two hours? What am I going to do this week? Anything like that. He always says “You want to focus on what will allow you to give your highest degree of contribution so that you know that if I’m going to spend two hours doing this, then that will have the biggest impact on me and the people around me and my business and I’m contributing at my highest skill level and ability rather than just doing stuff because there is stuff to be done. We can all find stuff to do all day long.
Yeah, we’ll never really know.
<p>Okay. Well, I think that’s enough from us for ‘The One Thing.’ We need to move on to the next ‘one thing’ we have to focus on and that’s scheduled in. I hope that gave you guys a little bit of something to think about. Definitely we’ll put the links to those books that we’ve mentioned in the show notes as well. You can go and get that and also if you are around and about we are running our live event – The ‘Build a Better Business’ live event in the Midlands on 12th May. We’ll put a link to that in the show notes as well and you can book a ticket, come along to that.
We’re going to have some good fun at that one.
It will be a really good day and we hope to see you there. That’s all from me. I’ll say goodbye.
It’s goodbye from me as well. Take care.
See you next time. Bye.
Author: Pieter K de Villiers
Pieter K de Villiers is slightly obsessed with systems. The systems and process automation he builds for small businesses are transformative, to say the least. Pieter is a Co-Founder of Barefoot Digital and the Amazon best-selling author of “Barefoot Business: 3 key systems to attract more leads, win more sales and delight more customers without your business killing you”.