First Things First, One Thing At A Time
plus PMA and A Little More
Mastery involves learning individual skills and specialized knowhow, then bringing them together as needed in a complex adaptive performance. The items below discuss some specific skills involved in becoming effective:
- Prioritize – First things first, awareness, mindfulness.
- Focus – One thing at a time, concentration, persistence.
- Attitude – Positive mental attitude (PMA) motivation, the fuel.
- More – and a little more. Little extras & slight edges make a big difference.
First Things First top
The ranking process can be quite productive in many work situations. It helps to reduces confusion and increases productive action by telling you The One Thing to focus on next. It also keeps you from wasting much time on less important items.
Rank the things you want to be/do/have to help you figure out what comes first. The items themselves do not need to be perfectly clear but they do need to be ranked … at least you should know what the number one is. Under major items you can list a few “next” action steps. Minor items can be listed below majors in very rough order to help you quickly store information which might be relevant later. However, don’t waste much time on lesser items.
Ranking is also a good way to minimize distractions. The first hint is don’t put in your list any item that is just a “maybe.” Later, when you do end up with a big list of junk a good solution is simply to start a short clean new list. Save the old junk filled list “just in case” something is there you might need later but do not allow it to distract you in the here and now.
Here’s a good general procedure for moving forward: Do a quick flyby to see what’s going on before getting involved in the next big move; you don’t want to miss anything important. Then quickly list the next 1-2 steps to concentrate on. If you get distracted while doing a step write down quick notes (if you wish to remember the distraction) and go back to the step you are working on. Once you’ve done the first “next” move then review the situation (Be sure to note what went well, something we often miss in our rush to criticize ourselves. Give yourself a grade if that helps.) and decide the “next” move after that.
In reality what should come first is often surprisingly obvious. If in doubt just make a reasonable guess. Many times we already know much of what we should do to have a better life. We just don’t do it.
So, don’t let yourself get confused. First look for simple, easy & obvious (SEO) goals and the activities which move you closer to them. Usually it’s not that complicated to figure out. You really only need to know one single activity to do “next” so long as that activity moves you in a good direction.
Clear, specific well, defined goals are good but not necessary. Many an outstanding success has been achieved simply by taking advantage of Strengths (including skills & interests) + Opportunities.
One of Warren Buffett’s key strategies is to keep developing his strengths (while avoiding his weaknesses, e.g., he doesn’t invest in areas he doesn’t understand) and to keep looking for opportunities (with minimal risk, good upside and wide protective moats which he says are rare). He knows the general direction he wants to go (i.e., financially strong, growing businesses with quality management & big moats) and just prepares for and researches for a good fit while enjoying life in the interim.
Goals are often something you can’t really control. For example, exceeding a specific sales goal of say $50,000/day is not something you can personally guarantee. On the other hand you can set and control a schedule of specific activities. For example, you can make 5 sales calls per day or work on a research project every morning for at least one hour.
Activities are more controllable and often easier to define than goals. So, first do a reasonable job of defining activities that likely move you closer to your goals. Then schedule those activities into time blocks you can and will honor. This will increase both your productivity and self confidence. As you move closer to your goals they will become clearer and you can adapt your ways, means and even ends to get there. That’s the way you climb mountains and overcome obstacles in real life … and it is also the most practical way to achieve goals.
Mental Equivalents top
Rather than expending a lot of energy chasing uncontrollable goals spend that time thinking about what you want and like. Create a mental vision. For example, refining mental equivalents is an activity you can schedule in for 30 minutes/day. It can also be done during your spare time while waiting or doing simple physical tasks.
Systematically draw into your brain mental equivalents just like you would the blueprints for a new home. Be sure to add feelings as well as specific preferences. As you go through life compare your mental equivalents to what you observe around you and improve these mental blueprints when you see a better idea.
Since “what you think about comes about” you will probably be surprised at what can magically happen when you start spending time building mental equivalents. You will find yourself automatically moving in the right direction and getting important insights and unexpected assistance. Some even find they have reached their goal without even realizing it.
- The older I get the more wisdom I find in the ancient rule of taking first things first. A process which often reduces the most complex human problem to a manageable proportion. Dwight D. Eisenhower
- Results are gained by exploiting opportunities, not by solving problems. Effective people … feed opportunities and starve problems. They think preventively. Peter Drucker
- The key is not to prioritize what is on your schedule but to schedule your priorities. Stephen Covey
- Do first things first and second things not at all. Peter Drucker
- If in doubt, chuck it out. I.e., Don’t get hung up on doubtfuls. Move past them quickly.
One Thing At A Time – Focus top
Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both credit their unusual success to focus. It’s amazing what human beings can accomplish with deliberate focus and intelligent persistence. Most people just drift without bothering to (1) stay aware of their environment and thoughtfully (2) determining what to focus on next … and then (3) sticking to it long enough to get results.
So, once you’ve determined what one activity to do “next” then schedule time blocks (during which you expend controllable time + attention) to move closer to your (uncontrollable) goal.
The Focusing Question top
To figure out The One Thing to focus on first ask yourself the following question:
– What’s the one thing I can do right now
– Which will make
– Everything else easier or unnecessary.
This will help you figure out the best one thing to do next which will lead to the one thing after that and so on to your ultimate Vision goal. This domino-like process of reaching big goals is sequential, and not simultaneous.
The Pomodoro Technique top
Distractions destroy depth. Set up an environment which minimizes distractions and start weaning your mind from dependence on distraction.
If you don’t finish the one thing you’re working on you usually won’t get any payoff. So, an important part of doing one thing at a time is finishing it.
* Finishing: If nothing else summarize and document the details of what happened and what was accomplished.
* Finishing can also include deciding that the item started is not worth finishing. Be careful, though, since the payoff for work already done will not be received if you don’t finish it.
* Finish just the parts that are worth finishing. You don’t have to be obsessive about doing things just for the sake of doing them.
* CAGO: Clean As you GO. Finish cleaning up what you started. It’s easiest to do immediately after finishing a major task and prepares you to do the next one. It also saves you from getting swamped later in a growing mess.
Practicing meditation is a good way to improve the fundamentals of focusing. It can strengthen your skills of concentration, being here now and resisting distracting urges.
Productive meditation is an exercise which can be done when you are occupied physically but not mentally, for example when you are walking, showering or waiting. Focus your attention on a single well-defined professional problem. Then, as in mindfulness meditation, practice bringing your attention back to the problem at hand every time your mind wanders or stalls.
- People think focus means saying “yes” to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying “no” to the hundred other good ideas that there are. Steve Jobs
- If in doubt, chuck it out. I.e., Don’t allow distractions. Simply make a side note if you must.
- Do one thing at a time. Start the day with a list of things you have to do, and do the most important things first. Even if you don’t get the list done, you’ve got the most important things done. Brian Tracy.
- Prentice Mulford points out that the way to rest the brain muscle is “by turning the whole force on something else for a time.” l.3840 By training ourselves to “switch off our whole train of thought from one subject to another” l.3850 and do one act at a time we can learn how to relax and rule our minds.
- Any Definite Chief Aim that is deliberately fixed in mind and held there, with the firm determination to realize it, finally saturates the entire subconscious mind until it automatically influences the physical action of the body toward the attainment of that purpose. Napoleon Hill, p.155, Law of Success The 21st-Century Edition.
Positive Mental Attitude (PMA) top
Positive mental attitude (PMA) is the fuel which can keep the motivational fire behind your success burning. Always continue adding positive mental attitude to keep that fire growing. Here are some links to help PMA.
Note that PMA is a critical element even if you can’t see an immediate result. Never skip it! You can do everything else perfectly but if a bad attitude is showing then bad luck will inhibit your progress. If other people are impressed with your attitude they will help you. So will your subconscious which will make you aware of opportunities you would have never seen.
- Motivation is like a fire: unless you continue to add fuel, it will go out. And that fuel is PMA.
- You have everything to gain and nothing to lose by trying. Success is achieved and maintained by those who try and keep trying with PMA.
A Little More (or A Little Less) top
A little MORE, habitually repeated with moves in right directions, will make a giant difference in your life. Whenever a possible opportunity arises first say “a little more” then just do it. Strive to make a little more a foundational habit and the rewards will be more than you believed possible.
Repetition/quantity of effort in the right direction is far more important than the size of any single effort. This is even evident when taking a hike, i.e., many small steps will eventually get you to your destination when a few big jumps will only burn your out. The story of the tortoise and the hare contains a similar lesson. So does the saying “go the extra mile.”
One of the great things about the little more concept is that implementing it is so easy (usually quick simple easy & obvious) that you will actually do it now. You don’t even have to think about it much … just do a little more. Because it’s so easy the practice doing a little more will soon become a habit if you always respond to the slightest internal hint.
Another big benefit is that your unconscious self tends not to resist doing just a little more. You can slip in under that feeling of resistance that often pops up when faced with a massive task. It doesn’t take much of your limited will power to do just a little more.
I’ve also found that doing a little LESS of harmful activities is also very effective. Many I shouldn’t do something but my unconscious is motivating me in a negative direction (e.g., to eat a ton of ice cream). While I may not have enough will power to avoid something altogether doing a little less is not that challenging. Often, this leads to a progressive tendency to do less and less until the harmful activity can be eliminated with no big deal. Watching what is happening and noting the harm and the feelings involved tends to speed up this elimination process.
Similarly, when faced with the challenges of doing work tasks doing just a little more of the top priorities and a little less of the bottom feeders is helpful. Eventually some of the bottom distractions can even be completely eliminated if gradually starved.
Related Ideas: slight edge, baby steps, just do it, SEO simple easy obvious, adding to & cutting away small strokes from a clay sculpture, obvious Adams
Related Links top
- Return to Best Thought Management Ideas
- Best Ideas from “The One Thing”
- The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker – A classic on first things first. Also see
Summary 1 and Quotes.
- Reference: The Collected Works of Prentice Mulford. The source of most of the ideas and quotes herein. Location in the Kindle version of this book is shown adjacent the quote. E.g., l.54 means location 54.
- The Five Secrets of Prioritization – E.g., “A better way to think of prioritization is not as tasks but as themes,” “forget perfectionism,” and “switch boats.”
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