One Thing

As I have mentioned before on this blog, I like to live in the moment. I find that living in the moment allows me to get more out of my life, and makes me feel happier and more positive. As part of this mantra, I abstain from long-term planning. Indeed, I try to adopt a long-term mindset in terms of decisions, but I do not like to plan my life far in advance — doing so would remove an element of serendipity in which I find great pleasure. On a daily level, I use one heuristic to help me be productive: accomplish one goal.

On some days, I feel highly motivated and am ready to take on a few major tasks. On others, however, I lack the motivation to work through all of my big tasks, and instead end up doing a few smaller tasks. This has resulted in me aiming to complete one task a day. I don’t measure my success by the number of to-do list items I have crossed off, but rather I measure success based on whether I have completed that one thing. If I have completed that one thing, I have done what I wanted to do in the day. Perhaps I wanted to write a blog post. Or record a podcast. Or write an essay. Or do something else. It doesn’t matter what I want to accomplish — I just want to accomplish that one thing.

For example, today’s one goal was to write a blog post. I have other work that I would like to get done, but publishing a new post on this blog as often as possible is important to me. And so I aimed today to write this one blog post. My goal was not to write an excellent blog post, but rather just publish this one article.

There are a few benefits to adopting this model. Firstly, I have found that by setting one goal per day, I am less likely to feel disappointed in my progress for the day. Perhaps there was more that I could have done, but I will feel a lot better if I have completed the one major task that I set out to do that day. I will always have the next day to do anything else that needs to be done. In addition, this model gives me a great boost of energy in the morning. Often times, I set my one goal to be relatively small — writing a blog post, for example. This gives me the motivation I need to invest my full attention into the other tasks that I want to get done, and makes me feel more productive from the get-go.

I have also found that this model has helped reduce the mental burden associated with managing a long to-do list and constantly thinking about your tasks. Each day, I am always thinking about how I should accomplish my one thing to the best of my ability. There may be other tasks that I need to complete, but they don’t have to occupy my mental headspace as much. The goal for the day is to complete that one thing, and so I should spend most of my time thinking about that one thing — all the other tasks don’t matter until I have accomplished my one goal.

A few months ago, I got heavily invested in the “productivity hacks” culture, and what I found after a few weeks was that most of the tips that were shared online were mostly useless. Indeed, most guides offer advice on how to optimize your day to the point where you start to miss out on the experience of life. Rather than trying productivity hacks and becoming invested in that ecosystem, I instead use this one tip: set one goal for each day.

The essence of this mental model is the fact that it encourages you to just work, rather than worrying about planning how you will do something in-depth. Everything starts somewhere, and setting out one goal for each day can help you do what you want to and get started with your new project. Every day I want to accomplish one thing. Just one thing. Today I wanted to write a blog post. Tomorrow I want to do the same. What will I be doing next week? I don’t know — that is too far in advance for me to plan what I am going to do.

If you have a task that you really don’t want to do, setting it as your one thing will help ensure that you get it done. Even if you complete everything else, you still need to finish that one task for the day to be considered a success. Rather than deferring the task you don’t want to do indefinitely — and allowing it to occupy a larger space in your mind — you should set it as your “one thing a day”. When you are done, the day has been a success (and you have a source of motivation to help you keep going if you have more you want to accomplish.

I still have a to-do list. Indeed, I rely on my to-do list to help me stay on track with various commitments across my projects and work. But, I still focus on accomplishing one goal per day. If I complete that one goal, the day has been a success. This model is particularly effective if you celebrate your success as soon as you accomplish your one thing. As soon as I finish writing this post, I will have a mini celebration and reflect on my work, and will then progress onto the other tasks that I need to complete. This celebration helps me stay motivated, and also helps me make my work more memorable — when I am reflecting on my day before I sleep, thinking about the celebration will help me better evaluate my work.

Set one goal per day. Don’t keep long to-do lists. Celebrate your success.