Knocking Out the One Big Thing

This is Part 3 of a four-part post on how I strive to align my days and weeks with my values. Combine this article with my earlier posts below to get the whole story on how I manage my time and priorities.

Part 1: How Do I Keep Organized?
Part 2: My Daily Routine, From Kickoff to Postgame

I think of keeping organized in terms of three areas: a planner to set your goals and sketch them out, a calendar to decide when to execute on those goals, and a repository for brilliant ideas you're saving for later.

I’ve developed my own planning system which is based on a mix of Stephen Covey’s seven habits, the Getting Things Done system by David Allen, and my own refinements based on my experiences.

One thing I know about myself is that I love to shake things up, or do things differently, to keep things fresh and give myself a new perspective. Not surprisingly, I’ve adapted my systems a bit since the previous posts earlier this year.

For example, I’ve now created the “One Big Thing” approach, which my wife helped me develop when I was struggling to make progress on some key projects. When I laid out all the things I was trying to do one day, she responded, “Why don’t you just focus on one big thing, get it done, and then worry about everything else?”


At the beginning of every week, I try and lay out the One Big Thing for each work day. This helps me to prioritize, because I have to select the most important tasks to qualify as the key task for each day. I put these as daily appointments on my calendar so I get a reminder for each important task.

What are the rules for the One Big Thing?

1) It must be attainable. That is, something you could knock out in a couple hours. “Read this entire book and write up a summary” is a little much. “Read page 142” is too little. “Read chapters 12-14 and make notes” is probably about right.

2) It must be important. The purpose of the One Big Thing is to move a major project forward. So for me it starts with the broader priorities that I have hanging up in my office. How is this one thing going to move me closer to accomplishing one of those key goals?

3) It must be measurable. There should be no question as to when the One Big Thing is actually accomplished. “Make progress on sales goals” is not good. “Reach out to ten new prospects” is much more real.

I also found that while my planner approach has been great for capturing all the tasks I need to accomplish, it ended up becoming a longer and longer list of things that just never got done.

There’s nothing worse than spending time every week copying over all the things you did not accomplish. Talk about a discouraging activity.

Why don’t you just focus on one big thing, get it done, and then worry about everything else?
— Carrie Keller

I have now created a “Rainy Day” project book that includes everything I would love to get to at some point. Not today, not tomorrow, but some day. If I’m presented with something that is super important and urgent, I’ll schedule it directly on my calendar. For a task that is important but not necessarily time sensitive, I’ll pop it in my planner so I can get to it during the week. For anything else, it goes in the Rainy Day book.

This has helped me to stop worrying about all the “other stuff” and focus my attention on what is most important to me and my business. And I will tell you, there is nothing better than knocking out all the important and urgent tasks for the day.

I pop open the Rainy Day book, take a deep breath and think, “What else do I want to tackle today?”

My final post in this series will cover my repository, where I capture all the important stuff that I may need for the future.

How have you improved your process for keeping organized? Let me know on Twitter.


Disclaimer: This blog is for educational purposes only, and should not be construed as financial advice.  Please see the Disclaimer page for full details.