March 8, 2016

A Life Hack for Productivity & Peace of Mind: The Rule of One.

Jaime González/ Flickr

When I was about eight years old, my father took me to his office for Take Your Kid To Work Day.

As we walked down the hall we popped into his co-workers’ offices and he introduced me. All the offices had desks piled high with papers, folders, and “work” everywhere.

When we got to his office, it was almost empty.

He had a big desk with a family photo in the corner and one piece of paper sitting in the middle of the desk. I asked him where all his “work” was. He looked at me and said,

“It’s right there, son. You can only do one thing at a time.”

32 years later, I still remember that.

I wish I had embraced his philosophy sooner in life.

How many things are on your to-do list for today? For tomorrow? How many more things can you squeeze onto that list that can never get done?

In today’s way-too-fast-paced world, we often judge ourselves by how much we get done on a particular day.

Modern Western society has conditioned us to believe that the more tasks we accomplish in a set period of time, the more productive and successful we are.

So many of us measure our self-worth by how many things we get done.

Multi-tasking—the belief that one can do many different tasks at the same time leads to success—is a myth.

Multi-tasking is a symptom of society’s overall inability to focus. Our minds wander to multiple thoughts and tasks and remaining focused on one thing becomes too difficult. So we praise this inability to focus and call it multi-tasking.

The Art of Uni-tasking  is an informative article about the growing science that says we can only really focus on one thing at a time—and that’s actually a good thing. Uni-tasking is just a fancy new way to describe being mindfully present in whatever we’re doing.

Our to-do lists seem to keep growing, along with the stress and the feeling we’re always behind and will never catch up, but we can change this.

What if we only had one thing we had to do tomorrow? How would we feel? Less stressed? Less prone to anxiety?

Allow me to introduce what I call The Rule of One.

The Rule of One is simple: Plan to accomplish one substantive thing each day. Every morning, or the evening before, ask yourself, what is the one substantive thing that I need to accomplish today/tomorrow?

Pick one, only one. Plan your day around accomplishing that one thing.

Chances are, you will accomplish that one thing. Why? Because it’s one thing. Of course you can accomplish one thing. At which point, you have succeeded. You are a success! You are productive! You accomplished exactly what you intended to accomplish today. You are done. Enjoy!

Admittedly, you may have a job or a boss that make the idea of implementing uni-tasking seem impossible.  But uni-tasking is not actually about our work schedule, our boss, or even our specific job.

Uni-tasking is about changing our relationship to the to-do lists that we all mentally create (and sometimes write down), and about ultimately changing our perspective on how we define our self-worth.

If you could honestly say that every single day you accomplished exactly what you set out to accomplish, how would you feel?

When we practice The Rule of One, a curious thing happens. We become more productive. And, we feel great about it.

Does the Rule of One mean that you are only going to do one thing today? No. It means you are only planning to do one thing. Everything else that you accomplish, all those little fires you put out, those other tasks (not your one) that get done—those are all icing on the cake.

So at the end of the day, and most of the time, not only do you accomplish the one substantive thing you set out to do, you get a lot of other things done too!

Why does this happen? Because when we set an intention to be focused on a particular task, we become mindfully present. Then, ultimately, we bring that mindful presence to other tasks that inevitably pop up in our daily lives. The end result is we spend our day mindfully present, uni-tasking, and really getting things done. More importantly, we feel good about it. Why? Because we surpass our own expectations every single day.

Don’t take my word for it. Try The Rule of One for a week.

It is not about how much we get done in a day. It is about bringing mindfulness to our daily tasks and realizing that our self-worth is not determined by the number of tasks we accomplish daily, rather by the intention that we bring to those tasks.

“That all is as thinking makes it so—and you control your thinking.”  ~ Marcus Aurelius


Author: Brian Cooke

Apprentice Editor: Gayle Fleming; Editor: Khara-Jade Warren

Image: Jaime González/ Flickr


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