Effective Time Management: My Experience with “The ONE Thing”

Effective time management is a tricky thing.A photo by Liz Weston. unsplash.com/photos/PJzc7LOt2Ig

You want to do so many things. Or maybe you want to do just one thing, but there are so many ways to go about doing it.

With several different routes available, how do you know which path to take? How do you know where to invest your time? How do you trust yourself that you’re focusing on the right thing?

I’ve always been a bit obsessed about productivity and time management. Last year at this time, I kept myself up at night worrying about the best way I could spend my morning before going in to my 9-5 job. Thankfully, I’ve learned to relax around that…

…for the most part.

Still, I constantly test out morning and daily routines and experiment with the most effective ways to spend my time. Why? Because there is so much I want to do!

Not only do I want to fit everything in from general life–working out, making our healthy pancakes, family time, reading, coloring (obviously)–but just from a writing standpoint, I have so many ideas I want to pursue. I want to write fiction, blogs, essays, e-books, magazine articles–it’s an endless list, and if you’re a writer, you’ll understand that each of those avenues takes focused time and dedication to gain expertise in and break into.

But I want to do them all…right now!


In my pursuit to effective time management, I heard about the book The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. I had heard Jay speak about the book on one of my favorite podcasts, The Model Health Show, and as a chronic multi-tasker, was intrigued by this idea of focusing solely on one thing to be more successful.

Going in, I had a love/hate relationship with this premise. I knew there was merit to the idea, but I was extremely resistant to dropping all of my other writing projects to focus on one thing.

The stats and success stories drew me in immediately–the domino effect, the list of businesses that have achieved extraordinary results by focusing on ONE thing, the successful influencers in our society who focused on developing ONE skill.

“The key is over time. Success is built sequentially. It’s one thing at a time.”

The One Thing, p.16

I was hooked by each convincing thought. I understood the concept, and I wanted to make it work for me.

But I jumped into the idea too fast.

I took every sentence so literally at first. During the week that I was reading this, I tried desperately to figure out what my ONE thing was that I needed to do to succeed in making it as a writer. I tried to force the ONE thing to emerge by changing my whole daily routine based on the wealth of information in my head after reading a chapter.

Unable to decide on what my ONE thing was, I drove myself crazy. By Day 5 of reading the book, I didn’t even want to finish it. I had one chapter left.

This is how most of us, clearly myself included, go wrong with self-development books. We think we’re doing everything wrong, that we need to be doing what the book is telling us to do right away because the book knows everything. We try to implement the practice into our lives before we’ve taken the time to assess how the practice makes sense for us.

In trying to force the ONE thing, I got mad and rebelled against it. I am a person who has 7 things, I thought, and that’s just how it’s going to be for me! The One Thing doesn’t have to be my thing.

The next day I got wrapped up in one of my seven things, reading an e-book on how to run a successful niche blog. Two hours into scribbling notes and scrolling e-pages, it hit me like a domino.

My ONE thing.


Let me explain. Earlier this year, my husband had a bit of an epiphany in which he transformed his mindset to being more optimistic and positive. In his admirable bout of ambition, he developed the acronym motto, “SKIED”–Simply Kill it Every Day.

For those of you who don’t know, killing it means being awesome at something, bringing your A-game, doing the best you can…you get the picture.

I had heard Kyle repeat this freaking motto at the most ridiculous of times for three months straight, yet when I was pulling my hair out over this book, he didn’t say it once. Go figure.

But it came to me. And it happened to be my ONE thing, everything I need. I need to Simply Kill it Every Day as a freelance writer.

Photo by Nitish Meena, Unsplash
Photo by Nitish Meena, Unsplash

I am still at the breaking ground with my writing business. My ONE thing in this moment is to focus on building it up, finding paid work and growing my business. In time, once I get more grounded, I’ll be able to shift my ONE thing to an e-book, to a big blog, to being a fiction author. But I can’t keep dividing my time to all of these things and get anywhere with my business. I have to be fully devoted to getting writing jobs now.

Once I realized how simple it was, I felt incredible about dropping all the other things. Knowing that there will be a time for them is all that I needed. They are not gone forever. At some point, they will be my ONE thing. But I can’t focus on all of these things at once.

How to Use The ONE Thing for Effective Time Management

If you struggle with juggling a bunch of things and don’t know where to focus your attention, I suggest reading The One Thing. You might be resistant to the idea, like I was, so here is my advice for how to approach the book:

Read the whole book before implementing anything.

Don’t try and force things as you go, especially if you are any bit unsure of what your ONE thing is. Take notes and take time to think about the questions in the book. When you’re finished, go back and evaluate your notes and answers. Hopefully, you’ll see common threads that will lead you to a better understanding of what your ONE thing is.

Don’t take each step too literally.

I made this mistake at first. In asking what one thing I could do to be better in my business, of course I thought I should work on my writing skills. Breaking it down as far as I possibly could, I made writing “practice” my most important task of the day. While that is extremely helpful to the quality of my service I provide, practicing writing sentences for multiple hours a day isn’t going to land me a job. Pitching and marketing myself will. The book asks you to break things down, but be smart about it.

Write out your goals and dreams first.

Write out everything you want in life. The book will prompt you to write out your ultimate goal, as well as 5-year, 2-year, 1-year and 1-month goals. This is extremely helpful for you in honing in on what your ONE thing should be right now. What ONE thing can you do now that will help set you up to make the rest of the things achievable at a later time?


I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know if the way I choose to spend my work day is the best strategy, but I know that I will learn whether it was or wasn’t after I just do it.

The simple answer here is to focus your time on doing something. Record your time doing it, and reflect on that choice a week later. Is it paying off? Maybe not, but maybe you still feel a pull toward it.

Keep doing it. Reflect on your time management a month later. Still didn’t give you anything? Drop it. Now you know, because you did it. Choose another ONE thing.

And repeat.

Intrigued by this book? Get your copy by clicking the link below: (affiliate link)

Let’s chat! Do you struggle with focusing your time? Do you have a ONE thing or SEVERAL things? Keep the conversation going by leaving a comment below. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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  1. Hi Michelle. I’m just getting started on my freelance writing/editing journey and have been looking at writer websites for inspiration and guidance. (Well I’ve been a freelance editor for 20+ years actually but not online and not so much writing.) I really admire your site and I’ve enjoyed and related to every post of yours that I’ve read. So many good ones. But especially this post about The One Thing. I put that on my TBR list right away. This totally describes me right now. I have so many thoughts and ideas that it’s difficult to decide where to focus. And then I get frustrated and don’t do any of them. So thanks for helping me see I’m not alone and bringing this book to my attention. I subscribed for your updates.

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