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Instead of concerning yourself with the whole list, it might help you to focus on "the number one thing." Some people would define Number One as the item that would give you the most leverage or forward progress. Even in times when you have a dozen or more things to accomplish,you can tackle your list by asking yourself the question, "What is the most important thing for me to invest my energy on?" Allow yourself to choose only one, because you can only do one thing at a time. (Trust us on this - you can only do one thing at a time. You might think that you are multi-tasking, but actually you are toggling back and forth among two or more things.)
So how do you determine what should be number one on your list? Your criteria have to be your own, unless you are in a workplace situation, in which case your boss may want to weigh in on the prioritization. Number one priority on the "to do" list could be selected based upon
- What brings in cash in the near term?
- What will prevent a cash drain?
- What will strengthen a key customer relationship?
- What will prevent a crisis?
- What can I do to lay the groundwork for future success?
- What can I do right now to chip away at a longstanding problem?
- What activity brings me closest to my purpose?
If you have been flirting with but not working on your number one thing, you need to ask yourself why. Do you feel confident in your ability to accomplish it? Are there resources that you need in order to complete the task but that you do not have right now? Is it a big job, or one that makes you feel a bit nervous? Is it a must-do that will have big consequences if you do not accomplish it within a given time frame?
One Summit business coach jokes around about his now-deceased parents' habit of saving the big agenda item for last in the conversation. Coach J's elderly mom and dad would talk about the weather, about their neighbors, about something they saw on the news last night - and then bam! -the real top of their list: "Oh, did I tell you that I have been having chest pains for the past week?" Huh? Of course by the time they would bring up the main subject they would have run out of time to talk, but now Coach J would feel frustrated. He would feel worried about them, but impatient at the same time because when they called he was scheduled to be at an appointment in fifteen minutes. Why didn't they tell him the important things first?
If it's your number one thing, get on it. If you try to clear everything else on the To Do list out first to make space for it, your only irretrievable resource - time - might be so depleted that the number one thing gets short shrift. If it's the real top of your list, make it number one. Do it first. If it is important enough, its achievement will overshadow numbers 4,5 and 6. In fact, they might even go away if you do number 1 first.