The Only Thing You Have To Do Today

Quote of the Week

“Start by doing what’s necessary, then what’s possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”
St. Francis of Assisi

The Only Thing You Have To Do Today

by Michael Neill

Over the past few weeks, I have been busier than ever. I have been attending my children’s end of term concerts, working full out with clients, finishing up the manuscript for my new book and preparing to take two full weeks off over the holidays, something my wife pointed out to my embarrassment will be the first two full weeks I have taken off in over 18 years. (Though personally, I think the months I ‘took off’ as an unemployed actor in the early ’90’s should count for something! 🙂

Somewhat surprisingly, in the midst of all this activity I have been remarkably productive and remarkably relaxed, something I credit to a simple time management tip I received courtesy of author and speaker Steve Chandler.

Here’s the tip:

  1. Ask yourself, “If I was only going to do one thing today, what would it be?”
  2. Do whatever it is as if it really is the only thing you have to do today.

While I have long been a fan of ‘single-tasking’ as a way of speeding up by slowing down, I have never before experienced the sense of ease and spaciousness that comes with doing each thing as if it is my only task for the day.

For example, last Tuesday I decided that if I was only going to do one thing that day, it would be to do a bit of Christmas shopping for my wife. Instead of dreading the trip to the mall and trying to get through it as quickly as possible, I found myself slowing down to let cars in at traffic intersections, taking the time to really speak with sales clerks, and enjoying the leisurely process of choosing the perfect gift. Elapsed time from beginning to end: Just under 2 hours. No stress, no fuss, and completely ready to take on the next ‘only thing’ on my list, a few hours writing for my book.

Now imagine how it might have gone if I had approached it in the traditional way. I would have raced to the mall, checking my watch every few minutes to make sure I got back with plenty of time to write and cursing every driver who had the temerity to try and enter MY lane at the traffic intersection. Sales clerks – who needs ’em! Race through the mall, grab the first thing that doesn’t suck, try and knock off a few phone calls on the way back to the car, realize I forgot my credit card at the shop and have to go back, silently curse the sales clerk (bah, humbug!), and race to a fast food restaurant and get a cheeseburger because I’m now far too stressed to write anything.

Elapsed time from beginning to end: 1.5 hours.

So I may have saved 1/2 an hour – but it would have cost me a few productive hours of writing time, the fun of buying a thought-full present for the woman I love, and about ten points on my blood pressure reading.

**** Today’s Experiment ****

Just for today, do each thing on your to-do list as if it’s the only thing you have to do today. You may find you do a bit less and take a bit longer, but paradoxically get more done and have more fun doing it.

When you finish one thing, take a few moments to ask yourself ‘If I was only going to do one thing today, what would it be?’

When you have completed all the necessary items on your list and moved on to the possible, you just may find yourself doing the impossible – getting everything done and still finding time to relax and play.

Copyright (c) 2009 Michael Neill, author of ‘You Can Have What You Want’ All rights reserved – Read more tips at

Coaching Call to Action

Such simple advice. I’m working on Michael’s/Steve’s recommendation as I put this Tip together. I keep getting distracted with ideas about other items on my To Do list. To manage that I jot them down and then turn back to preparing this Tip. What I am reminded of in the process is to be gentle with yourself as you are trying new activities and new ways of being. The changes we desire to make may take some time to accomplish.

So, right now, will you take your list of activities for the day and choose the most important one to do? And focus on just doing it? If you are interrupted, perhaps that new item becomes your new “most important” activity for the day or you can add it to your list and go back to your original item. Breathe. Decide. Do it.