The Focusing Question

One tool to identify the best next step.

A camera lens that puts into focus an otherwise blurry background.
Credits Paul Skorupskas.

When it comes to delivering outstanding results, execution plays a critical role. As author and entrepreneur Derek Sivers put it, “ideas are just a multiplier for execution.”

One crucial aspect of great execution is choosing which steps to take and in which order. Judgment is the decisive skill.

In The ONE Thing, Gary W. Keller offers a powerful tool to help you sort through available options and discover new ones.

The focusing question

What is the single thing that I can do [today / this week / this month] for [x] so that everything else will become easier or unnecessary?

This memorable question will help you generate and filter options across multiple dimensions and identify the one to take next. Let’s unpack it to see how it works.

What is the single thing… – Prioritize ruthlessly. Look for one thing and one thing only.

…that I can do… – This filters for options over which you have agency.

…[today / this week / this month]… – Identify a precise time frame. Short time frames require small tactical actions. Longer time frames allow for strategic thinking and multiple steps.

…for [x]… – One project at a time. Don’t multitask.

…so that everything else will become easier… – Don’t settle for whatever is at the top of the backlog. Look for points of leverage.

or unnecessary – What better way to solve a problem than by removing it in the first place? People think in additive terms by default, but subtracting is often a more powerful technique. Subtraction is the ultimate simplification.

I love the focusing question because it promotes creative and long-term thinking.

The prompt to identify actions that will make everything else easier or unnecessary broadens the scope beyond a project’s to-do list. Sometimes, the best next action has nothing to do with executing the plan. It might be de-scoping so you can ship faster and learn sooner, or doing additional research to reduce risk, or calling it a day when you’re tired and your mind is clouded.

Looking for actions that can make everything else easier or unnecessary reveals connection and second-order effects. Instead of mindlessly picking up the next item in the queue, you force yourself to think of the bigger picture. You purposely imagine the unfolding chain of events and how to stir them in your favor.

The focusing question is a valuable tool to add to your arsenal.

What do you think of this tool for decision-making?

What other lenses, razors, and heuristics do you deploy to decide your next action?