How To Achieve That Most Important Goal In Life

Living a life with purpose, priority and productivity, without other aspects of one’s life going out of balance, and performing with focus leads to success. Often, the maxims that one accepts as good practices in life are mere myths that can end up hindering one’s progress.

Not being afraid of the grander visions in life, thinking big and discovering one’s most important goal is the first step towards achieving success. The ONE Thing (2013) by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan, is a guide to maintaining focus on that one ‘most important goal in life and provides tools that help in using one’s time productively to get there.

Think Big

When J.K. Rowling conceived the story of Harry Potter; she had envisioned a seven-part series of books of his life at Hogwarts even before she wrote the first chapter of the first book. Her ability to think big and have a grand vision at the onset itself was one of the reasons she achieved tremendous success.

It is hard to think ahead, or envision success without this first step. Negative emotions such as feeling overwhelmed or intimidated prevent one from thinking big. These negative emotions can dominate one’s thinking, leading to mediocrity as one ends up limiting their own potential for achievement.

If we look at the field of science, the progress that humanity has achieved today would have not been possible if even one scientist had not gone beyond unimaginable possibilities. History is proof that humans are poor at estimating limits; hence, one should never let their aspirations get constrained by limited perceptions.

Success is an outcome of action, and action is propelled by thought. Hence it is but natural that in order to achieve success, one’s actions have to be based on ‘ thinking big’.

Prioritizing The To-Do List

Making ‘to-do lists’ of tasks is a great method of organizing one’s day. However, most people fail to prioritize these tasks. While some struggle with deciding whether to start with the most time-consuming or smallest task first, others simply start with what is at the top of the checklist.

However, it is important to remember that not all tasks are equal, and prioritizing between which tasks will have a profound impact is vital to success. While he was working at General Motors, Joseph M. Juran, a pioneer in quality-control management, found that the majority of the defects in their cars were caused due to only a few production flaws. Hence rectifying these flaws was a priority.

He named this discovery the ‘Pareto Principle’ after the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto’s 19th century model for wealth and distribution. The model showed that 80% of the land was owned by 20% of the people, proportions that Juran matched with his own model.

Juran realised that the 80/20 principle could be a universal law, for example, 80% of one’s output or results are delivered by only 20% of one’s input or work.

The Pareto Principle, thus, proves that in a to-do list, it is the 20% of the tasks that will make a major contribution to one’s success, and hence, prioritizing between the tasks is extremely important to success.

The ONE Thing (2013) by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

Focussed Questions And Actionable Tasks

Mark Twain said, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and starting on the first one.”

It is, however, difficult to clearly ascertain which the first task should be and how to get there. Thus, in order to make this clear, one should ask focussing questions. Questions such as, ‘What is the one task that can make all other tasks either easier or unnecessary to do?’

Focusing questions serve two levels, with each level serving its own functions.

  1. Macro-level: At a macro level, focussing questions help in viewing the bigger picture, and identifying the overall goal. For instance, the one big goal, the overall goal can be one’s career. It helps in finding the right direction.
  2. The short-term level: At the micro, or short-term level, focussing questions help to focus on smaller tasks and prioritize between available options to select the most effective task. For instance, having a team meeting to delegate work and finish faster. It helps in choosing the right action.

The answers that one gets while repeating the focussing questions lead to progress and build momentum, as they provide actionable steps that aim towards the goal.

Sequential Habit Forming

Bill Gates is known to be very self-disciplined. His success in life can be attributed to this quality he cultivated in his formative years. How was he able to maintain such self-discipline?

Successes like Bill Gates not only constantly focus on drive and discipline, but also selectively use discipline to form good habits. 

Another example of success, Michael Phelps was diagnosed with ADHD as a child. He could never focus on one task at hand. However, his success today can be attributed to his discipline and focus. Phelps channelled all his focus on creating one habit – to swim every day. Right from the age of 14, and through the Beijing Olympics, he swam every day of every week of every year!

It is always easier to maintain a habit than to form it. Hence, once a habit is formed, one can channel discipline and focus into forming a new habit, building habits sequentially. 

For example, one can cultivate the habit of getting up 30 minutes earlier every day to exercise. Once waking up early becomes a habit, one can move on to the next one of perhaps trying to get to work 30 minutes earlier. Then, one can focus on clearing emails before the other gets to the office, and so on.

Such positive habits and application of discipline selectively help cultivate a disciplined life, without needing to specifically focus on creating discipline.

Multitasking Is Inefficient

Contrary to popular belief, multitasking is inefficient. Multitasking, or doing two or more things simultaneously, was a term used to describe the ability of a computer to do multiple tasks using a single processor, alternating between tasks in rapid succession.

Although people too can do two or more tasks simultaneously, like walking and talking on the phone, one cannot truly focus on either of the tasks effectively. Essentially, people, like computers, switch their focus from one task to the other, juggling between them.

According to research, juggling between two or more tasks exacts a time penalty. This happens because humans take time to move from one task and focus on the other. While the penalty seems small when tasks are simple, it is much greater when even one of the tasks is complex in nature.

For instance, if another colleague interrupts a person working on a complex spreadsheet to discuss another business matter, it takes the person a lot of time to refocus on the spreadsheet, and the person tends to struggle to get his bearings back.

The time penalties – small or big – add up throughout the day. It is seen that on average, in the work environment, workers get distracted every 11 minutes, and spend about one-third of their workday recovering from these distractions.

Hence, in order to avoid time penalties, distractions and the loss of one-third of a workday, it is better to prioritize and give that one task undivided attention.

The Willpower Fuel Tank

For most people, having an iron hold on their willpower is tough. Additionally, research has shown that willpower isn’t a constant resource available to people. Depending on the activities one engages in, it depletes at varying rates throughout the day.

For example, willpower gets drained when one focuses their attention on a task, modifies behaviour to pursue a goal, or even when one suppresses emotions. Once it gets depleted, the ability of a person to exert it on another task reduces. For example, people find it difficult to resist a snack after any tedious work, or after making tough decisions.

Furthermore, giving in to a guilty pleasure is one thing, however, if a person is making life and death decisions when willpower is low, the consequences can be much more severe. Hence, if we consider the importance of decision-making at a parole-board hearing for a prisoner, can something as arbitrary as the time of the day influence the decision-making?

Research conducted on Israeli judges showed that they were more inclined to give favourable judgements at the beginning of the day than towards the end of it. The judges, due to depleted willpower towards the end of the day, were more likely to rely on the default ‘no parole’ decision. It was also seen that the rates of favourable judgements picked up after snacks and breaks.

This proves that full-blown willpower needs a full tank, and thus one should avoid decision-making when the willpower fuel tank is running low.

Saying ‘No’ To Unimportant Tasks

People often find it difficult to say no to requests and help others. While helping people can be very rewarding personally, one has to be able to reserve time and energy for important tasks and for reaching one’s own goals. Hence, one has to be able to say ‘NO’ to low-priority requests.

Steve Jobs, for example, was equally proud of the projects he did not pursue, as he was of the ones he did. When Jobs came back to Apple in 1997, he reduced the number of project outputs from 350 to 10. He said at a 1997 conference, “When you think about focusing, you think ‘Well, focusing is about saying yes.’ No! Focusing is about saying no.”

Saying ‘no’ to others need not always be selfish and cold. One can give the person in need another alternative where one does not need to be involved or direct the person to someone else who can help. 

Additionally, one can implement strategies to cut down the number of requests one gets, like putting a list of FAQs in place. However, it is important to keep in mind that sometimes, saying ‘no’ is inevitable.

Time, energy, and resources are limited. And hence, one has to be able to prioritize by saying ‘no’ to trivial tasks and requests.

Living With Purpose And Visualizing Steps

Having a goal to work towards is very important. If one had to imagine a life without goals and ambitions, making decisions on a daily basis would be tough. Moreover, one would never feel the need to persevere at a tough task, let alone know why one is even doing the task.

Having a goal gives purpose and meaning to life. It adds conviction to action and clarity in thought, enabling faster decision-making. Most importantly, a goal provides motivation and inspiration when one faces problems.

Goals encourage planning steps to achieve them. Moreover, visualizing these steps as one moves ahead, is inspiring, and motivating. A study conducted among students showed that the students who visualised either the outcome of the planning process were better prepared, had higher levels of motivation and fared better.

Take for example; a person who has one goal of climbing Mount Everest. This person will start planning, do research, and acquire the equipment needed. Such planning and visualizing the process leads to progress towards the goal. Without defining this purpose and goal, the person would merely be adrift, with no ambition and no purpose in life.

Prioritize Work Time And Never Compromise

People endeavour to achieve a balance in life, between the things that matter most. Yet, no one questions this endeavour. People strive towards balance because their work – personal or professional – has a place of importance. However, this need to achieve balance is by nature unobtainable. Trying to achieve a balance between everything leads to short-changing everything that one attempts to achieve.

James Patterson, the author, summed up this problem by calling life ‘ a game of juggling 5 balls’. The balls are family, health, work, integrity, and friends. The work ball is made of rubber and the other four are made of glass. As one attempts to balance and keep all the five balls in the air if the work ball is dropped, it will bounce back, however, the other four will break!

This example clearly indicates that one’s personal life should take priority over professional goals and that one should never compromise personal priorities over professional priorities. How does one then succeed in professional life?

The answer lies in prioritizing one’s work-life ruthlessly. The fact of the matter is that though neglecting one’s personal commitments and goals can be perilous, one’s professional goals and commitments take top priority.

Over time, tasks that are of lesser priority can wait, be managed by someone else, and have to be minimized, until the tasks with top priority are completed. In this manner, as one prioritizes work commitments ruthlessly, one can achieve great results.

Effective Time-management Strategies

Consider that a person has discovered that one, single most important goal in life, and has a clear plan of how to achieve it. 

Now, as this person is all geared up to reach that goal, there is one unforeseen problem. Life doesn’t have a pause button, and the world waits for no one. The person realises that while he was busy working on achieving that one goal, things have stacked up, and there are other people, commitments, and projects that are demanding his attention.

While attempting to focus on that one goal, chaos and the pressure to attend to those builds up in other areas of life. How does the person deal with this?

The simple answer is trust. By placing trust in the fact that the top-priority goal will come through, one can simplify the other areas of life. Essentially, the person has to let the chaos pile up and accept it.

Remember the issues of multi-tasking? 

If the person truly has to commit to the top-priority goal, he has to learn to make the most of his time. One has to defend and ruthlessly commit to the top-priority goals in life. Creating time blocks to work only on the top-priority goal is essential. This can be done by altering the physical work surrounding, by minimizing distractions such as phones or emails, or even working away from the office, so as to avoid distractions from colleagues. These are effective time-management strategies to focus on the top-priority goals.


Success can be attributed to defining and working towards that one big goal in life. One has to think big, prioritize to-dos, and use focussing questions to understand which tasks take priority.

Moreover, avoiding multitasking and focussing on the top-priority goal, forming habits sequentially, identifying when one’s willpower is at its peak, and saying ‘no’ to unimportant tasks will help keep one focussed on that one big goal.

Finally, one has to find purpose and visualize the process of achieving that goal. Using effective time-management strategies, and prioritizing one’s professional commitment ruthlessly, while never compromising on personal commitments will lead to achieving great success in life.