Do One Thing

I’ve tried a lot of different productivity methods in an effort to get more things done.

Over the last few years I’ve tried Pomodoros, Getting Things Done (GTD), Omnifocus, Agile Results, too many todo list apps to count and paper and pen. All have had varying levels of success and given me some results.

By far, the most effective part of all of these productivity methods comes down to one thing. Breaking large goals and big ideas down into smaller lists.

In the book Getting Results the Agile Way (highly recommended) the author recommends using the number 3. Three goals for the year, three goals per month, three goals per week and three goals per day. I found this to be an interesting concept and easy to understand way of breaking things down.

For me – breaking down big ideas and putting them into my daily routine has become the key to accomplishing goals. But sometimes doing three things every day of the year is a bit much. So I’ve decided to focus on doing one. Doing one thing is helping me stay on track with several projects – including this website.

  • This site. I have written on and off at this domain for more than 10 years now. During that time the site has been redesigned, closed, changed and completely deleted many times. Mainly because I change my mind a lot on what I want to be when I grow up. But also because I didn’t immediately get the results I was looking for. Example: “I want 10,000 visits a week within 30 days.” When I’d inevitably fail, I would change course or quit. It wasn’t until I dropped all of my crazy traffic goals and made a decision to write 1 hour a day that the site really started to work.
  • Music. As many of you know, I am a lifelong musician. Last year I realized I hadn’t recorded and released any music for multiple years. I wanted to change that, but recording an album was overwhelming. I needed a recording studio, a band, a producer, a video and a tour. Having that much work on my plate guarantees I will never write a song. So I changed my goal to record music for one hour a day. Within 30 days I had recorded 38 songs, some of which I released on this website a few months ago.
  • Meditation. I’ve wanted to be a person who meditates regularly for years now. But I go through phases. I will meditate 20 minutes a day for a few weeks and then stop because it’s too time consuming. Recently I set a goal to meditate 1 minute per day (one) and I haven’t missed a day yet.

Do you see what happened there? I set a goal of doing one thing, one time a day. In some cases for only one minute.

Side note: (I am still experimenting with the power of 3 from Agile Results, but I have found one to be a magic number I always hit)

And in each of those situations I accomplished the larger goal (building the site visits, releasing music and regular meditation) by doing one small thing per day.

  • My website traffic is building every week because I’m writing for one hour a day.
  • I wrote 38 songs by working on music for one hour a day.
  • I meditate every day now, some days for as little as one minute.

This is why I’ve become a big fan of the number 1.

Here are just a few examples of areas that can be improved using the power of one.


  • To Do List. Life has a lot of details that need to be taken care of. If left unattended they start to pile up. To solve the problem we make declarations that we’re going to do everything at once. We make a gigantic list that is overwhelming… and then — hide it in a drawer. To make it easier to begin, choose one thing from the list you can do per day. If you can’t do one thing per day, do one per week. Over time – the list will be cleared.
  • Income Goals. Don’t make the newbie affiliate mistake of setting your profit goal at $10,000/day at the start. If you do, you’re almost guaranteed to fail on a daily basis for your first few months or years… and after so much failure you’ll quit. Most of the biggest affiliates I know started with a goal of making $100/day. If you’re new, set your goal to $1. After you’ve succeeded and made your first dollar, feel great about it, then raise your goal. This works for experienced affiliates as well. If you used to make massive profits and can’t seem to do it anymore, reset your goals. It is dangerously easy to lose $5000/day trying to chase a $50,000/day profit that may or may not come. Reset your goal to $100/day and advance from there, celebrating each success along the way.
  • Outsourcing. We hear a lot about outsourcing. And of course it makes sense to outsource your grunt work to someone else. But finding the right people and teaching all your systems is going to be a lot of work. But you know what’s easy? Outsource one task to one person once. Make a list of every task you need to outsource and then choose one. Have one banner ad designed by an outsourcer, pay someone to clean your house one time and see how it goes. If it goes well, try one more thing and go from there.
  • Nutrition. Completely changing your diet all at once is hard, if not impossible. For many it’s a setup for failure. And diet failure leads to guilt and guilt leads to eating bad foods and eating bad foods leads to gaining more weight. Instead of trying to change your diet all at once, try adding 1 healthy meal per week of protein and vegetables. Feel the success of hitting your goal and then add 1 more healthy meal per week. In time, you may find that you’re eating healthy most of the time.
  • Writing. Writing a book is a lot of work. If you have a writing project that has gone dormant, set a goal of writing 1 page per day. If that’s too much write 1 paragraph per day, or 1 sentence, or 1 word. The book will be written.
  • Music. Writing and recording 12–15 songs for an album takes a lot of time. If you’ve been dormant, try writing/recording/releasing 1 new song this year. To find the time, set aside one hour per day to work on songs. Or assign one day per week as “music writing day” to focus on it.
  • Reading. If there is a book lying around that you can’t find time to read. Try reading 1 chapter a day. If that’s too much, read one chapter a week. Still too much? Read one page (or sentence, or word) per day. That book will be read.
  • Meditation. A lot of people never meditate because sitting cross-legged for 5 hours a day isn’t feasible. Set a goal to sit down and meditate for 1 minute per day. After some time has passed increase it by one minute per day. It only takes a few clear breathes to experience the benefits of meditation. If you have to, set a goal of taking one conscious breath per day. Then add one more.

Just because I’m concentrating on one simple task per day doesn’t mean that I’ve lost sight of the big goals. In fact, just the opposite is happening.

The big goals for my life are still there. But they’re in the background, where they can’t overwhelm me. Each small step that is made brings me closer to the big goal. But the pressure of having to immediately do everything at once melts away.

A nice side effect of one is that when I finish my one task for the day I’m more inclined to do another. If  I sit down to meditate for 1 minute, I’ll stay for 5-10 minutes more.

When you are constantly accomplishing these smaller goals, you feel success on a regular basis. Each small win drives you to keep going forward and over time – the larger goal just kind of “happens”.

  • Now, imagine your biggest goal. It may be something that you’ve started and failed at many times. Losing weight, writing music, starting a business, working out. If you have many goals in your mind, just choose one.
  • Make a list of the tasks that need to happen in order for your goal to be reached.
  • Then, if needed make a list of smaller tasks that need to happen for each of those tasks to be accomplished.

Then, when you have your list. Pick one thing and do it today.

Tomorrow, do one more.

  • Nikola Cvrtnjak

    Great article bro! Keep’em coming 🙂

    • Malan Darras

      thanks Nikola, i’ll keep ’em coming as long as people are reading. so thank you.

  • Edgar

    Interesting concept Malan. You sort of touched on this concept in one of your previous posts and I have been trying it to get myself go to the gym more often. And it works man. Thank you for bringing it up.

    There were days where I felt so lazy to go workout, but I pushed myself and considered going just for 20 min. What happened was that once I got there, I would end up staying longer. And now I’m going 3 times per week. And it’s easier.

    Gotta apply this same concept to my To-Do list as well.

    So thanks man!

    • Malan Darras

      glad it’s helping Edgar. i read a story where a guy went to the gym once a week for 5 minutes. he’d walk in, do one set of bicep curls and leave. soon, he was doing full, 1-hour sessions several times a week. humans are weird, and sometimes we have to work around that… 🙂

  • Marcos W

    Great article Malan. I really like the agile results rule of 3 and use it everyday this twist is interesting. You could even used them mixed like having 3 different goals for the day: Do 1 XXX, Do 1 hour of YYY, Finish 1 ZZZ

    • Malan Darras

      Marcos – i really like the Agile 3 as well as mentioned. i like your mixing idea and that’s is actually pretty close to how I work it.

      I stuck with 3 things per month/week/day for a few weeks but soon stalled out. that’s when I started just doing one thing.

  • Luis Barrios

    Hello Malan,
    You have given me a clearer idea of ​​how to better manage procrastination.
    A common habit in many entrepreneurs, like you say “humans are weird”


    • Malan Darras

      thanks Luis, and yes – humans ARE weird… #agree

  • Petre Veluda

    Really important advice. This is the opposite of what you learn in school and of course so many students fail to perform and also so many people in their working years as well perform poorly. Some never find out the “secret”. Lucky for us we’re in an industry that forces us to learn such “secrets”

    Always great to be reminded the “small circles” theory and your example is a pretty good one ;)!

    Thanks for the post!

    • Malan Darras

      thanks Petre – yeah funny how the ‘secret’ to making things work almost always simply boils down to consistent action.

  • Angelo

    Great content as usual! I’ll be putting this into effect immediately.

    • Malan Darras

      cool man, glad to hear it.

  • Ahmed

    i fell in love with your blog
    4 hours of reading and counting
    i hope to become like you in the near future
    keep it up

    • Malan Darras

      thanks Ahmed, glad you’re here.

  • CZ_Voyager

    Thank you for a great article! I used to be really frustrated and compared myself to others. Now I’ve reset my goal and focusing on $1/day from affiliate marketing and will grow it up from there!

    • Malan Darras

      you’re welcome CZ. good luck

  • Regard Vermeulen

    Hi Malan. Thanks for the email. Your mails has picked me up.. Time and Time again. I installed the periscope App. What are the times and time zone for the broadcast ? I live in South Africa.