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The Power of One Thing at a Time

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"Most people have no idea of the giant capacity we can immediately command when we focus all of our resources on mastering a single area of our lives." - Anthony Robbins

After unwinding a mess that I created by replying to an e-mail right away, I thought about a rule that I learned early in my career but had violated. It's called the 1-10-100 rule. Simply stated, if you do something right the first time, then that's all the time that it takes you. If you do it wrong the first time, it will take you 10 times as long to undo the damage and do it over. If you do it wrong the second time, it will take 100 times as long to undo the damage of the first two times and do it over.

When I failed to adequately address the details of the e-mail, more people were brought into the process and more questions were sent my way. If I had only provided a detailed, complete response initially, the questions and the additional stakeholders would have been avoided. Now, there will be follow up calls, project plans, and maybe even a meeting.

When you think about it, no one remembers how quickly you respond to an e-mail in the long-term. However, the quality of your work affects your reputation for years to come. You should definitely respond to e-mails as quickly as possible; however, not at the expense of doing something right.

In some cases, multi-tasking is effective. For example, making a call while you are walking to your next appointment depending upon the nature of the call. At other times, multi-tasking is, at best, distracting and sometimes detrimental to the most important things that you need to do. For example, answering e-mail on your Blackberry in a client meeting could lose the client.

Concentrated effort is sometimes the only way to accomplish a task. In fact, we do our best work when we are deeply focused on a project. Imagine dividing your attention while you are putting a roof on your house. While some people are better at shifting gears than others, there is always a transition that takes place when transferring your focus from one task to another. The more dissimilar the projects, the longer it takes to change your focus. What level of quality should we expect from transition time effort? Think about your greatest accomplishments, were they due to focused effort or divided effort?

Why do we treat business differently than other activities in our life? Would we take a call during church service? Then, why is it okay to step out of a meeting when the cell phone rings? Does a professional basketball player check his Blackberry during a time out in a close game to see if his agent e-mailed him? Why do we put aside a critical spreadsheet to answer a non-critical e-mail message?
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