Andrew Carnegie, the man often referred to as the greatest industrialist of the 20th century, was standing in front of a room of wide-eyed students at Curry Commercial College. 
“‘Don’t put all your eggs in one basket,’ is wrong” he counseled. “I tell you ‘put all your eggs in one basket, and then watch that basket. Look round you and take notice; men who do that do not often fail.”
The question is, which basket do you watch? More to the point, how do you know which basket is the right basket, to begin with? The answer is you ask a question, one that removes ambiguity.
You ask a focusing question.
The Power of Quality Questions
We all have goals we want to achieve and challenges we want to overcome. We want to get things done, make more money, lose weight, exercise regularly and more.
To move closer toward where we want to be, we need answers. But not just any answers—answers that will give us the quickest, easiest and cheapest way possible.
We search for the best way to buy Bitcoin, the easiest way to lose weight, the cheapest way to travel Europe. But in doing so, we fail to realize it’s not the answer that matter; it’s the initial question.
Let’s imagine, for a moment, you’re a service-based business owner. You’re running a SaaS company, but churn is high and it’s affecting cash flow. So you ask yourself, “How can I reduce churn?” You search Google and after a while, you chance upon a quick and easy way to increase customer loyalty. But in doing so, you overlook an important reality: you don’t have a good product.
Often, we fail to realize we can have the best answer in the world, but if it belongs to the wrong question, at this moment, it doesn’t matter.
The goal, then, isn’t always to search for better answers, it’s to ask better questions. But finding the right question isn’t always easy, is it? After all, you don’t know what you don’t know.
If, like in the above example, you’re blind to the real challenge, it’s hard to see your ailment for what it actually is: a symptom of a more serious, undiagnosed problem.
Our goals don’t always come with a blueprint. And even when they do, they might not come with the right blueprint. After all, what worked for one person might not work for you. If we are to achieve in life and work, we need to create our own blueprint, one that’s predictable and repeatable.
To quote Garry Keller, author of The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results,
To get the answers we seek, we have to invent the right questions—and we’re left to devise our own.
So, how do you come up with uncommon questions that take you to uncommon answers?
You ask one question: the Focusing Question.
The Focusing Question
The Focusing Question forces you to make the best decision about what to focus on and what actions to take.
“[The Focusing Questions] tells you not only what your basket should be,” writes Keller, “but also the first step toward getting it.”
If you’re working on a project with many actions, the Focusing Question forces you to rank what matters in order of importance. With each ask, you see your next outcome. Put simply, you set yourself up to do one action on top of another.
The Focusing Question collapses all possible questions into one:
1. “What’s the ONE Thing I can do…”
There are many actions you can take when moving toward a goal or overcoming a challenge. But, as mentioned above, the right way might not be the right way now. To make life easier, “What’s my ONE Thing” forces you to focus on ONE, specific action. Not something you could do or should do. But rather something you can and will do. Now.
2. “… such that by doing it …”
We’ve all confused being busy with getting the right things done.There’s something seductive about checking items off the proverbial to-do list. The rationale? If we mark off the easy to-dos first, then we will have made progress. But if the other items don’t move you toward your end goal, does it matter?
“… such that by doing it …” is the bridge between just doing something and doing something for a specific purpose, something that actually moves you closer to where you want to be.
3. “… everything will be easier or unnecessary?”
From 2008 to 2009, Tim Ferriss began to ask myself, “What if I could only subtract to solve problems?” when advising startups. Instead of answering, “What should we do?” he tried first to hone in on answering, “What should we simplify?” To simplify is to subtract; to do fewer tasks but still achieve the desired approach.
“… everything will be easier or unnecessary …” helps remove the trivial many tasks and activities, as Greg McKeown would say, and focus on the essential action, the ONE Thing that matters.
Keller echoes McKeown’s sentiments:
“Most people struggle to comprehend how many things don’t need to be done if they would just start by doing the right thing.”
The Focusing Question In Practice
The Focusing Question can lead you to answer not only “big picture” questions (Where am I going? What target should I aim for?) but also “small focus” ones as well (What must I do right now to be on the path to getting the big picture? Where’s the bullseye?).
You can also add a category (e.g. “for my job”) and a time frame—such as “right now” or “this year”—to give your answer the appropriate level of immediacy. Or, if you prefer, “five years” or “someday” to find a big-picture answer that helps you move forward.
You can templatize the Focusing Question as follows:
“What’s the ONE Thing I can do [goal] [time frame] such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
Here are a few category-specific examples:
- For my job, what’s the ONE Thing I can do to ensure I hit my goals today such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
- For my health, what’s the ONE Thing I can do to achieve my diet goals this week such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?
- For my key relationships, what’s the ONE Thing I can do to improve my relationship with my spouse/partner this month such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?
- For my business, what’s the ONE Thing I can do to make us more competitive this quarter such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?
- For my finances, what’s the ONE Thing I can do to increase my net worth this year such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?
The Focusing Question isn’t something you ask once; it’s something you need to ask often, a question you turn to for clarity to ensure you’re on the right track. Make it a keystone habit and give it the attention it deserves daily.
Like tiny habits and small wins, The Focusing Question is deceptively simple. But don’t let its simplicity fool you; it’s highly-effective for setting goals and solving problems.
Now I want to hear from you:
How will you use The Focusing Question to find your ONE Thing? Leave a comment below.