I had a bit of an internal battle with myself on Sunday about taking time to relax from work, when I turned my TV on to watch a film and chill out for the first time in about a month and a half. 

I’ve been working 12-16 hours most days since working for myself, and it’s safe to say that I’m starting to feel the effects! Yet when I turned on the TV, this didn’t stop me feeling an overwhelming sense of guilt that I wasn’t in front of the computer, or at the very least listening to something educational or productive.  

Are we actually achieving “The One Thing”?

I think that a lot of us in life get well and truly into the habit of putting in some very long hours, but often get stuck on the treadmill and lose sight of why we’re doing it, totally forgetting that we also need to relax from work. Or we can lose site of whether the proportion of our lives that we’re sacrificing for our work, is even having as much of a positive effect as we want it to. I’m an absolute culprit of this. 


For anyone who’s read “The One Thing” by Gary Keller, you’ll know that ‘will’, or ‘willpower’ is a finite resource. As we go throughout the day and we get more and more tired, our willpower depletes like the battery on our smartphone. Our ability to focus on specific tasks rapidly diminishes the longer we work.  

The basic concept of The One Thing, essentially revolves around figuring out what you want to achieve (Your goals/vision), and then prioritizing and re-prioritizing your to-do list until you are left with the single most important thing that is going to have the biggest possible impact on helping you to reach the outcome you want. Gary explains that he’s taking the Pareto Principle, and focusing it down to th absolute extreme. Instead of 80/20, it’s more like the top 20% of the top 20% of the top 20%.

So let’s say your to-do list consists of 15 items. Most of those will be non-important tasks. Most people would start by clearing out the things that they can achieve fairly quickly, in other words putting as many ‘ticks’ against the items on the list as they can. If you’re reading this and being honest with yourself, it’s more likely than not that you do this as well. I know that, because until pretty recently this was how I worked too.

This is great if we want to give ourselves a false feeling that we’re “getting things done”, but not so great if we want to actually achieve our goals.

Willpower is finite

You see, if you use up all your willpower composing an email about some internal issue to a colleague, and then filling out some reports for some thing that isn’t that important, and then chasing an issue that was on a post-it on your desk, and then replying to a customer about a query… by the time you get round to doing the actual thing that’s going to have a massive impact on the outcome of your work and your life, you’re half burnt out already. 

If you go through your day like this, the important tasks don’t really get done, and if they do it’s when you’re not in the best state of mind to do them well. So you get to the end of the day, and work late to compensate. Then the next day you’re a bit more tired and drained, you again don’t prioritize, and you end up working late again. And so the cycle goes on…

Taking time out is important to recharge and detach your mind for a little while, but if you haven’t completed what you know you should have completed, then the guilt kicks in. 

I was lying on the sofa thinking to myself about how there were very few hours left in any given day that I wasn’t already working, so how could I possibly feel guilty… when this realisation suddenly hit me. Regardless of whether I worked 8 hours a day or 16 hours a day, if I had completed absolutely every critical task that I needed to complete and if I was ahead of where I wanted to be, I wouldn’t feel bad about taking time to relax from work at all. In fact I’d have felt good!

If all I’d had left to do was a number of fairly meaningless things that had very little impact on how successful I was going to be, there would have been no guilt. 


The secret to achieving your goals, and not forgetting to relax from work

There’s a very big difference between being productive, and being busy. If all you are each day is busy, but you’re moving no closer to your goals, then you’ll feel bad for taking a break even if you’ve put in 12 hours. However if you’ve demolished everything you really needed to do after 6 hours, THEN you take the evening off, you’ll feel like you’ve earned some time to yourself and you won’t feel bad about it. 

So following Gary Keller’s advice, I’ve rearranged my working day to include my highest priority tasks first thing in the morning, and if I can work with enough focus I should be able to stick to the times I’ve allocated for each one and finish the highest priority tasks by lunch time.

Then my afternoon can consist of lesser things that I can do which don’t require as much brain power, hopefully meaning that by the evening I’ll have well and truly earned the right to take some time off. 

That’s the plan anyway, so we’ll see how it goes. 

Anyway, I’m well aware that this is a very simple concept and I think deep down most of us intuitively know it anyway. But it’s often the simplest ideas that work the best, and sometimes we just need to be reminded of what we already know. 

If you already know this concept well, then fantastic. But are you doing it every day? If not, then hopefully this was useful as a reminder.

Thanks as always for reading, if you enjoyed it please like my page on Facebook by clicking here, and don’t forget to take time to relax from work! 🙂 

To your success,

Dan Holloway