Whenever a new technology or innovation emerges, whenever the world changes in some significant and fundamental way, new opportunities are created for “adjacent” ideas and innovations. What was once impossible, suddenly becomes possible.
The Adjacent Possible is “the next possible thing”
Every time the world changes in some fundamental way, every time a new technology is invented, every time our behaviours change, a series of new adjacent technologies and opportunities become possible.
The invention of the Personal Computer made the Internet possible. The internet made e-Commerce possible. e-Commerce made Amazon possible. And so on…
Looking at this in reverse: Amazon cannot exist without e-Commerce; e-Commerce cannot exist without the internet; and the internet cannot exist without computers.
Whenever the world changes or a new technology emerges, brainstorm to uncover the new “adjacent possibles” and explore the resulting opportunities.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused major changes to our society, economy, and behaviours:
The acceleration and adoption of online commerce;
Expanded delivery and fulfillment networks;
“Work-from-Anywhere” distributed workforces;
Mass adoption of video-conferencing;
…and many more.
What has been enabled by these changes? What is possible now that was not possible before?
Thinking about these questions will uncover new “adjacent possibles” that were not possible just a short time ago. These new “adjacent possibles” are the sources of new opportunities and possibilities.
From Impossible to Adjacent Possible
Take an impossible idea and ask what “adjacent” technologies are needed to make this idea possible. If these adjacent technologies are also impossible, then ask yourself what “adjacent-to-the-adjacent” technologies are needed, and so on until you arrive at a “possible” technology. You now have a path towards your impossible idea.
“The ONE THING” is about taking the shortest path to achieving extraordinary results. It is not just about getting stuff done and being more productive: It’s about having meaningful days; being motivated and happy; working on important things that make a difference and that have a real impact.
Finding the Shortest Path to a Big Goal
1. Identify your long term goal
This process is about achieving a long term goal as quickly as possible. But you need to have a goal in mind.
2. Identify your one year goal
Ask yourself: “What is the ONE THING I can do THIS YEAR such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary in achieving my long term goal?” That ONE THING is your goal for the year.
3. Identify your goal for THIS MONTH
“What is the ONE THING I can do THIS MONTH such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary in achieving my one year goal?” That ONE THING is your goal for the month.
4. Identify your goal for THIS WEEK
“What is the ONE THING I can do THIS WEEK such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary in achieving my one month goal?” That ONE THING is your goal for the week.
5. Identify your goal for this TODAY
“What is the ONE THING I can do TODAY such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary in achieving my one week goal?” That ONE THING is your goal for today.
6. Work on TODAY’s goal for the first 4 hours of your day
Spend the FIRST HALF of your day working on your ONE THING. No interruptions, no distractions, no emails, no phone calls, no meetings. Just laser focused work on your most important task. Your morning is spent on your most important thing. The afternoon is left for emails, phone calls, and meetings. By working on your ONE THING first, you are sure it will get done. Things left for later have a chance of not getting done.
This process is not just about getting stuff done and being more productive: It’s about having meaningful days; being motivated and happy; working on important things that have a real impact and that truly make a difference.
Since I’ve started to use this process I’m more engaged at work, more motivated, less stressed out, and happier. I get to devote uninterrupted time to important meaningful projects that will have a huge impact. If I “run out of time” during my day, it’s the unimportant things that get dropped.
The Productive vs The Unproductive Day
Do you ever feel like you’ve been SUPER busy all day, yet didn’t get anything accomplished? Those are the days where you DID NOT work on your one most important thing.
The difference between a PRODUCTIVE day and an UNPRODUCTIVE day is how much time you spend on your ONE THING. If you work on your ONE THING first, your day is already productive and rewarding by the time lunch rolls around. It doesn’t matter what happens the rest of your day.
The Myth of Multitasking
It is a myth that you get more done by doing many things at the same time. If you want huge success, you need to be very narrowly focused. If you try to do two things at once you won’t do either well. Chasing too many rabbits leads to catching none.
Multitasking is a form of self distraction. When switching between two tasks, there is always a reorientation phase, and that’s wasted time.
The 80 / 20 rule
Not all things matter equally. Not all tasks are created equal. You need to focus on those that matter most and that produce the biggest results: If 20% of you activities result in 80% of your results, then you should be spending more of your time on those activities.
The Importance of Only ONE Thing
There can only be one most important thing. Many things may be important, but only one can be the most important. Not a few things… Not two things… ONE THING!
What is my ONE THING?
If today you (or your company) don’t know what your ONE THING is, then your ONE THING is to figure that out.
Family, Friends, and Life Outside of Work
Following this process means spending a large amount of time focused on a single often “work” related goal. That usually means less time for your family, friends, and other priorities. It is very important to ensure you are spending quality time with your family and friends during your evenings, weekends, and vacations.
Following this process tends to cause some chaos. Since you have less time to do “maintenance” work, you will tend to experience a messy desk, a messy email inbox, etc… Either clean it up in the afternoon, or live with it. Those are the costs of narrow focus and great results.
In your non-work life
The “One Thing process” can also be used at a smaller scale in your non-work life: What is the ONE thing you can do for your family that will have the most positive effect? What is the ONE thing you could do for your spouse that would make your relationship better? What is the ONE thing you could do for your parents or friends? What is the ONE thing you could change to improve your health? What is the ONE thing from a personal standpoint that would bring you the most happiness? Etc…
In your company
Your company should use this process to be laser focused on it’s most important, most impactful goal. And at a smaller scale, each department and each employee should have their long term goals with work backs to what their ONE THING for today is. If you have weekly status meetings, they should be used to help identify everyone’s ONE THING. Employee performance reviews should be about their ONE THING. Etc…
Most recommendations for recovering from Jet-lag involve avoiding sleep at your destination until night time. Here is an alternative: Polyphasic sleep to pro-actively catchup on the sleep you are about to miss.
20 minute naps every 4 hours: As soon as you land go on a dynamic “everyman” sleep schedule (20 minute nap every 4 hours) until night time and then either
Sleep as long as you can (if you can); or
if you cannot sleep, take another 20 minute nap and try sleeping again in another 4 hours.
Repeat on the second day: When you wake up, record the time and plan on another 20 minute nap in 4 hours (and continue the cycle).
Stop the nap schedule once you feel you are onto the local rhythm, but I recommend to stick with it for at least 2 days.
Start on the plane: If you are on a really long flight with multiple connections, you can try starting your nap schedule early by napping at airports during connections or on the plane before you land.
Important: You are not trying to reduce sleep. You are trying to catch up on sleep you have already missed and future sleep you are about to miss. So don’t purposely stay up all night — if it’s night time and you can get an entire night’s sleep in, then go for it. But if it’s day time then be strict with your nap schedule.
Take wind down time into account. It usually takes me 15-20 minutes to fall asleep, so I usually schedule my nap 15 minutes earlier and set my alarm for 35 minutes.
It is ok if you don’t actually sleep. Lying in a comfy spot with your eyes closed for 20 minutes will refresh you enough to help push you through another 4 hours of awake.
Plan your day around your sleep schedule to make sure you can get your naps in
Carry ear plugs and a night mask (and an inflatable pillow?) to maximize your “anywhere / anytime” nap opportunities.
Use the website JetLagRooster.com to prep your sleep schedule even before you leave and get tips on how to adapt once you land (note: They do not have naps built into their schedule)
Children tend to view their intelligence in one of two ways: “I am smart at this” where they believe they have a fixed level of intelligence. And “I tried hard at this” where they believe their level of intelligence is flexible and influenced by hard work.
Entity Learners: “I am smart at this”
“Entity” learners believe in a fixed level of intelligence: I.e.: “I am good at math; I am bad at english”.
They believe they have a fixed level of ability and there is very little they can do to change their results. Since success or failure implies “smart” or “not-smart”, they will tend to avoid risk of failure.
Incremental Learners: “I tried hard at this”
“Incremental” learners believe their level of intelligence is flexible and influenced by hard work. “I got it because I worked very hard at it” or “I should have tried harder”.
The learning is more important than the results. When faced with failure, they increase their efforts or change their tactics. Step by step they can move from novice to master.
Winning and Losing
Winning is still very important. But learning is more important than winning or losing.
“It would be easy to read about the studies on entity vs incremental theories of intelligence and come to the conclusion that a child should never win or lose. I don’t believe this is the case. If that child discovers any ambition to pursue excellence in a given field later in life, he or she may lack the toughness to handle inevitable obstacles. While a fixation on results is certainly unhealthy, short term goals can be useful development tools if they are balanced within a nurturing long-term philosophy. Too much sheltering from results can be stunting.”
Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning
Assume your child is playing high-school level soccer. Which is better? Winning against a kindergarden team or losing a close match against a university team? I would argue that playing against the stronger team (win or lose) will have much better long term benefits than winning against the kindergarden team. If you never lose then you are not challenging yourself enough.
If your child experiences a crushing defeat, don’t patronize them by saying that “it doesn’t matter if you win or lose”. Your child is feeling strong emotions that clearly matter to him. Your words will not resonate with his reality. Instead acknowledge those feelings and focus on the learning: “I know you put a lot of effort into this and you wanted to win very badly. Not winning hurts a lot sometimes, but it can also help you get better. Let’s learn from this — let’s train harder and get better for the next match. The best way to get better is to face strong opponents, and when you face strong opponents you will lose sometimes. But you will get better. And the better you get, the more you will win.”
“I have seen many people in diverse fields take some version of the (incremental learning) philosophy and transform it into an excuse for never putting themselves on the line or pretending not to care about results. They claim to be egoless, to care only about learning, but really this is an excuse to avoid confronting themselves.”
Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning
What Parents or Teachers can do
The language used by parents or teachers play a big role in a child’s view of their intelligence.
Language such as “You are really good at math, but bad at English” will tend to reinforce that intelligence is a fixed and unchangeable. Children will learn that they are good at math and bad at English. They will link their success and failure to a predefined fixed level of ability. There is nothing they can do about it, so they will not try to get better.
Focus on the learning. Re-enforce that they can change their results with effort: “You are really doing good in math: Keep up the good work! You are struggling in english: Let’s study a little harder!”.
It is never too late
“It is clear that parents and teachers have an enormous responsibility in forming theories of intelligence of their students and children — and it is never too late. It is critical to realize that we can always evolve in our approaches to learning. Studies have shown that in just minutes, kids can be conditioned into having a healthy learning theory for a given situation.”
This is an archive and record of how I used to plan my week back in November 2013. My ritual has changed since then, but the information is still relavent.
What is “Balance”
I don’t like the term “Work/Life” balance because it implies that there are only two areas of importance: Work and Life. The reality for most of us is that “Life” is actually composed of several important roles: Parenting, Homeownership, Friendships, Community, “Me” time, etc….
Most of us already spend at least half our waking hours at work. This does not leave much time for the other important areas in your life.
How I Plan My Week
Every weekend I go through the following ritual to plan the coming week. The goals are to ensure that important things get done, but also to ensure that some time is devoted to each of the roles you play.
1. I review my Personal Mission Statement
A personal mission statement gives you guidance and is a reminder of what is important to you. If you don’t already have one, take some time to write one. Every week I review my mission statement and update it if necessary.
My Personal Mission Statement
To find happiness, fulfillment, and value in living I will strive to:
Make a positive difference in the lives of others;
Spend more quality time with friends and family;
Simplify my life; work less; have more “perfect days”; and keep an open mind;
Do great things; strive for excellence; and inspire others.
Apologize sincerely when necessary.
Remember that life is short; be grateful; relax and enjoy the moment; Memento Mori.
2. I review my Roles
Achieving “balance in life” isn’t about getting a 50/50 balance between “work” and “life”. You play many more than just 2 roles in life: Individual, Father, Husband, Friend, Employee, Homeowner, Artist, World Traveler, Adventurer, etc… You should try to devote some time to each of the roles you play.
Although they rarely change, every week I review my roles and occasionally I add a new role or remove a role that no longer applies.
Father / Husband
Family Member (son, brother, cousin)
Employee / Entrepreneur
3. For each Role, I review my Long Term Goals
For each of my roles I try to define some long term goals. I review my goals weekly to make sure they are still important to me and that they align with my personal mission statement.
What are some big things that would make a tremendous difference if I could accomplish them? I try to make the goals as specific as possible and not too vague. Each week I want to try and get a little closer to reaching those goals.
Some of my Goals
Individual: Resume Painting; Climb Mt. Kilamanjaro; Visit the Pyramids of Giza.
Father / Husband: Weekly date night; 10 year anniversary trip; Build swing set;
Family: Help my father lose 50lbs; Family cottage trip;
Friend: Help my friends identify and achieve their goals;
Homeowner: Renovate garage; Build a pool;
4. I schedule time in my week for each Role
Every week I make an effort to spend some time on each role. I identify the most impactful thing I can do for each role and schedule time in my calendar to do it. Sometimes this is something that gets me closer to some big ambitious goal, other times it’s something simpler like buying flowers or a date night.
For each of my roles I choose 1 to 3 important priorities/tasks to work on that week.
5. I schedule time for Personal Renewal & Growth
In addition to spending time on each of my roles, I try to devote time each week to become better physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually:
Physical: Eat healthy, exercise, etc…
Mental: Read, learn, etc…
Social: Strengthen existing relationships, form new relationships, networking, etc…
Most of us tend to use REACTIVE language in our day to day lives: “I CAN’T do that because I MUST do this”. Changing to PROACTIVE language can have a profound effect on your life: “I DON’T WANT to do that because I WANT to do this”.
I NEED vs I WANT I MUST vs I PREFER I CAN’T vs I CHOOSE
Most of us tend to use reactive language in our day to day lives: “I CAN’T do this because I MUST do that”. The reality of the situation is that you probably don’t have to do the second thing and probably CAN do the first thing.
Outside of being bound by the laws of physics, there are very few things in life that you HAVE to do or that you CAN’T do. So why do we use those words?
Using reactive language absolves you of responsibility but also makes you powerless: “I am not responsible. I am not able to choose my response. There is nothing I can do about it”.
WHAT YOU SAY
WHAT YOU MEAN
I can’t do that. I just don’t have the time
Something external (limited time) is controlling me
If only my boss were more patient
Someone else’s behaviour is limiting my effectiveness
I have to do it
Circumstances or other people are forcing me to do what I do. I am not free to choose my own actions.
Examples of reactive language.
This subtle change in language can make a huge positive impact in your life.
REACTIVE “I wish I could take 6 months off and travel the world but I can’t because I have to work and I don’t have enough vacation.”
PROACTIVE #1 “Although I would love to take 6 months off and travel, my financial security and my career are currently more important to me. I choose not to go on this trip so that I can focus on my career instead.”
PROACTIVE #2 “The experience of travelling is much more important to me than my job or my financial security. So I will convince my boss to give me a 6 month sabbatical (or just quit?) and I will go on this iconic journey.”
Re-evaluate your Paradigm
Saying that “I DON’T WANT TO go on a wonderful 6 month trip because I WANT TO work” is difficult and counterintuitive. By changing your language you will re-evaluate your reality:
Do I really want to keep working instead of travelling?
How important is seeing the world to me?
How important is my job or career?
Is this job really what I want to do?
What is truly important to me?
There are no right or wrong answers to any of these questions. But asking these questions is important and empowers you to change.
Be Precise in your Speech
How you talk reinforces what you believe to be true. By being reactive with your language, you reinforce that you are powerless. By being precise and truthful with your language, you accept responsibility for your choices and gain the power to change those choices and to change your situation.
Take Responsibility. Make it your Fault.
Until you can honestly say that “I am what I am today because of the choices I made yesterday” you cannot say “I choose otherwise”.
Never blame others for failures. Always blame yourself. The moment you blame another person or some external circumstance, you become powerless to change the results:
THEIR FAULT “The project failed because we didn’t get enough support from the marketing department. They need to do a better job next time.”
YOUR FAULT “The project failed because I did not mobilize the marketing department effectively. Next time I will change my strategy and make a more effective presentation explaining the importance of their role in the success of this project.”
The more responsibility you take, the more power you have to change.
Stewardship Delegation often requires training and development of the people that you are delegating to. This ensures that they are competent enough to rise to the level of trust required to delegate.
The Five key elements of Stewardship Delegation
1. Desired Results & Timelines
Clearly specify the results that are expected and their timeline. Focus on RESULTS and not the methods.
Have the person communicate back to you the final results they will be delivering and when they will be delivering them.
2. Guidelines and Restrictions
Identify any guidelines and major restriction within which the person should operate. These should be as few as possible, but DO identify any paths to failure.
3. Available Resources
Identify all resources available to help in achieving the results: List any human, financial, technical, and organizational resources.
4. Evaluation and Performance Standards
Setup the performance standards that will be used in evaluating the results and the specific times when evaluation will take place. The individual is responsible for the evaluation and for ensuring it takes place.
5. Consequences of Success or Failure
Specify what will happen – both good and bad — as a result of the evaluation. (Financial rewards, psychic rewards, different job assignments, etc…)
Millions of people around the world lack access to clean water. Here is an amazingly simple method to purify water using an empty pop bottle.
The Simple Way to Purify Water
Take an empty transparent bottle
Fill it with water
Leave it out in the sun for 6 hours
Drink the water
SODIS is a simple procedure for disinfecting drinking water. Contaminated water is poured into transparent water bottles (glass or plastic) and placed in the sun for six hours. During this time, the UV rays of the sun kill all the germs.
Does anyone else feel that we’ve been wasting a lot of resources building solar panel powered water purification plants? All this time we could have harnessed the sun’s rays directly.
Polyphasic sleep is the practice of replacing 8 hours of sleep per day with multiple shorter naps. If you’re a new parent, here is how to leverage polyphasic sleep to catchup on missing sleep.
Polyphasic sleep is the practice of replacing a single 8 hour sleep with multiple shorter naps. This is done maximize your “awake” hours: The claim is that you can achieve the same level of rest with less sleep, and have more hours in the day to do stuff.
When my daughter was born, I was forced into a polyphasic sleep routine (i.e.: I was woken up at night a lot). So I decided to try and continue the polyphasic sleep pattern during the day (i.e.: take power naps). Unlike traditional polyphasic sleepers, my focus was NOT on maximizing my awake time. My focus was on maximizing sleep time.
My plan was to try and sleep as much as possible during the night (with the expectation that I would be frequently woken up). During the day, I would take regimented power naps to catch up the the sleep I’ve missed.
There needs to be at least two parents
You need a flexible work schedule
You need a private place to take naps during the day
My Polyphasic Sleep Routine
Nightime (~10PM to ~7AM)
Try to get as much sleep as possible
Don’t force yourself to stay awake
Don’t force yourself to wake up at a specific time
Take a 20-45 minute power nap every 3-4 hours. If you wake up at 6AM, you take a nap at 10AM, 2PM, 6PM. If you wake up an hour earlier or later, the schedule gets shifted appropriately.
Capitalize on nap opportunities: If it’s only 3 hours since your last nap, but you have an opportunity for a power nap now, take the nap. Don’t wait another hour.
Don’t oversleep. Once that 45 minute alarm goes off, get up!
Don’t forget to nap. If you skip a nap, try to nap at the next opportunity and reset your nap schedule from that point.
Carry an “instant-anywhere-nap-kit”: a blanket, inflatable pillow, eye blind, and ear plugs to allow for instant naps anywhere.
Did it work?
Yes — it actually worked really well for me. I got into a routine of taking two power naps at work, and then another power nap shortly after I got home. How much or little I slept during the night didn’t really affect my day-time productivity, as I could catchup on the missing sleep.
I only followed this routine for 2-3 months, as our daughter started sleeping full nights very early on (which I am very grateful for).
Everything you do in life can be classified by its urgency and by its importance. We often spend our lives focused on the Urgent things instead of the Important things. It is important to learn to distinguish between the two.
Important and Urgent
Crises and Emergencies
Important but Not Urgent
Prevention, Planning, and Improvement
Not Important but Urgent
Interruptions and Busy Work
Not Important and Not Urgent
We often spend our lives focused on the Urgent things instead of the Important things. In business as in life it is extremely important to ask yourself: “Am I doing this because it is truly important or am I doing this because it is simply urgent?”
Important and urgent things, such as crises and emergencies, should not be ignored. However, the more time you can spend on the non-urgent but important things (prevention, planning, improvement) the less crises and emergencies you will experience..
Below is a more detailed explanation of each quadrant along with some examples:
Quadrant 1: Important and Urgent
Fire fighting mode: Crises, real hard deadlines for important project, health & family emergencies, etc…
Quadrant 1 is the urgent important quadrant: Things that you should definitely NOT ignore. However, spending too much time in fire fighting mode will lead to stress and burn out. You will be caught in a never-ending cycle of crisis management.
The only way to reduce the time spent in this quadrant is to be proactive by spending more time on the important things BEFORE they become emergencies (see Quadrant 2 below).
Quadrant 1 Example Dealing with a heart attack is an Urgent and Important problem that cannot be ignored (but perhaps by living a healthier lifestyle such health emergencies can be reduced or avoided all together).
Quadrant 2: Important but not Urgent
This is where you should spend most of your time.
Quadrant 2 tasks are all about planning, prevention, capability improvement, relationship building, recognizing new opportunities, etc…
Spending time on these important things should lead to a clear vision and a balanced life, discipline, control, and fewer and fewer crisis situations.
Quadrant 2 Examples
Frequently buying flowers for your significant other “just because”
Eating healthy and exercising to avoid future health issues
Preventative maintenance on your home or car
Reading, learning, and education
Forming bonds and strengthening relationships with your friends and family
Self renewal and spending time on things that inspire and uplift you
Quadrant 3: Not Important but Urgent
Many of us spend a big portion of our time in this Quadrant confusing the Urgent things for the Important things.
Interruptions, ringing phones, most emails, etc… Spending too much time on the unimportant urgent things leads to a very short-term focus with continual crisis management. Your plans and goals will seem increasingly useless since you are unlikely to have time to devote to them. Your relationships and reputation will suffer and you will feel victimized with no control over your life.
Quadrant 3 Example
You have scheduled an important meeting with a coworker 2 weeks ahead of time. This person has very limited time and so you carve out a 30 minute window to deal with a very important matter. As you sit down and start the meeting, your phone rings.
The phone is screaming: “Pick me up! Pick me up! Pick me up!” Most people will pickup the phone and sacrifice the very important meeting for the likely not important but urgent ringing phone.
Quadrant 4: Not Urgent and Not Important
These are the time wasters in your life.
Spending too much time on non-urgent and not important things can lead to dependence on others for your basics, loss of jobs, irresponsibility, etc…
Quadrant 4 Examples
Trivial busy work
Mindless web surfing
Watching too much TV
Lots of pleasant activities
How do I use this to make my life better?
A. Identify Quadrant 2 activities.
Write down all the Quadrant 1 and 3 activities you routinely do (all the Urgent stuff)
Write down how you can prevent these things from reoccurring or from becoming emergencies in the first place: These are your new Quadrant ii activities.
B. Free up time for Quadrant 2 activities
Look at all the things in Quadrant 4 and STOP DOING THEM!
Look at all the things in Quadrant 3 and stop doing them too. This is more difficult as it involves saying NO to people.
You should now have time to spend on Quadrant 2
C. Schedule time for Quadrant 2
Schedule time to do Quadrant 2 activities. (Put them in your calendar just like a meeting).
DO THE THINGS YOU SCHEDULED!
D. Reduce Quadrant 1
The beauty with spending more time in Quadrant 2 is that it should slowly chip away at all your Quadrant 1 activities.
As you reduce your Quadrant 1 activities you have more time for Quadrant 2, creating a fly-wheel effect.
Not quite. The Question “What is important to me?” usually does not have a simple answer.
What Quadrant Am I?
Example 1: Going to a Sporting event (Hockey, Baseball, Football game, etc…)
Which quadrant does this fall into? The answer is it depends on YOUR priorities and what is important to YOU. On the surface it looks clearly like a Q4 item – a time waster. Not urgent and certainly not important.
But, it could be a Q2 event (important) if you consider the event to be an opportunity to spend quality time building relationships with your parents, children, or friends .
Example 2: Watching TV
Clearly another Q4 item: A time waster. Or is it? If watching TV is a stress reliever for you and serves as a way to wind down and chill out after a hectic day, it could very well be a Q2 activity. Just as long as you frame it correctly and consume it in the right way.
To be successful with this method you must have a very clear understanding of what is important to you, what your long term goals are, etc… For more information about how to plan your week around this framework, see my blog post on How I Plan My Week.