When I was a young mom with young children, I struggled to keep our home neat and clean. The sinks in the bathrooms would get mold of some color or scale around the base of the faucets. I hated to drop anything around the toilet. Yuk! The kitchen was usually cleaner but very cluttered. And there were toys everywhere.

When I did clean, it was with fervor. When I cleaned the bathroom it was an event – and exhausting. I used an arsenal of chemicals, brushes, sponges, and even toothpicks. When I was done the entire thing sparkled.

I finally got things under control by following the advice of FlyLady and using a system to get the kids’ help in The Messies Manual: The Procrastinator’s Guide to Good Housekeeping. However, there is one practice I use now that I don’t think I got from either of them.

I honestly don’t remember when I started doing this one thing or where I got the idea. If you recognize it as someone’s signature concept, please let me know so I can give credit where credit is due.

The one thing is to do one thing. If I see one thing that needs to be done, I just take a minute and do that one thing. For example, if I notice that a windowsill is dusty, I grab a damp paper towel and wipe it off.

In the past, I’d have seen the dusty windowsill, been bothered by it, but ignored it until I found the time to clean the window, the blinds, and the windowsill. Everything was a project in my mind that had to be done to perfection. If I didn’t have time to do it all perfectly, it went on the rather long list of projects.

The idea is to Do One Thing that needs to be done. If you see it, take care of it. If you see three, do the one that bugs you the most, and come back to the others later. The key is that the worst things are getting taken care of immediately and quickly. It’s easy! It’s amazing what you can get done in less than five minutes.

Now if I see one dusty baseboard, I wipe off that one. I don’t run through the house cleaning them all. If a blind looks dirty, I do a few slats at a time when I take work breaks. Nothing is ever perfect all at the same time, but everything is pretty good most of the time.

Of course, if we Do One Thing all the time and ignore the strategic actions that move us toward big goals, we’ve missed the point. It’s about doing small things that need to be done in small amounts of time between the bigger actions with deadlines that support big successes.

So what are the leadership lessons here? For you knew there must be one if I’m writing about it in my blog.

Actually, there are a couple of ideas to take away from the concept of Do One Thing. First, perfection is an enemy. You can read about that here.

Second, leaders often step over small things that need to be done because they are pushed for time or think it’s not that important. I’m not talking about things like ordering paper for the copier. That is not generally a leader’s job. However, noticing that paper is low and sending the person in charge of paper a note is a hugely important small task.

(As I wrote out that example, I realized that it’s a pre-COVID-19 concept. Many of us are not in offices, and paper isn’t the essential item that it used to be, but you get the idea.)

The one thing that leaders could do in a moment or two – and get a huge benefit from – is connecting with the people that they work with. Many leaders feel that “chit chat” is a waste of time. It absolutely is not.

We need relationships to reach our most productive autonomic nervous state, the ventral vagal state. You can read about it here. That means that if we want everyone on our team to be creative, positive, and broad-minded, we want to ensure that they have some positive human interaction.

We also need to ensure that we, as leaders, have the relationships and connections that help us stay open-minded and good at problem-solving.

Small conversations also help to build the trust necessary for psychological safety, which is the essential ingredient for exceptional teams and performance. You can read about psychological safety here.

The biggest bang for a leader’s time buck is actively listening to someone for a few minutes – asking how things are going and paying attention to the answer.

Of course, it never hurts to take a minute and organize our workspaces or do a bit of stretching. The main thing to remember about Do One Thing is that it moves us forward, toward goals both big and small – even if it is a tiny baby step forward.

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