One goal per day

One goal per day is all you need. Here's why.

One goal per day
When you try to do everything at once, you’re heading towards burnout.

In this article, I discuss the benefits of focusing on one (major) goal per day, in terms of productivity, mental health, well-being, and happiness.


Many years ago, reading "Getting Things Done" (GTD) by David Allen sparked a deep curiosity in me about productivity techniques. I was fascinated at the prospect of being 10x more organized and productive. I was frustrated by my "limits" and wanted to find ways to be more efficient and more effective.

So I went down the productivity rabbit hole. GTD did help me bootstrap my personal productivity system. And, for that, it remains a very important book. But it led me down a dangerous path. I've tried all sorts of techniques to squeeze out the most of my days. I went as far as waking up every morning at 5 AM, using the pomodoro technique all day long, playing videos at 2x speed, skipping meals, and much worse.

My body ended up telling me that I had to take a break. I was lucky enough to avoid suffering from real burnout, but I know I was pretty close to the edge at that time. Since then, I learned to appreciate procrastination and "time waste". I learned to accept that things take time and that not everything can or needs to be fast-forwarded. Yes, my time is limited. No, I can't do it all. Yes, it really is frustrating. Limits are often enablers of creativity! Doing less, surprisingly often leads to more. More freedom, more energy, more ideas, more fun, more pleasure.

It's easy to say, but mental health depends a lot on acceptance.

One goal per day

More recently, I read the book "Make Time", by John Zeratsky & Jake Knapp. To me, it really felt like a revelation. That book completely changed the way I think about work, the way I approach it, and move towards my goals. To this day, it remains one of my favorite books of all time.

In Make Time, John & Jake give a key piece of advice: define your highlight for the day. As simple as that. Focus your energy on achieving that goal. Do your best to make progress towards achieving it. Once that's done, you should feel good about your day, no matter what else you do (or don't).

Some days are shorter than others. Some are more productive than others. Things rarely go according to plan. But when you limit your "scope" and manage to focus your energy on ONE thing, you increase your chances of making actual progress where it matters. This is in stark contrast with productivity for productivity's sake, where you might complete a gazillion tasks that fit in the "2-minute rule", but might still miss your actual target by a mile. We're much better off working on the right things right than on the wrong things.

The One Goal per Day "rule" is dead simple: pick your battles. Focus on what matters. Make the progress you want/need to. But whatever happens, don't have regrets because you did what you could, and that's what counts. Long-term and sustainable productivity is mostly about showing up and doing what we can. True agility doesn't require velocity. It requires relentlessly applying laser focus on making good progress.

Why focusing on one thing matters so much

This rule is part of my "Zen productivity" approach. It's about sustainability, mental health, wellbeing, and happiness. When I try to do too much, I end up frustrated because there's always so much more I want to do. I end up exhausted because I don't even take time to take care of my body and mind. I neglect my friends and family. And I end up burned out.

That's because hardcore productivity does not leave space to live. It's a conversion function that takes time as input and "done tasks" as output. There's no place for humans in productivity land. Sometimes, entering "pure productivity mode" is useful, but it can only be used sparingly, as it has severe negative effects when overused. It's like the Big F* Gun (BFG) in video games. Very powerful, but really hazardous.

The one goal per day rule helps do "less", but in a much more self-conscious way. When I choose my highlight of the day, I know that the choice I make directly implies that I reject a ton of other things I could've tried to do. It requires me to acknowledge the fact that I will do what I can. No more, no less. With practice, this leads to peace of mind and helps a lot with acceptance.


No matter how hard we want to do it all, our time on earth is limited. There's only so much we can do in a day. Instead of focusing on what we failed to achieve, we should be grateful for what we did try and what we did achieve. Perspective changes everything (that's also why I care so much about journaling).

So what's your most important goal for tomorrow?

That's it for today! ✨

About Sébastien

Hello everyone! I'm Sébastien Dubois. I'm an author, founder, and CTO. I write books and articles about software development & IT, personal knowledge management, personal organization, and productivity. I also craft lovely digital products 🚀

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