How to Accomplish More with Only One Thing

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We hear it all the time: “Focus on the 6 most important things for today.” “List 3 things you most want to accomplish.” “What are 10 things on your bucket list?” But is it possible to  accomplish more with less? Have you ever tried the pricinple of the One Thing?

New Approach to Life

This year I decided to try a new approach to life: no lengthy resolutions, no bucket lists, no alphabetical prioritizing. Instead, I want to focus on the principle of “One Thing.” Can you really accomplish more with one thing? Can I honestly make a difference by focusing only on One Thing? This year, I challenge you to find out with me.

2000 + Year Old Idea

Actually, the idea is not new. It’s been around for a couple of…thousand years. Two sisters first experienced this principle in their home while serving dinner to guests. At least one of them did.

One day Mary and Martha were entertaining Jesus and His disciples in their home. While Mary sat at the feet of Jesus listening to His teaching, Martha fumed in the kitchen while she prepared dinner–alone. Her emotions finally erupted, and she confronted Jesus with the unfairness of her situation: “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”

The One Thing Principle

But Jesus gently chided her and challenged her with the “one thing” principle–which Mary had apparently already discovered: “My dear Martha, you are so upset over all these details! There is really only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it–and I won’t take it away from her” (See Luke 10:38-42, NLT).

Jesus doesn’t explain the “one thing.” He doesn’t have to. We get His meaning. Hopefully, Martha did, too. Did Martha’s work not matter? Of course it did. But Mary chose the best part. Her priority–her focus–was on Jesus Himself. Her joy–and need–in that relationship drove her to Jesus’ feet. If Martha’s focus had truly been on Jesus, would not the joy of serving Him with her gifts equal Mary’s desire to hear His teaching and the way Mary chose to honor Jesus?

If anything drives us other than our relationship with Jesus, we’re still probably in the process of learning. If anything matters to us more than Jesus, something needs rearranging. Personally, I’m so grateful for God’s patience!

10 Ways to Accomplish More with Only One Thing

But that “one thing” has some practical application. Keeping our singular focus on Jesus this year, how can we “accomplish” more by using the one thing principle? Here are some questions and suggestions to get you started. Some are general, others more specialized:

  • What is one thing I can do to make a difference this year? (There are probably many, but for now, focus only on one thing).
  • What is one area in which I can work to improve this year? (There are many; choose one: health, relationships, spiritual growth, etc.)
  • What is the one thing I most want to accomplish today? (At least you’ll feel successful that you did one thing, not attempted ten and accomplished none)
  • What is one way I can encourage someone today? (We can all think of at least one).
  • What is one thing for which I can thank God most today? (Just one thing? That’s hard).
  • What is one way I can show God’s love today? (Everyone needs His love!)
  • What is one Scripture I can work on (this week, this month, this year)? (Focus on content and application, not mileage).
  • What is one creative meal I can prepare this week (month)? (Did I have to mention that one)?
  • What is one sentence that describes my idea (for writers, entrepreneurs, and other creative workers)?
  • What is the one purpose for my blog (for bloggers and wannabes)?

Okay, ignore that I listed 10 possibilities. :-)  Obviously, if you try to incorporate too many “one things” into your day, year, or life, you’ll end up like Martha. And if you insist verbally to your boss that you can only do “one thing” today, you might receive a pink slip instead of kudos. Keep it in perspective.

Being and Doing

“Being” is the counterpart to “doing.” Keep the main thing the main thing (focused on your relationship with Jesus), abiding and listening to Him daily. But be aware of many areas in which you can practically focus without falling prey to the Martha syndrome. It’s possible to give attention to many areas by focusing on only one thing in each of them.

One Thing to Remember

Remember this: Pursue the person (Jesus) and the performance will follow.  -RBJ

Who Will Accept the Challenge? (Book Giveaway: You Might Win a Free Book!)

Who will accept the challenge and focus on one thing this year? Better still, I’d like to hear your other creative suggestions for “one things.” Share your suggestions in the comments below. (Keep them brief so others can offer theirs, too). For those willing to suggest at least one thing in the comments below, I’ll place your names in a drawing for a free Day-votions™ book and/or my 40 Days in God’s Presence book at the end of January (I’ll draw two names, one for each book). How can you accomplish more with only one thing?

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    61 Responses to “How to Accomplish More with Only One Thing”

    1. Barbara Underwood on January 8th, 2011 4:46 pm

      The very beginning started with One(God), and I think each day should start with One(God).

    2. Cher on January 8th, 2011 4:57 pm

      Many times it only takes a few minutes to be a blessing to someone.
      My one goal for this year and from now on is to take that few minutes each day to be a blessing.

    3. JASON FROM BORONIA VICTORIA AUSTRALIA on January 8th, 2011 5:10 pm

      AS Christians we are to Bless Others.

    4. Jennie Price on January 8th, 2011 5:18 pm

      Such a confirmation for me…I have been focusing on only 1 thing and that is a closer walk with the Lord, putting things in His most Capable Hands and leaving them there, RESTING in His Everlasting Arms, and seeking first His Kingdom and Righteousness and trusting everything else will come after. Praise God for His mercy, love and faithfulness.

    5. Coralie - Queensland, Australia on January 8th, 2011 6:50 pm

      A very pertinent reminder for this coming year – thank you Rebecca. At the beginning of the year I pondered on what I would bring to the Lord each day as an offering even though the last two years had been less than memorable. Many thoughts came and went (as they do!). Then what has stayed with me is to bring GRATITUDE to Him or to walk in an attitude of gratitude giving thanks always in that stance. As this attitude has been built on daily, one cannot help but radiate in demeanor, in speech, in action, in empathy and in prayer His thoughts about any given set of circumstances. His ways are so much higher than ours.

    6. Rebecca on January 8th, 2011 9:32 pm

      Thanks Coralie, Jennie, Jason, Cher and Barbara! Great suggestions and comments! I appreciate your taking the time to add to our “One Thing” discussion!

    7. millie on January 8th, 2011 9:35 pm

      My husband has determined to look for the surprise that God would send his way each day. Psalm 97:11 Amplified ” Light is sown for the righteous and strewn along their pathway, and joy for the upright in heart.” ONE SWEET SURPRISE to brighten the path and bring joy to his heart.

    8. Sherrie on January 9th, 2011 7:34 am

      The one thing I’ll be focusing on this year is starting a blog called “if you were my own.” I’m excited but I don’t know anything about starting one.

    9. Cindy on January 9th, 2011 11:47 am

      Pray at for one person everyday.

      My blog would be about my devotion time and what I learn each day.

    10. Rebecca on January 9th, 2011 4:20 pm

      I love that verse, Millie. And that’s a great “one thing” to look for! Hasn’t God brought some of the sweetest surprises our way? Thanks for that reminder!

    11. Rebecca on January 9th, 2011 4:31 pm

      Sherrie, that sounds like a very interesting blog. If you use WordPress for your blog, there’s a great book, WordPress for Dummies, that gives lots of good help for blogging. I have one blog/post on my website on blogging: It gives other links to some sites that might be helpful to you. There are tons of helps available on the web (and lots of books, too). The most important thing is to keep it simple and adapt to your own needs and use to convey the message God impresses you to with.

    12. Rebecca on January 9th, 2011 4:33 pm

      Cindy, that’s a wonderful “one thing” to do this year. God says our prayers are like incense–perfume–to Him. And I’m sure many would benefit and be blessed from what God teaches you each day in your devotion time. Thanks for commenting.

    13. Janet Chester Bly on January 11th, 2011 12:28 pm

      This one thing I do. . .forgetting what lies behind, reaching forward to what lies ahead. Thanks for your great post. Got me focused back on Jesus today, in the midst of harried duties.

    14. Arlene Pellicane on January 11th, 2011 12:42 pm

      Hello AWSA sister…My one thing is promoting my new book “31 Days to a Younger You” by speaking and writing. I love what Karen Ehman says in my book “Just because you’re capable of something doesn’t mean you’re called to it.” Your message encourages us to pick that one thing we’re called to do, instead of the many things we may be capable of. Thank you for that great message!

    15. Rebecca on January 11th, 2011 3:14 pm

      Great reminder, Janet. Thanks for that “one thing” verse from Philippians. I love it!

    16. Rebecca on January 11th, 2011 3:16 pm

      God bless you as you write and speak this year, Arlene. Thanks for your comments.

    17. Lynn D. Morrissey on January 11th, 2011 3:47 pm

      Rebecca, thank you for this marvelous reminder. It is interesting that the Bible really does talk about “one thing” in the places already mentioned here. I tend to get really distracted, so God has also helped me focus on one tihng or one theme during each year. This year, God led me to Rev. 3:2, and I realized that God’s theme for me is *completion.* There is unfinished business in my life that is weighing me down and preventing me from moving forward in complete freedom. I want to complete what I have started, under God’s direction and by His enabling. However, as I did a word search on the word “complete” (or derivations thereof), I realized what a rich experience the Lord has in store for me this year. I am complete in Christ, so I do not need to be discouraged. He has given me all that I need for life and godliness. He gives me complete oneness with Him and Christ. He also wants my joy to be complete in Christ. God rewards complete obedience. I should complete what He has begun in me by finishing those projects that I have not been obedient to complete. I need to focus on obeying the Lord completely. I need to completely repent of any sin which He reveals in my life. Like the Israelites, God tells me to completely destroy my enemies so they will not become thorns in my side. Of course, I am using the word “ememy” metaphorically. I don’t destroy people, but I need to put away any habits or sins which threaten me spiritually. As I do these things, the Lord will complete the good work He began in me and He will make me complete (or mature). Completion is a wonderful, multi-facted, richly nuanced Christian concept. I look foward to completing 2011 as a banner year, with complete joy in and devotion to the Lord. Bless you, Rebecca, for your complete encouragement to us all!
      Lynn Morrrissey, author and speaker

    18. Rebecca on January 16th, 2011 2:20 pm

      Thanks so much, Lynn, for these “complete” thoughts to encourage us all. What a great focus for the year–any year!

    19. Erin on January 17th, 2011 12:35 pm

      I am focusing on one word this year- simplify. I try to make all of my decisions based on making things more simple. It really is working!

    20. Rebecca on January 17th, 2011 2:04 pm

      A great “one” word, Erin. I think I’ve been trying to simplify for years! :-) And that’s not easy in today’s world. A good reminder. Thanks!

    21. Heather on January 19th, 2011 5:54 am

      This is something that I definitely needed to hear and be reminded of. I have such a tendency to fall into “Martha” syndrome and it makes myself and those around me miserable. Thank you for your inspiring words.

    22. Gwen on January 19th, 2011 6:38 am

      I started my one thing last year. I committed myself to read through the New Testament by spending time reading some every morning when I got up. That one thing grew to a commitment to begin each day quietly with the Lord – reading and praying. As I did this, I was changed – my husband and family noticed too. When I finished the New Testament, I began the Old Testament and my commitment grew to read the Bible in a year. My year is coming up, and I believe I will accomplish the goal. But out of that goal came a new “one thing.” To live my life according to God’s plan. To seek His will on a daily basis. Experience has taught me that when I do that – all the other things that need to get done tend to fall in to order.

    23. Jan on January 19th, 2011 5:36 pm

      Hi Rebecca,

      In all things give thanks for this is the will of GOD concerning you… I Thess 5:18 – I’m starting out EVERY DAY giving thanks. And for everythilng that happens, I’m remembering to do this one thing – GIVE THANKS.

    24. Rebecca on January 19th, 2011 6:56 pm

      Heather, you’re not alone. We all fall into that syndrome at times. Thanks for your comments!

    25. Rebecca on January 19th, 2011 6:59 pm

      Gwen, that’s such a powerful “one” thing to do. I’ve been reading through the Bible again, too–this time with a chronological Bible. And I’m learning so much. God is so faithful to speak to us through His Word. Thank you for sharing!

    26. Rebecca on January 19th, 2011 7:01 pm

      Jan, giving thanks will transform our attitudes. And God loves to hear our P’s and T’s (praises and thanks)! Thanks for sharing that helpful “one thing.”

    27. rose mortimer on January 20th, 2011 2:51 pm

      focus on being content with where God has you

    28. Cathy L. Lloyd on January 21st, 2011 8:23 am

      one thing- breathe in the Holy Spirit

    29. Claire on January 21st, 2011 8:26 am

      Hello Rebecca,

      I thoroughly ennjoyed reading your column this morning on the roles of Mary and Martha. For years I was much like Martha when we had visitors at our home. Then the last six years at least I’ve had to take the role of Mary due to severe medical conditions. Made me feel so inadequate that it made me depressed. Now I take time on a daily basis to read from the Bible, both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Most times I find it very encouraging but at times I seem not to be listening to what God is trying to tell me in the silence of my heart. I always think of what I could be doing to help my husband with our finances as we’re both retired but he is still working to help make ends meet. Please pray that I may find God’s will in all of this as I realize that my condition doesn’t portray a lengthy future. Thank you and God Bless youjr ministry

    30. Marcia Pridgen on January 21st, 2011 8:59 am

      One Thing – To love the LORD my God with my everything today.

    31. Bonnie Fulcher on January 21st, 2011 9:30 am

      The “one thing” I would do is to learn to say “No.” Say “no” to anything even if it seems good… that gets in the way of your relationship with God, your time with God, and what God wants you to do with your time.

    32. Gail Bucholz on January 21st, 2011 10:04 am

      One thing – you can do for your husband/wife today.

    33. Shirley Boberg on January 21st, 2011 10:24 am

      One thing – to share devotions with my daughter as my husband does the same with our son. Both of us are being rewarded with a closer understanding of how our children think. This all started again this time as a way to get my son back to feeling that he is closer to Jesus. He is nearly 14 and was lamenting that he no longer felt the bond with Jesus. He has Aspergers so it was particularly heart wrenching for me.

    34. Bruce & Joy Niles on January 21st, 2011 12:33 pm

      You can accomplish much, if you don’t care who gets the credit.

    35. Larry Dinkins on January 21st, 2011 1:15 pm

      I know someone who is a consumate story teller who has told the Mary and Martha story well over 300+ …she unpacks that story through questions only…doesn’t preach it. If you are interested go to

    36. Debbie on January 21st, 2011 2:25 pm

      I have been trying to turn to God when I have any kind of decision, sort of asking myself silently each time, Is this God’s will? and would God approve? I want to make it a habit for all my decisions to not make a pro/con list, ask others, worry, but just simply seek His guidance and move forward. I know if I focus on that one thing, it will become a good habit, and I’ll make better decisions more often, with less worry. Thanks for your blog Rebecca!

    37. Rebecca on January 21st, 2011 2:29 pm

      Rose and Cathy, those are excellent “one things” to focus on. Thanks!

    38. Rebecca on January 21st, 2011 2:34 pm

      Claire, thanks for sharing about your roles of Mary and Martha. Truly there are seasons of our lives when some things change–sometimes things that challenge our very natures or personalities. It sounds like you are finding some positives of those changing things due to your medical conditions. At the same that, that presents a restless challenge for you. My prayers go with you that you will discover every day what God wants to show you, and that He will give you grace, peace, and purpose through all of it. Rest in Him! Thanks for writing!

    39. Rebecca on January 21st, 2011 2:36 pm

      Thanks Marcia, Gail and Bonnie, for your great “one thing” suggestions. All of them are good and give us lots to think about–and act upon.

    40. Rebecca on January 21st, 2011 2:38 pm

      Shirley, bless you for your work with your children. Such an important focus!Thanks for adding your comments!

    41. Brenna on January 21st, 2011 2:44 pm

      Wow.. I needed to be reminded of this. So often I try to do many things at once and then feel horrible when they all don’t get done. I have also had a problem with working on getting too many habits down. I want to focus this year on focusing on God first thing in the morning until the point where it becomes habit and I don’t worry about what I have to do.. just God. That is the one thing I want to work on.

    42. Rebecca on January 21st, 2011 2:47 pm

      Bruce & Joy, this is so true. Thanks for this sobering reminder!

    43. Rebecca on January 21st, 2011 2:52 pm

      Larry, thanks for sharing this. More and more missionaries are using “stories” to share about Christ the world over. I love to use these kind of questions when teaching a group. It’s so much more powerful when people learn through discovery, isn’t it? Jesus had such a unique way with sharing parables and pointed questions.

    44. Rebecca on January 21st, 2011 2:54 pm

      And thank you, Debbie, for these helpful words regarding making wise decisions and seeking God’s guidance.

    45. Rebecca on January 21st, 2011 3:03 pm

      Brenna, thanks for taking the time to comment. I think we all struggle with that one. Great “one thing” to focus on!

    46. phyllis on January 21st, 2011 4:44 pm


    47. Rebecca on January 21st, 2011 5:17 pm

      Phyllis, That’s a great “one thing.” Reminds me of Jesus’ words: “Seek first the Kingdom of God, and all……”

    48. Sally on January 21st, 2011 9:52 pm

      My “1 thing” is to be more Christlike so that others will be drawn to Him. I am an imperfect human being. He must shine through me. This cannot be accomplished through MY doing anything, but getting out of the way & letting Him use me. As John the Baptist said (in my words) – “He must increase and I must decrease.”
      This sounds almost depressing to folks who’ve never tried it. It has been one of the most fulfilling, exhilarating, exciting things I have ever experienced in my 62+ years of life!

    49. Rebecca on January 21st, 2011 10:34 pm

      Sally, this is a wonderful “one thing” that we all need more of. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us.

    50. Crystal on January 22nd, 2011 12:44 am

      My “one thing” to Focus on is being happy each day by walking closer to our God. As in my past the closer I walk the more happiness I have. Thank you for the reminder, Rebecca

    51. Dominica Dooms on January 22nd, 2011 6:23 am

      Seek the kingdom of God its righteousness and all these other things shall be added . Seek Him first and the rest shall follow..God is the Source anything else is a resource..

    52. Teena on January 22nd, 2011 7:26 am

      “the one thing”seems to have been ringing in my ear the whole day and so I ask myself,what is one thing i want to do this year?the one thing would be to continue to change my mindset with the word of God.I am a very negative person since childhood due to my upbringing and and rotten past.i find it difficult to see life positively even though i became a christian.but I know my life will be transformed as I continue to have a new mindset.thank you for the opportunity of sharing.

    53. Rebecca on January 22nd, 2011 2:25 pm

      Crystal, Dominica, and Teena, Thank you for these great “one thing” suggestions and for sharing your desires for focus this year. Added to all the others, these have all been great ways to encourage–and pray–for one another.

    54. Taylor on January 23rd, 2011 12:04 pm

      The one thing I want to do this year is to let my friends know how special they are to me.

    55. Rebecca on January 23rd, 2011 2:50 pm

      That’s an important one, Taylor. Thanks for sharing!

    56. Wren on January 24th, 2011 9:41 am

      Every year I spend some of Thanksgiving coming up with things to be thankful for. This year for some reason, it was easier than usual, not that anything was particularly different – we don’t have a lot, but we have more than enough. My One Thing will be to remember that I have so much to thank God for – I have a good job, loving family, warm house, everything I need and then some. Each morning, I thank Him for my life – thank you God!

    57. Theresa on January 27th, 2011 9:24 am

      I enjoyed your article. I love to cook and thought trying one new recipe each week would be great.

    58. Rebecca on January 29th, 2011 3:55 pm

      Wren, thanks for sharing with us. Giving thanks daily is a big–and important “one” thing.

    59. Rebecca on January 29th, 2011 3:57 pm

      Thanks, Theresa! And I hope you enjoy all those new recipes! We love to try out new ones from Southern Living Magazine–even though we have lots of cookbooks!

    60. Lisa Bolicek on January 17th, 2012 7:19 am

      Cherish today,God gave you today and you do not know about tomorrow!

    61. Rebecca Barlow Jordan on January 22nd, 2012 6:15 pm

      A good noe, Lisa! Thanks for sharing that!

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