This One Thing I Do

The Secret of the Ages

by Robert Collier

"How do you tackle your work each day?
Do you grapple the task that comes your way,
With a confident, easy mind?
Do you start to toil with a sense of dread
Or feel that you're going to do it?

"You can do as much as you think you can,
But you'll never accomplish more;
If you're afraid of yourself, young man,
There's little for you in store.
For failure comes from the inside first,
It's there, if we only knew it,
And you can win, though you face the worst,
If you feel that you're going to do it."
--EDGAR A. GUEST. [**]

HOW did the Salvation Army get so much favorable publicity out of the War? They were a comparatively small part of the "Services" that catered to the boys "over there," let they carried off the lion's share of the glory. Do you know how they did it?

By concentrating on just one thing--DOUGHNUTS!

They served doughnuts to the boys--and they did it well. And that is the basis of all success in business--to focus on one thing and do that thing well. Better far to do one thing pre-eminently well than to dabble in forty.

Two thousand years ago, Porcius Marcus Cato became convinced, from a visit to the rich and flourishing City of Carthage, that Rome had in her a rival who must be destroyed. His countrymen laughed at him. He was practically alone in his belief. But he persisted. He concentrated all his thought, all his faculties, to that one end. At the end of every speech, at the end of every talk, he centered his hearers' thought on what he was trying to put over by epitomizing his whole idea in a single sentence--"Carthage must be destroyed!" And Carthage was destroyed.

If one man's concentration on a single idea could destroy a great nation, what can you not do when you apply that same principle to the building of a business?

I remember when I was first learning horsemanship, my instructor impressed this fact upon me: "Remember that a horse is an animal of one idea. You can teach him only one thing at a time."

Looking back, I'd say the only thing wrong with his instruction was that he took in too Little territory. He need not have confined himself to the horse. Most humans are the same way.

In fact, you can put ALL humans into that class if you want a thing done well. For you cannot divide your thought and do justice to any one of the different subjects you are thinking of. You've got to do one thing at a time. The greatest success rule I know in business--the one that should be printed over every man's desk, is--"This One Thing I Do." Take one piece of work at a time. Concentrate on it to the exclusion of all else. Then finish it! Don't half-do it, and leave it around to clutter up your desk and interfere with the next job. Dispose of it completely. Pass it along wherever it is to go. Be through with it and forget it! Then your mind will be clear to consider the next matter.

"The man who is perpetually hesitating which of two things he will do first," says William Wirt, "will do neither. The man who resolves, but suffers his resolution to be changed by the first counter-suggestion of a friend--who fluctuates from plan to plan and veers like a weather-cock to every point of the compass with every breath of caprice that blows--can never accomplish anything real or useful. It is only the man who first consults wisely, then resolves firmly, and then executes his purpose with inflexible perseverance, undismayed by those petty difficulties that daunt a weaker spirit, that can advance to eminence in any line."

Everything in the world, even a great business, can be resolved into atoms. And the basic principles behind the biggest business will be found to be the same as those behind the successful running of the corner newsstand. The whole practice of commerce is founded upon them. Any man can learn them, but only the alert and energetic can apply them. The trouble with most men is that they think they have done all that is required of them when they have earned their salary.

Why, that's only the beginning. Up to that point, you are working for someone else. From then on, you begin to work for yourself. Remember, you must give to get. And it is when you give that extra bit of time and attention and thought to your work that you begin to stand out above the crowd around you.

Norval Hawkins, for many years General Manager of Sales for the Ford Motor Company, wrote that "the greatest hunt in the Ford business right now is the MAN hunt." And big men in every industrial line echo his words. When it comes to a job that needs real ability, they are not looking for relatives or friends or men with "pull." They want a MAN--and they will, pay any price for the right man.

Not only that, but they always have a weather eye open for promising material. And the thing they value most of all is INITIATIVE.

But don't try to improve the whole works at once. Concentrate on one thing at a time. Pick some one department or some one process or some one thing and focus all your thought upon it. Bring to bear upon it the limitless resources of your subconscious mind. Then prepare a definite plan for the development of that department or the improvement of that process. Verify your facts carefully to make sure they are workable. Then--and not till then--present your plan.

In "Thoughts on Business," you read: "Men often think of a position as being just about so big and no bigger, when, as a matter of fact, a position is often what one makes it. A man was making about $1,500 a year out of a certain position and thought he was doing all that could be done to advance the business. The employer thought otherwise, and gave the place to another man who soon made the position worth $8,000 a year--at exactly the same commission.

"The difference was in the man--in other words, in what the two men thought about the work. One had a little conception of what the work should be, and the other had a big conception of it. One thought little thoughts, and the other thought big thoughts.

"The standards of two men may differ, not especially because one is naturally more capable than the other, but because one is familiar with big things and the other is not. The time was when the former worked in a smaller scope himself, but when he saw a wider view of what his work might be he rose to the occasion and became a bigger man. It is just as easy to think of a mountain as to think of a hill--when you turn your mind to contemplate it. The mind is like a rubber band--you can stretch it to fit almost anything, but it draws in to a smaller scope when you let go.

"Make it your business to know what is the best that might be in your line of work, and stretch your mind to conceive it, and then devise some way to attain it.

"Big things are only little things put together. I was greatly impressed with this fact one morning as I stood watching the workmen erecting the steel framework for a tall office building. A shrill whistle rang out as a signal, a man over at the engine pulled a lever, a chain from the derrick was lowered, and the whistle rang out again. A man stooped down and fastened the chain around the tenter of a steel beam, stepped back and blew the whistle once more. Again the lever was moved at the engine, and the steel beam soared into the air up to the sixteenth story, where it was made fast by little bolts.

"The entire structure, great as it was, towering far above all the neighboring buildings, was made up of pieces of steel and stone and wood, put together according to a plan. The plan was first imagined, then penciled, then carefully drawn, and then followed by the workmen. It was all a combination of little things.

"It is encouraging to think of this when you are confronted by a big task. Remember that it is only a group of little tasks, any of which you can easily do. It is ignorance of this fact that makes men afraid to try."

One of the most essential requisites in the accomplishment of any important work is patience. Not the patience that sits and folds its hands and waits--Micawber like--for something to turn up. But the patience that never jeopardizes or upsets a plan by forcing it too soon. The man who possesses that kind of patience can always find plenty to do in the meantime.

Make your plan--then wait for the opportune moment to submit it. You'd be surprised to know how carefully big men go over suggestions from subordinates which show the least promise. One of the signs of a really big man, you know, is his eagerness to learn from everyone and anything. There is none of that "know it all" about him that characterized the German general who was given a book containing the strategy by which Napoleon had for fifteen years kept all the armies of Europe at bay. "I've no time w read about bygone battles," he growled, thrusting the book away, "I have my own campaign to plan."

There is priceless wisdom to be found in books. As Carlyle put it--"All that mankind has done, thought, gained or been--it is lying in matchless preservation in the pages of books."

The truths which mankind has been laboriously learning through countless ages, at who knows what price of sweat and toil and starvation and blood--all are yours for the effort of reading them.

And in business, knowledge was never so priceless or so easily acquired. Books and magazines are filled with the hows and whys, the rights and wrongs of buying and selling, of manufacturing and shipping, of finance and management. They are within the reach of anyone with the desire to KNOW.

Nothing pays better interest than judicious reading. The man who invests in more knowledge of his business than he needs to hold his job, is acquiring capital with which to get a better job.

As old Gorgon Graham puts it in "The Letters of a Self-Made Merchant To His Son"--

"I ain't one of those who believe that a half knowledge of a subject is useless, but it has been my experience that when a fellow has that half knowledge, he finds it's the other half which would really come in handy.

"What you know is a club for yourself, and what you don't know is a meat-ax for the other fellow. That is why you want to be on the look-out all the time for information about the business and to nail a fact just as a sensible man nails a mosquito--the first time it settles near him."

The demands made upon men in business today are far greater than in any previous generation. To meet them, you've got to use your talents to the utmost. You've got to find in every situation that confronts you, the best, the easiest and the quickest way of working it out. And the first essential in doing this is to plan your work ahead.

You'd be surprised at how much more work you can get through by carefully planning it, and then taking each bit in order and disposing of it before starting on the next.

Another thing--once started at work, don't let down. Keep on going until it is time to quit. You know how much power it takes to start an auto that is standing motionless. But when you get it going, you can run along in high at a fraction of the expenditure of gas. It is the same way with your mind. We are all mentally lazy. We hate to start using our minds. Once started, though, it is easy to keep along on high, if only we won't let down. For the moment we let down, we have that starting to do all over again. You can accomplish ten times as much, with far less effort or fatigue, if you will keep right on steadily instead of starting and stopping, and starting and stopping again.

Volumes have been written about personal efficiency, and general efficiency, and every other kind of efficiency in business. But boiled down, it all comes to this:

1--Know what you want.

2--Analyze the thing you've got to do to get it.

3--Plan your work ahead.

4--Do one thing at a time.

5--Finish that one thing and send it on its way before starting the next.

6--Once started, KEEP GOING! And when you come to some problem that "stumps" you, give your subconscious mind a chance.

Frederick Pierce, in "Our Unconscious Mind," gives an excellent method for solving business problems through the aid of the subconscious:

"Several years ago, I heard a successful executive tell a group of young men how he did his work, and included in the talk was the advice to prepare at the close of each day's business, a List of the ten most important things for the next day. To this I would add: Run them over in the mind just before going to sleep, not thoughtfully, or with elaboration of detail, but with the sure knowledge that the deeper centers of the mind are capable of viewing them constructively even though conscious attention is surrendered in sleep.

"Then, if there is a particular problem which seems difficult of solution, review its features lightly as a last game for the imaginative unconscious to play at during the night. Do not be discouraged if no immediate results are apparent. Remember that fiction, poetry, musical composition, inventions, innumerable ideas, spring from the unconscious, often in forms that give evidence of the highest constructive elaboration.

"Give your unconscious a chance. Give it the material, and stimulate it with keenly dwelt-on wishes along frank [paragraph continues] Ego Maximation lines. It is a habit which, if persisted in, will sooner or later present you with some very valuable ideas when you least expect them."

I remember reading of another man--a genius at certain kinds of work--who, whenever an especially difficult problem confronted him, "slept on it." He had learned the trick as a child. Unable to learn his lessons one evening, he had kept repeating the words to himself until he dozed in his chair, the book still in his hands. What was his surprise, on being awakened by his father a few minutes later to find that he knew them perfectly! He tried it again and again on succeeding evenings, and almost invariably it worked. Now, whenever a problem comes up that he cannot solve, he simply stretches out on a lounge in his office, thoroughly relaxes, and lets his subconscious mind solve the problem!

Contents of the Book

The Secret Of The Ages, Index | Foreword | I. The World's Greatest Discovery | II. The Genie-of-Your-Mind | III. The Primal Cause | IV. Desire—The First Law of Gain | V. Aladdin & Company | VI. See Yourself Doing It | VII. “As A Man Thinketh” | VIII. The Law of Supply | IX. The Formula of Success | X. “This Freedom” | XI. The Law of Attraction | XII. The Three Requisites | XIII. That Old Witch—Bad Luck | XIV. Your Needs Are Met | XV. The Master of Your Fate | XVI. Unappropriated Millions | XVII. The Secret of Power | XVIII. This One Thing I Do | XIX. The Master Mind | XX. What Do You Lack? | XXI. The Sculptor and the Clay | XXII. Why Grow Old? | XXIII. The Medicine Delusion | XXIV. The Gift of the Magi |

Share This

Suggestions for Further Reading

The Secret of the Ages, by Robert Collier, [1926]. This text has been reformatted for the web at by Jayaram V. This text is not an exact reproduction of the original edition which was published in 1925 in seven small volumes. The title pages, page numbers, contents and index pages of seven volumes are not included in this electronic version. Those who are interested in the entire version of the text may refer the original copy. This text is in the public domain in the US, but may not be so in some countries.