How to Get the Joy Back: Part 3 Find Your One Thing

April 1, 2021
Holly Sawyer, DVM, Human-Animal Bond Certified, Regional Veterinary Consultant

Do you get to the end of your day not only physically and mentally drained, but unaccountably frustrated as well? I’m not talking about experiencing momentary dissatisfaction with the unchecked items on your to-do list. I’m talking about a tiger-pacing-the-cage level of aggravation, in which you feel trapped by circumstance and cannot see a way through it. 

You are frustrated because you are not accomplishing your One Thing. You are not accomplishing your One Thing because you do not understand what you need to prioritize. And that makes all the difference in the world.

Just as hole-punch lesions in vertebrae mean Multiple Myeloma, so too is your basal frustration pathognomic for one specific ailment. 

You are frustrated because you are not accomplishing your One Thing. You are not accomplishing your One Thing because you do not understand what you need to prioritize. And that makes all the difference in the world

Focus In

What is this One Thing I speak of? To figure it out, every morning I want you to strap into your time machine and zoom to the end of the day, week, or month. Unbuckle, blink as you watch yourself crawl into bed, and ask this future self, “What is the single thing on your to-do list that you most regret not accomplishing?” 

Some of you, at this point, want to scream, “But I have twenty things that absolutely need to get done!” Perhaps, though I doubt it. The only hard deadline in life is the day you die. Everything else is negotiable. So dig deep, look at your task list, and do five things.

1)  Broaden Your Vision 

You may think I’m telling you to go the wrong direction here, but seeing the big picture is key—as in, often the literal key needed to let the pacing tiger out of the cage. Do you have a dream, a goal you desire but have no time for? Is there some task which you and no one else can accomplish to best effect? If you believe that actively working toward this goal will give you contentment and joy, put it on the list! Address both the pressing, physical requirements of your life and the emotional possibilities that can help you soar. 

2)  Pare Down 

Now you get to narrow your focus. You have a list twenty items long. It is time to cross out, combine, or set aside. For a better word picture, treat the list like a ragged triangular flap on a dog’s flank. Debride the shriveled, devitalized tissue away to ensure you can make efficient forward progress.

3)  Prioritize 

When faced with gobs of medical records, many of my colleagues head for the low-hanging fruit first. We clear out the vaccine visits, the WNL annuals and heartworm checks. Even Dave Ramsey, the financial radio show host, recommends you pay off small debts first to earn a feeling of accomplishment and build momentum. But if you are going to feel satisfied instead of frustrated at the end of your day or week or month, you must put your One Thing FIRST on the list. 

4)  Set Aside Time

Determine how many minutes you will devote to your One Thing. This time is sacrosanct. You may feel more productive grabbing small bits of time between other tasks; you may need a block of time walled off from the rest of your duties. Whether you use brick and mortar or monolithic concrete slab to achieve satisfaction, approach your One Thing deliberately.

5)  Make It Quick

Once you get a feel for determining your One Thing, the exercise of prioritizing and planning it ought to take you no more time than is needed to read this sentence. 

Your One Thing may be training for a marathon, going for a hike in the woods, creating a weekly culinary masterpiece for friends, writing a novel, gaining certification in a new skill, or facing down your clinical fears one fat 90 lb. spay at a time. Whatever it is, pursue it. Because only then you will hear your inner tiger purr. 

The GuardianVets suite of telehealth communication services helps your practice run more efficiently so you have more time to pursue your One Thing. For more information, reach us at

Keller, Gary and Papasan, Jay. The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results. Bard Press, 2013.

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