The premise of the book The One Thing (2013)  is that at any given point in time, your success in any domain will depend on prioritizing all your efforts in identifying and working on that one particular thing, by harnessing what the author Gary Keller calls the ‘Focusing Question.’ 

“The One Thing” Summary

  • If you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either ONE. – Russian Proverb
  • “…work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four balls—family, health, friends, integrity—are made of glass. If you drop one of these, it will be irrevocably scuffed…”
  • “You need to be doing fewer things for more effect instead of doing more things with side effects.”
  • Focusing Question: “What is the ONE thing I can do, such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
  • Until that ONE thing is done, everything else is a distraction
  • “Extraordinary results are directly determined by how narrow you can make your focus.”

Gary Keller “The One Thing” Summary

  • Keller tells us that success doesn’t require you to be an all-out disciplined person in everything you do, but that it requires just enough ‘selected discipline’ to build powerful habits.
  • He clarifies: “Don’t be a disciplined person. Be a person of powerful habits and use selected discipline to develop them… Build one habit at a time. Success is sequential, not simultaneous.”
  • “No one actually has the discipline to acquire more than one powerful new habit at a time. Super-successful people aren’t superhuman at all; they’ve just used selected discipline to develop a few significant habits. One at a time. Over time.”  


  • Keller introduces readers to the idea of envisioning their ‘Someday Goal’ by using the focusing question and then working backward from there to determine their ‘Right NOW’ goal.

Below is an illustration to help readers understand the concept.

the one thing summary
  • He clarifies: “So, based on my goal today, what’s the ONE Thing I can do right NOW so I’m on track to achieve my goal today, so I’m on track to achieve my goal this week, so I’m on track to achieve my goal this month, so I’m on track to achieve my goal this year, so I’m on track to achieve my 5 year goal, so I’m on track to achieve my someday goal?” 
  •  The important thing to remember is that you start from your ‘someday goal’ first, and work your way back to your ‘right NOW goal.’
  • He adds: “…when you know where you’re going and work backwards to what you need to do to get there, you’ll always discover it begins with going small.”
  • “When you do the right task first, you also build the right mindset first, the right skill first, and the right relationship first. Powered by the Focusing Question, your actions become a natural progression of building one right thing on top of the previous right thing.” 
  • CAREER: What’s the ONE Thing I can do to further my career, such that by doing it, everything else will become easier or unnecessary?
  • PHYSICAL HEALTH: What’s the ONE Thing I can do to improve my physical health…?
  • RELATIONSHIPS: What’s the ONE Thing I can do to strengthen my relationship with my partner….?
  • FINANCES: What’s the ONE Thing I can do to improve my investment cash flow…?
  • BUSINESS: What’s the ONE Thing I can do to make us more profitable…?
  • “To answer this is to find the first domino you have to topple.”


  • “The more we use our mind, the less minding power we have.”
  • In The One Thing, Keller tells us that the notion that we can summon our willpower any time of the day and that it is on ‘Will-Call’ is a lie. Multiple studies have proven that willpower levels fluctuate over the course of any given day and the degree of depletion depends on the type of activities that we engage in.
  • He adds: “If you employ it for one task, there will be less power available for the next unless you refuel.”
  • As a result, resisting that temptation, filtering out distractions, suppressing emotions, trying to impress others, coping with fear, etc. are some of the things which tax your willpower.
  • Think of your willpower reserves as a tank, the more you engage in activities such as those mentioned above, the more your tank drains of this precious resource.
  • To counteract this, the author suggests that you “…do your most important work—your ONE Thing—early, before your willpower is drawn down. Since your self-control will be sapped throughout the day, use it when it’s at full strength on what matters most.” [p60; Gary Keller, The One Thing]


i. Inability To Say “NO”

  • “Saying yes to everyone is the same as saying yes to nothing. Each additional obligation chips away at your effectiveness at everything you try. So the more things you do, the less successful you are at any one of them. You can’t please everyone, so don’t try. In fact, when you try, the one person you absolutely won’t please is yourself.” 

ii. Fear of Chaos

  • “When you strive for greatness, chaos is guaranteed to show up. In fact, other areas of your life may experience chaos in direct proportion to the time you put in on your ONE Thing. It’s important for you to accept this instead of fighting it.” 

iii. Poor Health Habits

  • “… when you spend the early hours energizing yourself, you get pulled through the rest of the day with little additional effort. You’re not focused on having a perfect day all day, but on having an energized start to each day. If you can have a highly productive day until noon, the rest of the day falls easily into place. That’s positive energy creating positive momentum.” 

iv. Environment Doesn’t Support Your Goals

  • “Attitude is contagious; it spreads easily. As strong as you think you are, no one is strong enough to avoid the influence of negativity forever. So, surrounding yourself with the right people is the right thing to do.”


  •  Keller points out that to be able to focus on more than a single task at a time and to do it effectively through multitasking… is a lie. Multiple studies have shown that when people switch tasks, they exact a cost that few realize they’re even paying. This is because of a phenomenon called ‘attention residue.’
  • Imagine that whilst working on a project, you turn to your inbox to answer that e-mail you received earlier. When you make this switch from one task to the other, what happens is that your full attention is not paid on answering that email, but rather, some of the ‘residue’ of your attention remains on the previous task that you were doing, in this case, that project.
  • Furthermore, Keller writes: “The more time you spend switched to another task, the less likely you are to get back to your original task. This is how loose ends pile up….” 
  • “…Bounce between one activity and another and you lose time as your brain reorients to the new task. Those milliseconds add up. Researchers estimate we lose 28 percent of an average workday to multitasking ineffectiveness.”
  • The lesson here is that multitasking hurts your productivity and so instead, prioritize and focus on a single task at a time!


  •  “Extraordinary results require focused attention and time. Time on one thing means time away from another. This makes balance impossible.”
  • “…. The reason we shouldn’t pursue balance is that the magic never happens in the middle; magic happens at the extremes.” 
  • “Acknowledge that your life actually has multiple areas and that each requires a minimum of attention for you to feel that you ‘have a life.’ Drop any one and you will feel the effects. This requires constant awareness. You must never go too long or too far without counterbalancing them…” 
  • “Imagine life is a game in which you are juggling five balls. The balls are called work, family, health, friends, and integrity. And you’re keeping all of them in the air. But one day you finally come to understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four balls—family, health, friends, integrity—are made of glass. If you drop one of these, it will be irrevocably scuffed, nicked, perhaps even shattered.”


  • “Implementing the one thing and achieving extraordinary results comes down to 3 things: Purpose, Priority, and Productivity. Purpose is the big one thing that you commit to, priority is the small thing you focus on every day and productivity is the action you take informed by your priority and directed by your purpose which acts as a compass.”
  • “To get through the hardest journey we need take only one step at a time, but we must keep on stepping.”
  • “Extraordinary results are directly determined by how narrow you can make your focus.”


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