The One Thing is a book which helps readers discover their most important goals by asking the ‘focusing question’ whilst also providing valuable insights and tools to enable you to make more productive use of your time.
The author Gary Keller is an entrepreneur who founded and currently runs one of the biggest real estate franchises in America today.
Read this book summary in 12 Minutes
“The One Thing” in Five Sentences
- “If you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either ONE.”
- ‘Success is not about busyness, but rather, it is about priorities.’
- “You need to be doing fewer things for more effect instead of doing more things with side effects.”
- Your ONE Thing is your lead domino… “find the lead domino and whack away at it until it falls.”
- ‘Until that ONE Thing is done, everything else is a distraction’
A Summary of The Focusing Question (The ONE Thing)
If the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, then a misstep will take you a thousand miles off course.
To ensure that your first step is in the right direction, you need to ask yourself the focusing question, which is the core message of the book:
“What is the ONE thing I can do, such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
“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.” [p93; Gary Keller, The One 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.”
Line up your Dominoes…
One of the key takeaways in Gary Keller’s book ‘The One Thing,’ is the idea of envisioning your ‘Someday Goal’ by using the focusing question, and then working backward from there to determine your ‘Right NOW’ goal.
It involves identifying your someday goal, then your 5 year goal, then your 1 Year goal… 1 month goal… 1 week goal… daily goal and finally your ‘right NOW Goal.’
The ‘right NOW Goal’ is the first domino that you need to work on.
Below is an illustration that Keller provides in the book to help readers understand the concept.
“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?” [p128]
The important thing to remember is that you start from your ‘someday goal’ first, and work your way back to your ‘right NOW goal.’
“…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.” [p178; Gary Keller, The One Thing]
4 INSIGHTS from the book “The One Thing”
INSIGHT #1 Selected Discipline
Keller informs us about the false notion people hold about success and discipline. This notion lies somewhere along the lines of success requiring an individual to be a ‘full-time disciplined person,’ where their every action is a result of prior thought and training, almost robotic.
This simply is not true. Keller tells us that success doesn’t require you to be an all out disciplined person in everything you do, but it requires just enough ‘selected discipline’ to build powerful habits.
“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.” [p49; Gary Keller, The One Thing]
INSIGHT #2 Willpower Is Always On ‘Will-Call’
“The more we use our mind, the less minding power we have.” [p52]
The idea 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.
As Keller writes:
“If you employ it for one task, there will be less power available for the next unless you refuel.” [p56]
Resisting that temptation, filtering out distractions, suppressing emotions, trying to impress others, coping with fear, doing tasks you don’t enjoy and selecting long term rewards over the short time 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, Keller suggests:
“…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]
INSIGHT #3 The 4 Thieves of Productivity
1. 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.” [p164]
2. 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.” [p167]
3. 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.” [p171]
4. 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.
…when you clear the path to success— that’s when you consistently get there.” [p175; Gary Keller, The One Thing]
INSIGHT #4 The Myth of Multitasking
“Multitasking is merely the opportunity to screw up more than one thing at a time.” – Steve Uzzell
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 which 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, the project.
This phenomenon of attention residue is based on a study which was conducted in 2009 by Sophie Leroy on task performance, titled: ‘Why is it so hard for me to do my work?’
In addition, switching tasks exacts time costs which are not immediately evident. The cost in terms of extra time in having to task switch depends on how complex or simple the tasks are, as 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.”
“Chronic multitaskers develop a distorted sense of how long it takes to do things. They almost always believe tasks take longer to complete than is actually required.” [p42; Gary Keller, The One Thing]
The core message: multitasking hurts your productivity, so instead, prioritize and focus on a single task at a time!
Gary Keller – The ONE Thing – SUMMARY / NOTES
[NOTE] Here’s a brief summary of various points in ‘The One Thing’ that I found insightful, although they are in no specific order!
- “Where I’d had huge success, I had narrowed my concentration to one thing, and where my success varied, my focus had too.” [p9]
- The Pareto Principle states that 20% of inputs are responsible for 80% of outputs. You can find your ONE thing by making use of this principle. First, write down all the tasks you have to do as a list. Then, from that list: select 20% of the tasks that you believe are the most important. Then select the next 20% of the tasks from this remainder list and continue until you have one task left. That is your ONE thing.
- Multitasking. “So, what’s happening when we’re actually doing two things at once? It’s simple. We’ve separated them. Our brain has channels, and as a result, we’re able to process different kinds of data in different parts of our brain. This is why you can talk and walk at the same time. There is no channel interference. But here’s the catch: you’re not really focused on both activities. One is happening in the foreground and the other in the background. If you were trying to talk a passenger through landing a DC-10, you’d stop walking. Likewise, if you were walking across a gorge on a rope bridge, you’d likely stop talking. You can do two things at once, but you can’t focus effectively on two things at once.” [p41; Gary Keller, ‘The One Thing’]
- The Balanced Life Myth. “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.”
- Productivity, Purpose, and Priority. “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.” [p112]
- “The more productive people are, the more purpose and priority are pushing and driving them.” [p113]
- Writing down your goals. “In 2008, Dr. Gail Matthews of the Dominican University of California recruited 267 participants from a wide range of professions (lawyers, accountants, nonprofit employees, marketers, etc.) and a variety of countries. Those who wrote down their goals were 39.5 percent more likely to accomplish them.” [p131; Gary Keller, The One Thing]
- “Efficiency is doing the thing right. Effectiveness is doing the right thing.” – Peter Drucker
- “Gilovich and Medvec in 1994 wrote: ‘When people look back on their lives, it is the things they have not done that generate the greatest regret…. people’s actions may be troublesome initially; it is their inactions that plague them most with long-term feelings of regret.’ ” [p181; Gary Keller, The One Thing]
- “Put yourself together, and your world falls into place.”
- “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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