“The One Thing” by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan: Book Summary

1 Line Summary

The ONE Thing” by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan is a guide to achieving extraordinary results by narrowing your focus to one thing at a time. It challenges common misconceptions about success and promotes principles of productivity.

What Will You Learn

Here are the five most significant things you will learn after reading “The ONE Thing”:

  • Going Small for Big Results,
  • Timing the Tasks for better Output,
  • Distraction Undermines Results,
  • Don’t Fear Failure,
  • Build One Habit at a Time

Best Quotations from the Book

  • Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.
  • To do two things at once is to do neither.
  • A balanced life is a lie. The idea of balance is exactly that—an idea.
  • There is an art to clearing away the clutter and focusing on what matters most. It is simple and it is transferable. It just requires the courage to take a different approach.
  • Success is simple. Do what’ s right, the right way, at the right time.
  • People do not decide their futures, they decide their habits and their habits decide their futures.
  • Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.
  • Productivity isn’t about being a workhorse, keeping busy or burning the midnight oil… It’ s more about priorities, planning, and fiercely protecting your time.
  • Nobody who ever gave his best regretted it.
  • Focus is a matter of deciding what things you ’ re not going to do.
  • To get through the hardest journey we need take only one step at a time, but we must keep on stepping.

What isThe One Thing

  • The ONE Thing is the best approach to getting what you want.
  • Once you’ve figured out what actually matters, keep asking what matters most until there is only one thing left. That core activity goes at the top of your success list.
  • If time is the currency of achievement, then why are some able to cash in their allotment for more chips than others? The answer is they make getting to the heart of things the heart of their approach. They go small.
  • “Going small” is ignoring all the things you could do and doing what you should do. It’s recognizing that not all things matter equally and finding the things that matter most.
  • You need to be doing fewer things for more effect instead of doing more things with side effects.

Book Summary

Let’s dive into the most significant takeaways from the book:

Part I- The Lies

Everything Matters Equally

Equality is a worthy ideal pursued. In the real world of results, however, things are never equal.

When we don’t have a clear plan for making choices, we tend to react impulsively and rely on familiar methods, which can lead to us making random decisions that hurt our chances of success.

Successful people work in a unique way. They focus on what’s most important, take a moment to decide, and let those important things guide their day. They do important tasks early while others delay or even forget them. It’s not about their intentions but about their priorities.

Pareto Principle: The 80/20 Principle tells us that a small part of what you do often gives you most of your achievements. In other words, success isn’t evenly distributed; a few key factors make most of the difference.


Multitasking is a lie although many people believe it as a good idea, and it’s so common that they think they should do it all the time.

Multitasking is merely the opportunity to screw up more than one thing at a time.” —Steve Uzzell

Researchers estimate that workers are interrupted every 11 minutes and then spend almost a third of their day recovering from these distractions.

Here is a short list of how multitasking affects us:

 i. There is just so much brain capability at any one time. Divide it up as much as you want, but you’ll pay a price in time and effectiveness.

ii. 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.

iii.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.

A Disciplined Life

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. 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.

Give each habit enough time. Stick with the discipline long enough for it to become routine.

Habits, on average, take 66 days to form. Once a habit is solidly established, you can either build on that habit or, if appropriate, build another one.

 You don’t have to seek out success. Use the power of selected discipline to build the right habit, and extraordinary results will find you.

A Balanced Life

Nothing ever achieves absolute balance. No matter how unnoticeable it might be, what appears to be a state of balance is something entirely different— an act of balancing.

The question of balance is really a question of priority. When you change your language from balancing to prioritizing, you see your choices more clearly and open the door to changing your destiny.

When you act on your priority, you’ll automatically go out of balance, giving more time to one thing over another.

Your work life is divided into two distinct areas—what matters most and everything else. You will have to take what matters to the extremes and be okay with what happens to the rest. Professional success requires it.

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.

Part II- The Truth

The Focusing Question

Great questions are the path to great answers. The Focusing Question is a great question designed to find a great answer.

The Focusing Question is a double-duty question. It comes in two forms: big picture and small focus. One is about finding the right direction in life and the other is about finding the right action.

Why focus on a question when what we really crave is an answer?” It’s simple. Answers come from questions, and the quality of any answer is directly determined by the quality of the question. Ask the wrong question, get the wrong answer. Ask the right question, get the right answer. Ask the most powerful question possible, and the answer can be life altering.

The Focusing Question can direct you to your ONE Thing in the different areas of your life. Simply reframe the Focusing Question by inserting your area of focus.

Life is a question and how we live it is our answer. How we phrase the questions we ask ourselves determines the answers that eventually become our life.

The Focusing Question is an uncommon approach. It becomes the simple formula for finding exceptional answers that lead to extraordinary results.

The Success Habit

Success is simple. Do what’ s right, the right way, at the right time.” —Arnold H. Glasow

The first step is to understand the concept of the ONE Thing, then to believe that it can make a difference in your life.

Ask yourself the Focusing Question. Start each day by asking, “What’s the ONE Thing I can do today, such that by doing it everything else will be easier or even unnecessary?” When you do this, your direction will become clear. Your work will be more productive and your personal life more rewarding.

Make it a habit. When you make asking the Focusing Question a habit, you fully engage its power to get the extraordinary results you want.

Set up ways to remind yourself to use the Focusing Question. One of the best ways to do this is to put up a sign at work that says, “Until my ONE Thing is done —everything else is a distraction.”

The Path to Great Answers

People do not decide their futures, they decide their habits and their habits decide their futures.” —F. M. Alexander

When you ask a Great Question, you’re in essence pursuing a great goal. And whenever you do this, you’ll see the same pattern—Big & Specific. A big, specific question leads to a big, specific answer, which is absolutely necessary for achieving a big goal.

A Great Answer is essentially a new answer. It is a leap across all current answers in search of the next one and is found in two steps.

The research and experience of others is the best place to start when looking for your answer.

A new answer usually requires new behavior, so don’t be surprised if along the way to sizable success you change in the process. But don’t let that stop you.

The challenge of asking a Great Question is that, once  asked, you’re now faced with finding a Great Answer. Answers come in three categories: doable, stretch, and possibility.

Doable: The easiest answer you can seek is the one that’s already within reach of your knowledge, skills, and experience.

The next level up is a “stretch” answer. While this is still within your reach, it can be at the farthest end of your range. You’ll most likely have to do some research and study what others have done to come up with this answer.

Possibility: High achievers understand these first two routes but reject them. Unwilling to settle for ordinary when extraordinary is possible, they’ve asked a Great Question and want the very best answer.

Part III- Extraordinary Results

Live with Purpose

Happiness happens on the way to fulfillment. We all want to be happy, but seeking it isn’t the best way to find it. The surest path to achieving lasting happiness happens when you make your life about something bigger.

Discover your purpose by asking yourself what drives you. What’s the thing that gets you up in the morning and keeps you going when you’re tired and worn down.

 “Purpose” may sound heavy but it doesn’t have to be. Think of it as simply the ONE Thing you want your life to be about more than any other.

Pick a direction, start marching down that path, and see how you like it. Time brings clarity and if you find you don’t like it, you can always change your mind. It’s your life.

Live by Priority

Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.

Purpose has the power to shape our lives only in direct proportion to the power of the priority we connect it to.

Purpose without priority is powerless. The deciding factor in determining how you set that priority is who wins the battle between your present and future selves.

People tend to be overly optimistic about what they can accomplish, and therefore most don’t think things all the way through. Researchers call this the “planning fallacy”.

Visualizing the process—breaking a big goal down into the steps needed to achieve it—helps engage the strategic thinking you need to plan for and achieve extraordinary results.

And once you know what to do, the only thing left is to go from knowing to doing.

Live for Productivity

Putting together a life of extraordinary results simply comes down to getting the most out of what you do, when what you do matters.

My goal is no longer to get more done, but rather to have less to do.” —Francine Jay

Extraordinary results become possible when where you want to go is completely aligned with what you do today. Tap into your purpose and allow that clarity to dictate your priorities.

The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.

Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand.” Time blocking harnesses energy and centers it on your most important work. It’s productivity’s greatest power tool.

If disproportionate results come from one activity, then you must give that one activity disproportionate time.

Ask this Focusing Question for your blocked time: “Today, what’s the ONE Thing I can do for my ONE Thing such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” When you find the answer, you’ll be doing the most leveraged activity for your most leveraged work.

To achieve extraordinary results and experience greatness, time block these three things in the following order:

  • Time block your time off,
  • Time block your ONE Thing,
  • Time block your planning time.
Four Ways to Overcome Distractions

Here are four proven ways to overcome distractions and keep the eye on your ONE Thing.

  • Build a bunker. Find somewhere to work that takes you out of the path of disruption and interruption.
  • Store provisions. Have any supplies, materials, snacks, or beverages you need on hand and, other than for a bathroom break, avoid leaving your bunker.
  • Sweep for mines. Turn off your phone, shut down your email, and exit your Internet browser. Your most important work deserves 100 percent of your attention.
  • Enlist support. Tell those most likely to seek you out what you’re doing and when you’ll be available. It’s amazing how accommodating others are when they see the big picture.

The Three Commitments

1. Follow the Path of Mastery

Most assume mastery is an end result, but at its core, mastery is a way of thinking, a way of acting, and a journey you experience.

More than anything else, expertise tracks with hours invested. The pursuit of mastery bears gifts.

10000 Hours Rule: In 1993, psychologist K. Anders Ericsson published “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance” in the journal Psychological Review. His research identified a common pattern of regular and deliberate practice over the course of years in elite performers that made them what they were—elite. Many elite performers complete their journey in about ten years, which, if you do the math, is an average of about three hours of deliberate practice a day, every day, 365 days a year.

Mastery is a pursuit that keeps giving, because it’s a path that never ends.

2. Move from “E” to “P”

The path of mastering something is the combination of not only doing the best you can do at it, but also doing it the best it can be done. It’s called moving from “E” to “P” (Entrepreneurial to Purposeful “P”).

Entrepreneurial is our natural approach. It’s seeing something we want to do or that needs to be done and racing off to do it with enthusiasm, energy, and our natural abilities. No matter the task, all natural ability has a ceiling of achievement, a level of productivity and success that eventually tops out.

But when you’re going about your ONE Thing, any ceiling of achievement must be challenged, and this requires a different approach— a Purposeful approach.

When “E” is our only approach, we create artificial limits to what we can achieve and who we can become. Bring “P” to the same ceiling and things look different. The Purposeful approach says, “I’m still committed to growing, so what are my options?” You then use the Focusing Question to narrow those choices down to the next thing you should do.

3. Live the Accountability Cycle

Taking complete ownership of your outcomes by holding no one but yourself responsible for them is the most powerful thing you can do to drive your success.

Accountable people achieve results others only dream of.

Highly successful people are clear about their role in the events of their life.

One of the fastest ways to bring accountability to your life is to find an accountability partner. Accountability can come from a mentor, a peer or, in its highest form, a coach.

The single most important difference between the amateurs and the three groups of elite performers is that the future elite performers seek out teachers and coaches and engage in supervised training, whereas the amateurs rarely engage in similar types of practice.

Coaching will help you with all three commitments to your ONE Thing. On the path to mastery, on the journey from “E” to “P” and in living the accountability cycle, a coach is invaluable.

The Four Thieves

1. Inability to Say “No”

When you say yes to something, it’s imperative that you understand what you’re saying no to.

One-half of knowing what you want is knowing what you must give up before you get it.”

Master marketer Seth Godin says, “You can say no with respect, you can say no promptly, and you can say no with a lead to someone who might say yes. But just saying yes because you can’t bear the short-term pain of saying no is not going to help you do the work.”

2. Fear of Chaos

One of the greatest thieves of productivity is the unwillingness to allow the lack of creativity in dealing with the matter at hand.

When you strive for greatness, chaos is guaranteed to show up.

The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.” — William James

3. Poor Health Habits

Personal energy mismanagement is a silent thief of productivity.

High achievement and extraordinary results require big energy. The trick is learning how to get it and keep it.

Conditioning gives you maximum capacity, which is critical for maximum productivity.

Productive people thrive on emotional energy; it fills their heart with joy and makes them light on their feet.

Get enough sleep. Powerful engines need cooling down and resting before taking off again, and you’re no different. You need your sleep so your mind and body can rest and recharge for tomorrow’s extraordinary productivity.

4. Environment Doesn’t Support Your Goals

Your environment must support your goals. Your environment is simply who you see and what you experience every day.

No one succeeds alone and no one fails alone. Pay attention to the people around you.

If your environment is so full of distractions and diversions that before you can help yourself you’ve gotten caught doing something you shouldn’t, you won’t get where you need to go.

The road to success is always under construction.” So don’t allow yourself to be detoured from getting to your ONE Thing. Pave your way with the right people and place.

The Journey

Extraordinary results require you to go small.

Getting your focus as small as possible simplifies your thinking and crystallizes what you must do.

Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” — T. S. Eliot

A life worth living might be measured in many ways, but the one way that stands above all others is living a life of no regrets.

When you bring purpose to your life, know your priorities, and achieve high productivity on the priority that matters most every day, your life makes sense and the extraordinary becomes possible.

If you want to know your “ONE Thing”, read the book and enlighten your self for maximum productivity.

Refer: “The 4 Disciplines of Execution”, “Solving the Procrastination Puzzle” and “Atomic Habits

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