The ONE Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Amazing Results by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

What a great book.  This takes a number of productivity tactics that you’ve probably heard of, but combines them in a way that creates a synergy where the result is greater than the whole.

Developed by Gary Keller, of Keller Williams; the largest realty shop in the world, and co-authored by Jay Papasan, The ONE Thing truly is a simple yet effective method for increasing productivity, building strong habits that last, and maintaining a sense of balance in your life.  It revolves around a simple question:

What is the One thing I can do, such by doing it, will make everything else easier or unnecessary?

This question, applied thoughtfully, gets straight to the root of what is the most effective action you can take towards completing your goals.  Think of it as an 80/20 analysis on steroids.

Here are some highlights from the book.

  • Big success comes when we do a few things well.
  • Highly successful people know this. So every day they line up their priorities anew, find the lead domino, and whack away at it until it falls.
  • We each have passions and skills, but you’ll see extraordinarily successful people with one intense emotion or one learned ability that shines through, defining them or driving them more than anything else.

The Six Lies Between You and Success

  1. Everything matters equally.
    • Success isn’t a game won by whoever does the most.
    • Instead of a to-do list, you need a success list.
    • To-do lists tend to be long; success lists are short. One pulls you in all directions; the other aims you in a specific direction.
    • A to-do list becomes a success list when you apply Pareto’s Principle to it.
    • No matter how many to-dos you start with, you can always narrow it to one.
  2. Multitasking
    • A Buddhist would call this monkey mind.” We think we’re mastering multitasking, but we’re just driving ourselves bananas.”
    • When you switch from one task to another, voluntarily or not, two things happen. The first is nearly instantaneous: you decide to switch. The second is less predictable: you have to activate the “rules” for whatever you’re about to do.
  3. A Disciplined Life
    • The truth is we don’t need any more discipline than we already have. We just need to direct and manage it a little better.
    • Success is actually a short race—a sprint fueled by discipline just long enough for habit to kick in and take over.
    • Habit – regularly working at something until it regularly works for you.
    • Success is about doing the right thing, not about doing everything right.
    • It takes an average of 66 days to acquire a new habit.  Build one habit at a time.
  4. Willpower is always on call
    • The more we use our mind, the less minding power we have. Willpower is like a fast-twitch muscle that gets tired and needs rest.
    • Foods that elevate blood sugar evenly over long periods, like complex carbohydrates and proteins, become the fuel of choice for high-achievers.
    • Do your most important work—your ONE Thing—early (while your willpower is still highest).
  5. A Balanced Life
    • The reason we shouldn’t pursue balance is that the magic never happens in the middle; magic happens at the extremes.
    • When you focus on what is truly important, something will always be underserved.
    • In your personal life, go short and avoid long periods where you’re out of balance. Going short lets you stay connected to all the things that matter most and move them along together. In your professional life, go long and make peace with the idea that the pursuit of extraordinary results may require you to be out of balance for long periods.
    • When you’re supposed to be working, work, and when you’re supposed to be playing, play.
  6. Big Is Bad
    • If you fear big success, you’ll either avoid it or sabotage your efforts to achieve it.
    • Everyone has the same amount of time, and hard work is simply hard work.  What you do in the time you work determines what you achieve.
    • Think as big as you possibly can and base what you do, how you do it, and who you do it with on succeeding at that level.

The Simple Path

  • “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” is all wrong. I tell you “put all your eggs in one basket, and then watch that basket.
  • The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret to getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks and then starting on the first one.
  • To stay on track for the best possible day month, year, or career, you must keep asking the Focusing Question. Ask it again and again, and it forces you to line up tasks in their levered order of importance.
  • The Big-Picture Question: “What’s my ONE Thing?
  • The Small-Focus Question: “What’s my ONE Thing right now?


  • The choice we face is whether or not we want to form habits that get us what we want from life. If we do, then the Focusing Question is the most powerful success habit we can have.
  • Use notes, screen savers, and calendar cues to keep making the connection between the Success Habit and the results you seek.
  • When you make asking the Focusing Question a habit, you fully engage its power to get the extraordinary results you want. It’s a difference maker. Research says this will take about 66 days. Whether it takes you a few weeks or a few months, stick with it until it becomes your routine.

Getting to Great Answers

  • Great questions, like great goals, are big and specific. And because they’re framed to be measurable, there’s no wiggle room about what the results will look like.
  • If “What can I do to double sales in six months?” is a Great Question, how do you make it more powerful? Convert it to the Focusing Question: “What’s the ONE Thing I can do to double sales in six months such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?
  • The research and experience of others is the best place to start when looking for your answer.
  • Your big ONE Thing is your purpose and your small ONE Thing is the priority you take action on to achieve it.


  • Live with purpose and you know where you want to go. Live by priority and you’ll know what to do to get there.
  • Your ONE Thing “right now” is nested inside your ONE Thing today which is nested inside your ONE Thing this week, which is nested inside your ONE Thing this month…
  • To be precise, the word is priority—not priorities—and it originated in the 14th century from the Latin prior, meaning “first.”


  • 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.
  • Productive people get more done, achieve better results, and earn far more in their hours than the rest. They time block their ONE Thing and then protect their time blocks with a vengeance.
  • So, go to your calendar and block off all the time you need to accomplish your ONE Thing. If it’s a onetime ONE Thing, block off the appropriate hours and days. If it’s a regular thing, block off the appropriate time every day so it becomes a habit.
  • 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.
  • The key to making this work is to block time as early in your day as you possibly can. Give yourself 30 minutes to an hour to take care of morning priorities, then move to your ONE Thing.

The Four Thieves of Productivity

  1. Inability to say NO
  2. Fear of Chaos
  3. Poor Health Habits
  4. Environment doesn’t support your goals

The Journey

Write down your current income. Then multiply it by a number: 2, 4, 10, 20—it doesn’t matter. Just pick one, multiply your income by it, and write down the new number. Looking at it and ignoring whether you’re frightened or excited, ask yourself, “Will my current actions get me to this number in the next five years?” If they will, then keep doubling the number until they won’t. If you then make your actions match your answer, you’ll be living large.

There is so much more to this book than what is presented here.  I encourage you to check it out and, more importantly, put its methods into action.

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