Book Summary of The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results
Life gets busy. Has The ONE Thing been on your reading list? Learn the key insights now.
We’re scratching the surface here. If you don’t already have Gary Keller and Jay Papasan’s popular book on business, productivity, personal development & self-help, order it here or get the audiobook for free on Amazon to learn the juicy details.
The ONE Thing is a productivity and personal development book written by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. It is focused on the idea that to achieve success in any area of life, it is necessary to identify and focus on the one most important task or goal at a time. The book argues that this focus on a single “one thing” allows you to minimize distractions and achieve greater results in less time.
The book offers a number of strategies and techniques for identifying and prioritizing the “one thing” in your life, including setting clear goals, creating an action plan, and using techniques such as the “Four Disciplines of Execution” and the “Focusing Question.” It also discusses the importance of balance and the role of positive habits and mindset in achieving success.
The ONE Thing is intended to help readers identify and pursue their most important priorities, and to achieve greater success and fulfillment in their personal and professional lives.
Imagine for a moment that you could start getting more done this month than you did last year. How would your life look? Or your business?
The premise behind The One Thing sounds simple enough, do one thing well, and you’ll succeed. But how do you discover the one thing to focus on, and how can you get anything else done? Our quick StoryShots will break down the top tips from The One Thing so you can start doing more in less time.
About Gary Keller and Jay Papasan
Gary Keller, the real estate mogul, teamed up with writer Jay Papasan to write the book The One Thing. Gary Keller is known for starting the real estate company Keller-Williams. However, his passion for teaching and motivating has led him into authorship.
Gary Keller has written four books, including The Millionaire Real Estate Agent, The Millionaire Real Estate Investor, Shift, and The One Thing. All four books have become bestsellers. For his book, The One Thing, Keller partnered with Papasan, who was a marketing editor and writer for Keller-Williams.
Jay Papasan is also the executive editor at Keller Williams Realty, a real estate company founded by Gary Keller. In this role, he has worked on a number of other books and resources related to real estate and business, including The Millionaire Real Estate Agent and The Millionaire Real Estate Investor. Before his career in publishing and real estate, Papasan worked as a journalist and editor, including roles at The Wall Street Journal and Fast Company. He is based in Austin, Texas.
StoryShot #1: Keep In Mind the Domino Effect
In The One Thing, Gary Keller tells a few stories at the beginning of the book showing the power of a tiny domino. Incredibly, one small domino can knock over so many others when you set them up the right way.
Sometimes all it takes is one slight movement or action to set into motion many more steps that can become more powerful over time. One small domino had enough power to knock over nearly five million more dominos. In another example, they shared that one domino can knock over another one that is as large as 50% more significant than the previous one.
In their story, a physicist was able to knock over eight dominos that progressively got larger. The first and smallest domino was only two inches tall. The final domino was almost three feet tall and easily toppled by the previous seven dominos.
If you kept going with this example, the 57th one would almost reach the moon. You might not need to knock over dominos the size of the Eiffel Tower. But if your next project feels like it could stretch halfway to the moon, your challenge is to determine your first domino.
Take the time to determine your first domino; this is your one thing. The first step you must focus on will allow you to complete your project and topple over your final domino.
StoryShot #2: Look at the 80/20 Principle
Everyone knows the story of Pareto and his principle that a few people owned the majority of the land in Italy. This principle has proven true in many other areas and avenues of life. Joseph Juran coined the phrase about Pareto’s Principle that there are the “vital few and trivial many.”
The problem is that we’re trying to focus on the trivial many. Too many people are trying to run a business, work at their day job, and juggle family responsibilities. The list seems to go on and on.
If we were to identify the vital few and focus all our intention there, we’d see more progress toward our goals than ever before. The key here is to take the time to step back and assess the small inputs with the most significant outputs.
If you’re in real estate like Keller, you might want to take some time to check where most of your clients come from. Do they come from networking events, or did they find you on social media?
Once you know this information, you can feel better stopping the activities that aren’t bringing in most of your clients. And focus all your efforts on the one avenue bringing in new home buyers or sellers.
StoryShot #3: Always Go Back to the Main Question
If you look at certain successful people, you’ll likely see they were great at one skill. For example, Tiger Woods didn’t try to be a star in baseball, basketball, and golf. Instead, he focused on his one sport and excelled at golf far beyond anyone else could dream of accomplishing.
The same can be said for Michael Phelps, Bill Gates, and Starbucks. What do you want to be known for? Get so great at it that your name or brand is synonymous with your one trait.
The entire premise behind this book is to ask yourself this one question:
What is the one thing you can do right now that will make everything else easier or unnecessary?
An exciting aspect of this book is that you don’t need to choose one area of your life and focus solely on it. Instead, ask this question for each area of your life.
First, in your business, you will want to sit down and ask yourself what one area or project will move the needle forward the most. Do you need to work on your marketing campaigns or your capital fundraising?
But don’t try to do both at once. You’ll end up without any success or only halfway accomplishing your goals.
Instead, if you choose marketing, then narrow it down again. What is one avenue of your marketing campaign that you need to focus on such that everything else will become easier or unnecessary? For example, if you took the time to focus on your SEO, could you eliminate the need to post on social media daily?
Every day you need to decide your top priority in your business and focus on that one thing. Over time, you’ll find that you can accomplish more in less time than if you tried to do it all at once.
For others, you’re not trying to grow a business. Instead, you’re trying to excel at your job and earn a promotion or raise.
Stop wondering why you haven’t gotten your big raise and recognition. Start spending some time deciding the one new skill you can tackle to ensure you’ll get that promotion next time.
What skill can you learn that will make the rest of your job easier or unnecessary? Or you might ask what extra project you can do that will make you reach your goals or help your team get them?
When you ask the right question, you’ll know where to focus. And you’ll have the guidance you need to excel in your career and get that raise and promotion you deserve.
Family or Personal Life
Alternatively, this focusing question doesn’t have to be exclusive to your career or business. You can also apply this concept to your family or personal life. What is one activity you can do that will make your family life more manageable?
What if you had groceries delivered or signed up for a meal delivery service? Would that make dinner so much easier so that you can then dedicate evenings to family time? How could this help you build relationships with those most important to you?
What can you focus on to help your child excel at their school work? Or what is one action you can take to help your aging parent stay in their home? As you can see, the focusing question applies to all areas of your life and can help you gain clarity in each one.
If you’re staring down mountains of credit card debt or trying to save up for retirement, you might think you’ll never reach the goal line. However, with the focusing question, you don’t have to tackle the entire mountain of credit in one step.
Instead, you want to ask yourself, what is one thing you can do today to improve your financial life? Maybe it means making a budget for the first time or cutting up the cards, so you aren’t tempted to keep using them once you start making payments. Focus on this one endeavor, and you’ll soon find yourself celebrating being debt-free.
Lastly, look at your physical health. What is the one activity you can do today to improve your health? Have you always bounced from one yo-yo diet to another?
If so, then maybe you don’t need another diet plan. Perhaps you can start walking around the neighborhood or joining a yoga studio. These activities can not only help you with your physical health but your mental health as well.
Find something to help you reach your health goals and focus there. Finally, you’ll be able to keep up with your kids at the park or beach and feel good about yourself.
StoryShot #4: Choose Habits Over Willpower
Too many people rely on willpower to reach their goals. The problem is we all have limited willpower available to us. If you use up all your resolve in the morning to get up early to hit the gym, you might not have enough later to refuse that last donut at the end of the day.
However, when you build up a habit of going to the gym over time, you won’t think about it as much, and it won’t take as much willpower to get there each morning.
The trick is that you need to be willing to take the time to discipline yourself in the beginning to make going to the gym a habit. It will take time, but it’s worth it in the long run.
The key is to consider building your habit as several short races instead of a marathon. If you can discipline yourself to win the short races enough, you’ll be able to build that habit up.
Habits will help you reach your goals over time. Stop relying on willpower.
StoryShot #5: Use Productivity Methods to Protect Your One Thing
Once you’ve determined your one thing, you’re only halfway to completing your goals. The second half to implementing and reaching those goals is to use a productivity method to help you reach those goals. Choose what works for you and see how you can accomplish much more when you focus.
The first tool you can use to reach your goals is time blocking. Time blocking is an excellent method to focus for a short time. The length of this amount of time can vary from person to person, depending on your current schedule and personality.
Some people will find that they can block off three hours every morning. Others might find their mind wandering after the first hour and wonder how they will complete the entire block. If this is you, choose to work in shorter sprints, such as using the Pomodoro method.
Regardless of how long your time block is, your central concept here is to know what you’re working on that will get you one step closer to your goals.
Another great tool as you work towards your goals is to use the prioritization matrix. As you work towards figuring out what your one main focus is, you’re likely to have many activities and projects come up. Your challenge is to ensure you stay focused on the most critical outcome that will move the needle toward your goals.
Using a prioritization matrix helps show you what projects should take precedence. Once you set up your four quadrants, place each goal or project in the correct area. Look at the quadrant in the top right corner and choose one goal that is important but not urgent.
Once you’ve chosen your priority, you’ll know where to focus first. Then you can come back to your matrix and determine the next most important step. Keep doing this until you’ve reached your goal.
Finally, one productivity tip worth remembering is that the ability to multitask is a myth. Don’t keep telling yourself that you’re getting more done by multitasking. The truth is that you’re only getting them halfway done and taking longer than you realize.
Remember, the central tenet of this book is to focus on your top priority with laser-guided intention. So stop fooling yourself by thinking you’re getting more done when multitasking because you’re not.
You’re costing yourself precious time and attention. Spend that time reaching your goals.
StoryShot #6: When You Go Big, You Need to Stay Small
We’ve all heard the saying, “Go big or go home.” However, when reaching your goals, you’re better served to stay small. Again, focus on the most crucial assignment that will move the needle forward first.
Unfortunately, we live in a distracted world with information and ideas coming to use every second of the day. From the time we wake up, we’re checking our phones and checking in with people worldwide. This can be great, but it can also deter us from focusing our attention on our priorities.
When you start your day, learn to stay focused on your intentions. If you find yourself still getting distracted, go back to the focusing question. Let this question guide you in all your decisions.
For example, let’s say your boss comes to you with a great idea. You know it’s a great idea, but it will detract you from your goals. Discuss with your boss if that new idea will move the company forward in reaching your objectives and if not, stay focused on the first concern.
StoryShot #7: Learn to Say No
As you learn to stay small, you’ll also need to learn to say no. It will be hard at first, especially when a new idea comes up, that seems more fun than the trenches you’re currently in.
But if you keep the focusing question in mind, you’ll learn to get better at saying no. This will help you to stay focused.
When you say yes to something, you say no to something else. If you’re still trying to do all the things, then you’ve missed the point of the book. Go back to the beginning and reevaluate what your purpose is and where your goals are so you can determine your top priority.
StoryShot #8: Choose Balance and Counterbalance
We all want to have balance in our lives between our work and personal lives. But living in the middle means you’ll live a mediocre life.
Instead of constantly trying to find balance in every area, learn to use counterbalance. There will be times and seasons when you need to give your work all you’ve got. But then counterbalance that by planning a vacation once you’ve hit your goal.
As mentioned, once you determine your priorities, you will have to say no to other obligations. Don’t stay out of balance for too long, leading to burnout. Instead, be willing to live in the extreme for a short time to reach your goal and then reassess and counterbalance.
StoryShot #9: Live With Purpose
One of the biggest life lessons you should take from this book is not to try to get more done. But rather to find what you want to be known for and live with intention. When you focus on your purpose in life, you’ll find the actions you complete have more meaning.
Finding your purpose gives your life the foundation you need to be able to pick the one thing that will allow you to live on purpose and with intention. You’ll soon see your productivity soar when you have a clear drive to motivate you each morning.
StoryShot #10: Stay Accountable
The last key takeaway from the book, The One Thing, is to stay accountable to your goals. You can do this in a variety of ways.
Some people are motivated by external forces, while others prefer to stay internal. You must figure out what motivates you to reach your goals.
For example, some find they’re motivated when others know their goals. If this is you, reach out and ask someone to be your accountability partner. For others, you might work on a team or have a family that can cheer you on toward success.
Find what motivates you and choose accountability over victimhood. You aren’t a victim of your circumstances or environment. You must stay focused on your goals and accountable for reaching them no matter what.
Final Summary and Review
In their book, The One Thing, authors Gary Keller and Jay Papasan outline many great stories and illustrations of why we all need to stay focused. Many distractions will come along. You’ll need to stay focused on finding the one thing that will make everything else easier and unnecessary.
When you do this, you’ll experience the fantastic success that you never before thought possible. This book shows how using laser focus and intensity can move you forward toward your goals faster than trying to do too much.
Take the time to determine where you should focus so you can stop juggling it all and prioritize your one thing.
To sum up our top lessons on life from The One Thing book:
- Keep the domino effect in mind
- Look at the 80/20 principle
- Always go back to the main question: “What’s the one thing I can do such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
- Choose habits over willpower
- Use productivity methods to protect your one thing
- When you go big, you need to stay small
- Learn to stay no
- Choose balance and counterbalance
- Live with purpose
- Stay accountable
We rate this book 4.2/5.
PDF, Free Audiobook, Infographic, and Animated Book Summary of The One Thing
Did you like what you learned here? Share to show you care and let us know by contacting our support.
New to StoryShots? Get the PDF, audiobook and animated versions of this summary of The One Thing and hundreds of other bestselling nonfiction books in our free top-ranking app. It’s been featured by Apple, The Guardian, The UN, and Google as one of the world’s best reading and learning apps.