The One Thing Summary (Gary Keller & Jay Papasan)

Want extraordinary results in every area of your life?

More productivity, time, success and satisfaction?

The One Thing summary, based on the bestselling book by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan is a good place to start.

“What’s the one thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

This is a fundamental question to ask ourselves.

Many of us lead lives of distractions and disarray, making it impossible to achieve our goals.

Gary Keller, founder of one of the world’s most successful real estate companies, argues that successful people go small.

Extraordinary focus on the one thing we must do each day drives extraordinary success.

The whole book is formed around this guiding principle.

The domino effect

Decide the most important goal in your life long term…

Then you can set up the dominoes needed to achieve it.

Dominoes can start small but a single domino can bring down another domino that’s 50% bigger.

Focussing on the next domino is essential. Success is built one domino at a time, sequentially, not simultaneously.

Success myths

Everything is created equal

Equality is an ideal, but not applicable to our daily to-do’s.

Some things on our list are more essential than others and deliver bigger and better results.

We should focus on these. Instead of a to-do list, reframe it as a success list.

Using the Pareto Principle is helpful, a law of nature which states that 20% of inputs deliver 80% of outputs.

What are the 20% of items on our list that will deliver 80% of the results?

Achieving more with multitasking

Multitasking is ineffective and inefficient.

Task switching is attention-draining and energy-consuming.

Dividing our resources between multiple tasks means we don’t make sufficient progress in any one thing.

“You can do two things at once, but you can’t focus effectively on two things at once.”

All we need is discipline

This might shatter your traditional concepts of success.

Keller argues that discipline is a verb, not a noun. It’s something we do, not something we have.

Discipline is a habit, where correct behaviours become almost automatic.

“You can become successful with less discipline than you think, for one simple reason: success is about doing the right thing, not about doing everything right.”

We can rely on our willpower

If we’re struggling with our discipline we can’t rely on willpower.

It’s a finite resource.

When it’s gone, we revert to default, easy behaviours, such as eating crappy food.

Willpower is drained in many ways, such as:

  • Implementing new behaviours
  • Avoiding distractions
  • Resisting impulses

To use it effectively, it’s best to do our most important work early in the day.

Work-life balance is essential

Balance isn’t bad, but we should instead seek meaning and purpose.

Note that perfect balance does not support success, which is created in the extremes.

Investing in extraordinary success means we might have to make sacrifices in other areas of life, at least temporarily.

Focussing on one thing allows us to deprioritise distractions and achieve mastery while ensuring that we’re still able to counterbalance other areas of life,

“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.”

Big is bad

To live a great life, we must be big thinkers.

We might avoid this in favour of being realistic, but in reality, thinking small is the dream killer.

Acting boldly will allow us to make great leaps, learning from mistakes along the way.

So avoid incremental thinking, adopt the growth mindset and either go big or go home.

The focusing question

So, how do we find our one thing? By consistently asking the following question:

“What’s the one thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

  • The first part (what’s the one thing I can do) tells us it’s only one option of many alternatives and something we can do.
  • The second part (such that by doing it), tells us that that the one thing must meet certain criterion.
  • The third part (everything else will be easier or unnecessary) suggests that criterion should be to ensure a positive outcome.

When we consistently ask ourselves the focusing question, we leverage our actions for the biggest result.

Each action becomes a progression of doing one right thing after another until our aim becomes inevitable.

Increase specificity

To improve our effectiveness, we can make our question more specific by:

  • Adding an area of focus
  • Adding a time window

For my [career/relationships/health], what’s the one thing I can do [today/this week/this quarter] such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

The main challenge of asking a great question is producing an equally great answer. There are three potential categories:

  • Doable – more like a to-do list, easily within our existing knowledge and competence
  • Stretch – within reach, but challenging and at the end of our ability
  • Possibility – beyond what we already know and do and completely outside our comfort zone, where the greatest answers reside

Want to be great? Produce great answers.

Finding purpose

Achieving the one thing isn’t without hardship.

If we lack overall direction, it’s easy to become subject to the hedonic treadmill of success.

We quickly become disillusioned with our latest achievement and seek the next goal to provide happiness.

Meaning and engagement are the most important factors for happiness, which are provided by purpose.

Life purpose is our why and allows us to persist in the face of inevitable difficulty.

  • If we live by purpose, we know where we want to
  • If we live by priority, we know what we must do to get there

They are symbiotic and determine the effectiveness of our actions.

Focusing on purpose and priority together informs our plan for different timeframes:

“The five year view: Based on my ‘someday’ goal, what’s the ONE Thing I can do in the next five years to be on track to achieve it?”

There are two main pitfalls with setting priorities:

  • Hyperbolic discounting – the basis of instant gratification in that we’re more biased towards present rewards. The further away a future reward, the less motivated we are to chase it.
  • Planning fallacy – We overestimate what we can achieve in a given time frame.

Three ways to overcome these pitfalls:

  • Mentally connect our todays to our tomorrows
  • Visualise the process
  • Writing down our priorities – we’re more likely to achieve our goals.

Live for productivity

The most successful people are the most productive people. Why? Because productive action is transformational.

It allows us to get the most out of what we do.

If disproportionate results are derived from one activity, we must allocate more resources for that activity.

How? By planning our time ahead of time:

Time off – schedule your time off, rather than allowing it to fall randomly between work
The one thing – block 4 hours, typically in the morning and avoid all distractions
Planning time – engage in systematic and frequent reviews to ensure that you’re progressing towards your goal

Eliminate all distractions until you’ve done your one thing each day.

“Be a maker in the morning and a manager in the afternoon.”

The three commitments

Extraordinary results require three commitments:

  • Adopt a mastery mindset – mastery is a path we walk, rather than a destination
  • Seek the best way to do things – are you both doing the best you can do, and the best it can be done?
  • Be willing to be held accountable – elite performers seek teachers, coaches and supervised training

The four productivity thieves

  • Inability to say “No” – saying yes to everyone is the same as saying yes to nothing. A request must be connected to your one thing for consideration
  • Fear of chaos – saying no to peripherals could induce some chaos in our lives. We must become comfortable with that
  • Poor health habits – we need to protect the one asset that’s responsible for our results – ourselves – through healthy habits. We must protect our energy.
  • An environment that doesn’t support your goals – you become the people you spend the most time with. Design your environment to allow you to focus on your one thing.

The Productive Person’s Daily Energy Plan

  1. Meditate and pray for spiritual energy
  2. Eat right, exercise, and sleep sufficiently for physical energy
  3. Hug, kiss, and laugh with loved ones for emotional energy
  4. Set goals, plan, and calendar for mental energy
  5. Time block your ONE Thing for business energy

No regrets

A life might be measured in many ways, but living without regret is essential.

At any moment, there can be only the one thing.

When it aligns with our purpose and priorities, everything falls into place. It all makes sense.

And we become unstoppable.

The One Thing summary and review

I absolutely love the lessons in The One Thing, which completely resonate with my worldview and how I try to live life.

I’m an advocate of simple living and lifestyle design, cutting the extraneous and focusing on what’s important.

When we take responsibility for our existence through discipline, purpose and priority, we create the conditions necessary for a happy and successful life.

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