The ONE Thing was written by Gary Keller. In The ONE Thing Summary you will learn about thinking big, but going small. This is one of Books of Success‘s favorite books of all time. We find it to be not only easy to read, but extremely useful. Almost anyone who reads it will be able to find a way to apply it in there lives. We hope you enjoy The ONE Thing Summary and encourage you to leave a comment below as well as buy the full book from Amazon (affiliate link)
The ONE Thing Summary
Chapter 1: The ONE Thing
In Chapter 1 the Author, Gary Keller, discusses his personal story of how he came to discover the benefits of focusing on one thing. He had built a successful and growing business, yet he found his life was in turmoil. As if everything was crumbling around him. Through the help of a coach, Gary realized that there was only one thing he needed to do move his business and his life forward, put new people in 14 key positions. He found those people and stepped down as CEO, and his business saw huge growth that continued for the next decade.
Through this and other experiences described in the chapter, the light came on for Gary and he realized that where he’d had huge success, he had narrowed his concentration to one thing, he went 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.”
Chapter 2: The Domino Effect
We all know that knocking over the first domino will knock over the second, which will knock over the 3rd and so on, for as many dominos as we care to line up. What you may not know is that a single domino is capable of bringing down another domino that is actually 50 percent larger. With this type of geometric progression the 31st domino in the line would be taller than Mount Everest!
“Getting extraordinary results is all about creating a domino effect in your life.”
So by knocking down the right domino first, we have the ability to move mountains!
Chapter 3: Success Leaves Clues
Proof that the philosophy of The One Thing is true can be shown through several areas of business and life.
“Applying The One Thing to your work-and in your life- is the simplest and smartest thing you can do to propel yourself toward the success you want.”
Extraordinarilyy successful companies always have one product or service they’re most known for. Sometimes what is made or delivered is also what is sold, sometimes not. Google’s one thing for example is search, yet they do not earn revenue from search.
The One Thing concept can also be applied to people-
“Everyone has one person who either means the most to them or was the first to influence, train, or manage them. No one succeeds alone. No one.”
Next the Author applies The One Thing to passion and skill-
“Passion for something leads to disproportionate time practicing or working at it. That time spent eventually translates to skill, and when skill improves, results improve. Better results generally lead to more enjoyment, and more passion and more time is invested. It can be a virtuous cycle all the way to extraordinary results.”
Part One: The Lies, They Mislead and Derail Us – There are six lies that have become incorrect beliefs that people live. The next 6 chapters each focus on dispelling a common belief that is incorrect and stands between you and success.
Chapter 4: Everything Matters Equally
In today’s culture the to-do list is supposed to be the driver of productivity. Finish your to-do list and leave with a clean desk are often talked about as efficient practices. In reality, today’s to-do list has become like email, a distraction. In fact, many people actually consider their email inbox as their to-do list! The problem is everything is not equal, and a to-do list doesn’t differentiate the important from the unimportant.
“A to-do list is simply the things you think you need to do; the first thing on your list is just the first thing you thought of.”
Without the differentiation of the important from the unimportant, EVERYTHING feels urgent and important.
“When everything feels urgent and important, everything seems equal. We become active and busy, but this doesn’t actually move us any closer to success. Activity is often unrelated to productivity, and busyness rarely takes care of business”
So if everything feels urgent and important how do you decide what to do? How do you decide what matters most at any given moment on any given day? For this the Author turns to The 80/20 Principle.
“The 80/20 Principle says the minority of your effort leads to the majority of your results.”
Only the Author takes it to the extreme.
“No matter how many to-dos you start with, you can always narrow it to one. You can actually take 20 percent of the 20 percent of the 20 percent and continue until you get to the single most important thing!”
“The inequality of effort for results is everywhere in your life if you will simply look for it. And if you apply this principle, it will unlock the success you seek in anything that matters to you. There will always be just a few things that matter more than the rest, and out of those, one will matter most.”
Chapter 5: Multitasking
“So, if doing the most important thing is the most important thing, why would you try to do anything else at the same time?”
While multitasking is a skill that employers look for when they hire people and employees list on resumes. Yet, countless studies have shown it’s a lie! It’s simply not possible to do two things at once and do them well. People think of multitasking as a skill to improve. We tend to think that there are too many things we need to get done and not enough time to do them, so we try to do 2 or 3 things at once in hopes to get everything done. The problem is…
“When you try to do two things at once, you either can’t or won’t do either well.”
“Multitaskers were just lousy at everything.”
People can actually do two things at once, such as walking and talking. What we can’t do is focus on two things at once. Think of walking on a balance beam 20 ft in the air, would you still try to carry on a conversation? When we do two things at once, one is happening in the foreground and the other in the background. When we try to do two complex tasks at once we are actually “task switching” or going back and forth between them, which makes both take longer.
“The relative complexity of those tasks makes it impossible to easily jump back and forth. It always takes some time to start a new task and restart the one you quit, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll ever pick up exactly where you left off.”
Researchers estimate we lose 28 percent of an average workday to the time it takes to “task switch”. Not only do things take longer while multitasking, but quality is impacted as well.
“Take on two things and your attention gets divided. Take on a third and something gets dropped.”
“Every time we try to do two or more things at once, we’re simply dividing up our focus and dumbing down all of the outcomes in the process.”
So clearly the idea that being a multitasker is a good thing is a lie.
Chapter 6: A Disciplined Life
Many people believe that the most successful people in life are those who are the most disciplined. The author states…
“Contrary to what most people believe, success is not a marathon of discipline action.”
“Success is actually a short race – a sprint fueled by discipline just long enough for habit to kick in and take over.”
The author argues that we don’t ever need to do everything right, the key is to figure out what the most important thing is and do that right all the time. Do that thing long enough and it will no longer take discipline, it we just become habit.
“The hard stuff becomes habit, and habit makes the hard stuff easy.”
Studies show it takes an average of 66 days to form a habit, the key is to focus on the right habit and then put all of your discipline towards that.
“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.”
Chapter 7: Willpower is Always on Will-Call
“Willpower is always on will-call is a lie.”
The idea that we can will ourselves to anything is a pretty powerful idea, and actually holds true… sometimes.
“Willpower is a timing issue. When you have your will, you get your way.”
The problem is we do not have an endless supply of willpower.
“The studies concluded that willpower is a mental muscle that doesn’t bounce back quickly. If you employ it for one task, there will be less power available for the next….”
“Will power is depleted when we make decisions to focus our attention, suppress our feelings and impulses, or modify our behavior in pursuit of goals.”
So since we don’t have an endless supply of willpower how do we make sure we use it for the most important things we need to do?
“If you want to get the most out of your day, do your most important work – your ONE Thing – early, before your willpower is drawn down.
Chapter 8: A Balanced Life
“A “balanced life” is a myth – a misleading concept most accept as a worthy and attainable goal without ever stopping to truly consider it.”
According to the author, a balanced life is another lie. In theory it sounds great, giving the proper amount of attention to everything and everyone, and at the same time getting everything done. The problem is…
“Extraordinary results require focused attention and time. Time on one thing means time away from another. This makes balance impossible.”
“In your effort to attend to all things, everything gets shortchanged and nothing gets its due.”
When this happens in a person’s life it makes them feel suffocated by demands, not balanced. So rather than try to find balance, the author suggests we look to “counterbalance”.
“The idea of counterbalancing is that you never go so far that you can’t find your way back or stay so long that there is nothing waiting for you when you return.”
In other words go to the extremes, but don’t cause permanent damage. Also, remember that if you drop the ball at work, you can always recover. If you drop the ball with your health and relationship, they could be irrevocably damaged.
So how do we make sure we are focusing on the most important thing at home and at work?
“To be able to address your priorities outside of work, be clear about your most important work priority so you can get it done. Then go home and be clear about your priorities there so you can get back to work. When you’re supposed to be working, work, and when you’re supposed to be playing, play.”
Chapter 9: Big is Bad
“Big can be bad and bad can be big, but they’re not one and the same.”
Big is bad is a lie. Many people are afraid to think big because they might not get there.
“Yet how many times have you set out to do something that seemed like a real stretch at the time, only to discover it was much easier than you thought?”
If we don’t start out thinking big we can set a ceiling for ourselves that is very difficult or even impossible to break through.
“What you build today will either empower or restrict you tomorrow.
“Believing in big frees you to ask different questions, follow different paths, and try new things.”
So think big and don’t fear failure, just learn from it and try again.
Part 2: The Truth – The Simple Path to Productivity – Part 1 covered the common incorrect beliefs, in Part 2 correct way of doing things is discussed.
“The key to success isn’t in all the things we do but in the handful of things we do well.”
Chapter 10: The Focusing Question
The author states that the success we have in life is directly determined by asking the right questions. The issue is knowing what the right question to ask this. The author has simplified this by coming up with one “focusing question” that can be used over and over again at any point in the day and for any part of our life. The question is –
“What’s the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
It seems so simple yet it is truly profound.
“It shows you how big your life can be and just how small you must go to get there.”
All you need to do is change the time from of the question to narrow it from big picture to small focus.
“What’s the ONE Thing I can do THIS YEAR that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
“What’s the ONE Thing I can do TODAY that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
Or all the way to…
“What’s the ONE Thing I can do RIGHT NOW that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?
“The Focusing Question asks you to find the first domino and focus on it exclusively until you knock it over. Once you’ve done that, you’ll discover a line of dominoes behind it either ready to fall or already down.”
Chapter 11: The Success Habit
In Chapter 6 the formation of habits was discussed. Well, the Focusing Question is the most powerful success habit we can have. The author suggests applying he question to the important areas of our life: our spiritual life, physical health, personal life, key relationships, job, business, and financial life, in that order.
“Because I want my life to matter, I approach each area by doing what matters most in it. I view these as the cornerstones of my life and have found that when I’m doing what’s most important in each area, my life feels like it’s running on all cylinders.”
Simply reframe the Focusing Question by inserting your area of focus. For example; What’s the ONE Thing I can do for my physical health such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary? Again, it can be narrowed to a smaller focus by changing the time frame; this year, this month, today, or even right now. Now make it a habit by asking ourselves these questions on a daily basis and then focusing on each of the ONE Things.
Chapter 12: The Path to Great Answers
The path to great answers is asking great questions.
“The Focusing Question helps you ask a great question. Great questions, like great goals, are big and specific.”
For example, what can I do to double sales in six months, is a big and specific question. Just saying double sales is not specific enough and increasing sales 5 percent is specific, but in most cases is not big enough.
“Big & Specific. A big, specific question leads to a big, specific answer, which is absolutely necessary for achieving a big goal.”
“Now convert this 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?”
Now that we have our great question, we need to find our great answer. There are three types of answers; doable, stretch, and possibility. To be a great achiever we need to reject the ordinary answer and look for the extraordinary one, the very best answer.
“If you want the most from your answer, you must realize that it lives outside your comfort zone.”
To find this answer we can start by studying the lives of other high achievers, but realize a truly great answer will likely be a new answer. Find the benchmark that others have set, this is now the minimum expectation, so figure out an answer that will surpass it.
Part 3: Extraordinary Results – Unlocking The Possibilities Within You –
“There is a simple formula for implementing the ONE Thing and achieving extraordinary results: purpose, priority, and productivity.”
The key to having extraordinary results is to start with a strong purpose and let that guide your priority.
“Live with purpose. Live by priority. Live for productivity.”
Chapter 13: Live With Purpose
“A life lived on purpose is the most powerful of all – and the happiest.”
Really, happiness is what it all comes down to. We all strive for happiness, yet many people focus on the wrong things and so they can never become happy.
“Over the ages, our greatest minds have pondered happiness, and their conclusions are much the same: having money and things won’t automatically lead to lasting happiness.”
“Happiness happens on the way to fulfillment.”
I think if most people took a second to think about it they would fully agree that money and things are important, but they alone will not make a person happy. In order to be happy we need to figure out what fulfills us, what our purpose is. But how do we figure out what our purpose is? The author suggests we go back to the Focusing Question.
“When you ask yourself, “What’s the ONE Thing I can do in my life that would mean the most to me and world, such that by doing it everything else would be easier or unnecessary?” you’re using the power of the ONE Thing to bring purpose to your life.”
Chapter 14: Live By Priority
“Live with purpose and you know where you want to go. Live by priority and you’ll know what to do to get there.”
Now that we have our purpose, or our goal, we need to ask ourselves what we can right now to achieve our someday goal. But this is quite a leap to make and we probably won’t know what we should be doing right now. The author solves this through what he calls “Goal setting to the now”.
“By thinking through the filter of Goal Setting to the Now, you set a future goal and then methodically drill down to what you should be doing right now.”
Someday Goal – What’s the ONE Thing I want to do someday?
Five Year Goal – Based on my Someday Goal, what’s the ONE Thing I can do in the next five years such that by doing it everything else would be easier or unnecessary?
One Year Goal – Based on my Five Year Goal, what’s the ONE Thing I can do in the next year such that by doing it everything else would be easier or unnecessary?
Monthly Goal – Based on my One Year Goal, what’s the ONE Thing I can do in the next month, such that by doing it everything else would be easier or unnecessary?
Weekly Goal – Based on my Monthly Goal, what’s the ONE Thing I can do in the next Week, such that by doing it everything else would be easier or unnecessary?
Daily Goal – Based on my Weekly Goal, what’s the ONE Thing I can do in the next day, such that by doing it everything else would be easier or unnecessary?
Right Now – Based on my Daily Goal, what’s the ONE Thing I can do Right Now, such that by doing it everything else would be easier or unnecessary?
“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. This is why Goal Setting to the Now really works.”
Chapter 15: 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.”
So we know our purpose and what our priority is, how to do we make sure we have the time to do? Time Blocking.
“Time blocking is a very results-oriented way of viewing and using time. It’s a way of making sure that what has to be done gets done.
The author suggests we time block 3 specific things
- Time block your time off – Planning your time off allows you to work around your downtime instead of the other way around. If you don’t do this, work will take over and “Resting is as important as working.”
- Time block your ONE Thing – Design your work time around doing your ONE Thing as the top priority. The author suggests at least 4 hours a day to be set aside for your ONE Thing, and more if needed. If you finish your ONE Thing early, ask the Focusing Question again and find your next ONE Thing and work on that.
“The key to making this work is to block time as early in your days as you possibly can. Give yourself 30 minutes to an hour to take care of morning priorities, then move to your ONE Thing.”
- Time block your planning time – This is the time to review your bigger goals again and make sure that you are still on track. You can even go through your Goal Setting to the Now questions again to be sure nothing has changed. One hour each week is recommended for this time block.
“There is magic in knocking down your most important domino day after day. All you have to do is avoid breaking the chain, one day at a time, until you generate a powerful new habit in your life – the time-blocking habit.”
So how do we protect our time with all of the distractions in our daily life? Treat your time blocks as appointments. If you have an appointment with your boss or a client you generally don’t break it, treat yourself with the same respect. The only time your time blocks should be broken are if something more important than the ONE Thing comes up. So ask yourself, is this distraction so important that it is now my new ONE Thing, such that by doing it everything else would be easier or unnecessary?
Chapter 16: The Three Commitments
In order to follow through on the teachings from the previous three chapter, you must make 3 commitments.
- Follow the Path of Master –Put in the effort to become your best.
“Mastery means giving the best you have to become the best you can be at your most important work.”
When people think of mastering something they tend to think of it as the end goal. This couldn’t be further from the truth, mastery is the trip, not the destination.
“You’re a master of what you know and an apprentice of what you don’t.”
So you should constantly be looking to improve at your most important work, or your ONE Thing.
- Move from E to P. – Entrepreneurial or Purposeful.
The Entrepreneur sees a task and sets out to complete the task without ever taking the time to consider if there is a better way. Being Purposeful means taking your time and looking to not just complete a task, but improve the way the task is done.
“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.”
Living life as an Entrepreneur is limiting, our current way of doing things will always create a ceiling. To break through the ceiling we need to be Purposeful and find new and better ways of doing things.
- Live the Accountability Cycle – Accept the fact that you make your own choices and create your own life.
“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.”
Chapter 17: The Four Thieves
Chapters 13-15 teach us how to be an extraordinary success, Chapter 16 shows us the commitments we need to make to get there, this chapter is all about the obstacles or “Thieves” that can stand in our way if we let them.
- Inability to say “no”
Time is a limited resource, so other people will always try to use yours instead of their own. Your time however, is also limited. So it is imperative that you realize that for everything you say yes to, you are saying no to something else you could be doing. The best way to stay productive is to say no to anyone or anything that is not directly related to your ONE Thing.
There is nothing wrong with simply saying no, but many people have a hard time or feel guilty doing it. If you are one of those people, say no, but offer another idea or solution to help the requestor complete their task.
- Fear of Chaos
“Focusing on ONE Thing has a guaranteed consequence: other things don’t get done.”
As you spend more and more time focusing on your one thing your life may feel more chaotic than ever… at first. You need to accept the fact that some things just won’t get done. Give it time though and you’ll find that things have a funny way of getting done at some point or even more common, they become no longer necessary. This is especially true when we focus on our ONE Thing.
- Poor Health Habits
“Personal energy mismanagement is a silent thief of productivity.”
It’s as simple as that, poor health leads to less energy, which leads to less productivity. Not spending time to take care of yourself doesn’t give you more time to work, it actually means you will have less productive time to take care of your ONE Thing.
Pray or meditate, eat a nutritious breakfast, exercise or wear a pedometer and walk 10,000 steps a day, spend time with friends and loved ones, plan your day, and get at least 8 hours of sleep. Do these things every day and you will be amazed at how much MORE time you have for work.
- Environment doesn’t support your goals
There are two pieces to your environment, your physical environment and the people you surround yourself with.
Surround yourself with only positive and supportive people who are focused on success.
“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.”
Your physical environment also plays a key role in your success, mainly due to the distractions it can cause. So spend some time going through your daily routines in your mind and get rid of all the distractions. That may even mean working in an empty office during your ONE Thing time block. Whatever it takes, just make sure your environment is a place you can put your full focus into your work without distraction.
Chapter 18: The Journey
“Whatever you can see, you have the capacity to move toward. And when what you go for is as vast as you can possibly envision, you’ll be living the biggest life you can possibly live.”
Thinking big can be intimidating for all of us. Use the focusing question to narrow your focus down to the one thing you should do right now to accomplish your long term goals. Whatever you do, don’t live a life full of regrets. Find your purpose, aim big and then take the first step to get where you want to be.
“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.”