Book: The One Thing: The surprising simple truth behind extraordinary results

Author: Gary Keller with Jay Papasan

This book is one of the most important books I’ve ever read. So much so, after finishing it, I went ahead and got copies for my mentors. And my copy is riddled with notes and highlights all over the place. In fact, choosing the highlights to share in this post was so tough, this post will be 4x as long as usual.

Like Essentialism, The One Thing is a book about the central idea that not everything is important, and while it may seem like everything is urgent, there is always that ONE thing that if focused on would bring disproportionate results.

Success in life comes from understanding what your ONE thing is, what the big thing you want your life to be all about is and then working that question down until you have some direction in the day-to-day execution of your dream.

Gary tackles the typical traps that stifles our progress like multitasking, balance, and relying on will power. He then goes on to give practical tips on how to focus on the ONE thing and make it easier to follow. Tips like time blocking, asking the Focusing Question and striving for mastery.

The ONE Thing is a powerful book that connects the idea of big goals, with the reality of focused and persistent execution. Dream big, dare to accomplish great, focus on the ONE thing and let it propel you to greatness.


My Highlights from The One Thing

Where I’d had huge success, I had narrowed my concentration to one thing, and where my success had varied, my focus had too.

You want your achievements to add up, but that actually takes subtraction, not addition. You need to be doing fewer things for more effect instead of doing things with side effects.

Getting extraordinary results is all about creating a domino effect in your life.

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.

…extraordinary success is sequential, not simultaneous. What starts out linear, becomes geometric.

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.

The things which are most important don’t always scream the loudest.

In fact, most to-do lists are actually just survival lists – getting you through your day and your life, but not making each day a stepping-stone for the next so you sequentially build a successful life.

Instead of a to-do list, you need a success list –  a list that is purposefully created around extraordinary results.

Sometimes it’s the first thing you do. Sometimes it’s the only thing you do. Regardless, doing the most important thing is always the most important thing.

Multitasking is a lie.

It’s not that we have too little time to do all the things we need to do, it’s that we feel the need to do too many things in the time we have.

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

When our willpower runs out, we all revert to our default settings. This begs the question: What are your default settings?

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

A balanced life is a lie.

Purpose, meaning, significance- these are what make a successful life. Seek them and you will most certainly live your life out of balance, crisscrossing an invisible middle line as you pursue your priorities.

The reason we shouldn’t pursue balance is that the magic never happens in the middle; magic happens at the extremes.

Every level of achievement requires its own combination of what you do, how you do it and who you do it with. The trouble is that the combination of what, how and who that gets you to one level of success won’t naturally evolve to a better combination that leads to the next level of success.

Don’t fear big. Fear mediocrity. Fear waste. Fear the lack of living to your fullest.

Once you’ve asked a big question, pause to imagine what life looks like with the answer. If you still can’t imagine it, go study people who have already achieved it. What are the models, systems, habits and relationships of other people who have found the answer.

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.

Great questions are clearly the quickest path to great answers.

Anyone who dreams of an uncommon life eventually discovers no choice but to seek an uncommon approach to living it.

Powered by the Focusing Question, your actions become a natural progression of building one right thing, on top of the previous right thing. When this happens, you’re in position to experience the power of the domino effect.

The Focusing Question collapses all possible questions into one: What’s the ONE Thing I can do / such that by doing it / everything else will be easier or unnecessary?

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.

The Big-Picture Question: What is my ONE Thing? Use it to develop a vision for your life and the direction for your career or company; it is your strategic compass.

The Small-Focus Question: What is my ONE Thing right now? Use this when you wake up and throughout the day. It keeps you focused on your most important work, and whenever you need it, helps you find the “levered action” or first domino in any activity.

Your one-two punch for extraordinary results – Ask a great question (think big and specific), find a great answer (research & role model)

Low goals don’t require extraordinary actions, so they rarely lead to extraordinary results.

Answers come in three categories: doable, stretch and possibility.

High achievers understand the 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.

Highly successful people choose to live at the outer limits of achievement. They not only dream of but deeply crave what is beyond their natural grasp.

Anytime you don’t know the answer, your answer is to go find your answer.

A college professor once told me, “Gary, you’re smart, but people have lived before you. You’re not the first person to dream big, so you’d be wise to study what others have learned first, and then build your actions on the back of their lessons”

The research and experience of others is the best place to start when looking for your answer. Armed with this knowledge, you can establish a benchmark, the current high water mark for all that is known and being done. With a stretch approach this was your maximum, but now it is your minimum.

Because your answer will be original, you’ll probably have to reinvent yourself in some way to implement it. A new answer usually requires new behavior.

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

It can be a little like a Russian matryoshka doll in that 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…it’s how a small thing can actually build up to a big one. You’re lining up your dominoes.

You are training your mind how to think, how to connect one goal with the next over time until you know the most important thing you must do right NOW. You are learning how to think big – but go small.

Time blocking is a very results oriented way of viewing and using time. It’s a way of making sure that what has to get done gets done.

Make an appointment with yourself and keep it – Time block your One Thing – Protect your time block.

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

To achieve extraordinary results and experience greatness time block these three things in the following order: 1, Time block your time off. 2, Time block your ONE Thing. 3, Time block your planning time.

Resting is as important as working.

There is magic in knocking down your most important domino day after day.

Extraordinary results become possible when you want to go is completely aligned with what you do today.

You must continually seek the very best ways of doing things.

Are you doing this to simply do the best you can do, or are you doing this to do it the best it can be done?

..when you are going about your ONE Thing, any ceiling of achievement must be challenged, and this requires a different approach – a purposeful approach.

Highly productive people don’t accept the limitations of their natural approach as the final word on their success. When they hit a ceiling of achievement, they look for new models and systems, better ways to do things to push them through.

You can’t put limits on what you’ll do. You have to be open to new ideas and new ways of doing things if you want breakthroughs in your life.

The Purposeful approach says, “I’m still committed to growing, so what are my options?

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.

An accountability partner provides frank, objective feedback on your performance, creates an ongoing expectation for productive progress and can provide critical brainstorming or even expertise when needed.

If you can’t say no a lot, you’ll never truly be able to say yes to achieving your ONE Thing. Literally, it’s one or the other – and you get to decide.

One of the greatest thieves of productivity is the unwillingness to allow for the chaos or the lack of creativity in dealing with it.

Hanging out with people who seek success will strengthen your motivation and positively push your performance.

Actions build on action. Habits build on habit. Success builds on success.

Big lives build the powerful wave of chain reactions and are built sequentially.

Success is an inside job. Put yourself together and your world falls into place.

All success starts within you. You know what to do. You know how to do it. Your next step is simple.

You are the first domino.

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