The One Thing

The surprisingly simple truth behind extraordinary results

by Gary Keller with Jay Papasan

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— If you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one. Russian Proverb

— Be like a postage stamp. Stick to one thing until you get there. Josh Billings.

— When you want the absolute best chance to succeed at anything you want, your approach should be to ‘Go 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. It’s a tighter way to connect what you do with what you want. It’s realizing that extraordinary results are directly determined by how narrow you can make your focus.

— Big success comes when we do a few things well.

— You need to be doing fewer things for more effect instead of doing more things with side effects.

— “Every great change starts like falling dominoes.”— BJ Thornton

— Every day, successful people line up their priorities anew, find the lead domino, and whack away at it until it falls.

— Success builds on success, and as this happens, over and over, you move toward the highest success possible.

— Success is built sequentially. It’s one thing at a time.

— “It is those who concentrate on but one thing at a time who advance in this world.” — Og Mandino

— “There can only be one most important thing. Many things may be important, but only one can be the most important.” —Ross Garber

— Take the concept and apply it to people, and you’ll see where one person (just like one thing) makes all the difference. No one is self-made (they need that ‘one person’ to succeed). 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.

— Often, the line between passion and skill can be blurry. That’s because they’re almost always connected.

— “You must be singleminded. Drive for the one thing on which you have decided.”—General George S. Patton

— 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.

— “Success demands singleness of purpose.”— Vince Lombardi

— Henry David Thoreau said, “It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is, what are we busy about?” Knocking out a hundred tasks for whatever the reason is a poor substitute for doing even one task that’s meaningful. Not everything matters equally, and success isn’t a game won by whoever does the most. Yet that is exactly how most play it on a daily basis.

— While ‘to-do’ lists serve as a useful collection of our best intentions, they also tyrannize us with trivial, unimportant stuff that we feel obligated to get done—because it’s on our list. Long hours spent checking off a to-do list and ending the day with a full trash can and a clean desk are not virtuous and have nothing to do with success.

— Start with as large a list as you want, but develop the mindset that you will whittle your way from there to the critical few and not stop until you end with the essential ONE. The imperative ONE. The ONE Thing.

— Achievers always work from a clear sense of priority.

— Don’t focus on being busy; focus on being productive.

— “To do two things at once is to do neither.”—Publilius Syrus

— According to Nass, a professor at Stanford University,“Multitaskers were just lousy at everything.” “Multitasking is merely the opportunity to screw up more than one thing at a time.”—Steve Uzzell. Multitasking doesn’t save time —it wastes time.

— 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.

— Switching between two simple tasks—like watching television and folding clothes—is quick and relatively painless. However, if you’re working on a spreadsheet and a co-worker pops into your office to discuss a business problem, the relative complexity of those tasks makes it impossible to easily jump back and forth.

— There is this pervasive idea that the successful person is the “disciplined person” who leads a “disciplined life.” It’s a lie. When you discipline yourself, you’re essentially training yourself to act in a specific way. Stay with this long enough and it becomes routine—in other words, a habit. So when you see people who look like “disciplined” people, what you’re really seeing is people who’ve trained a handful of habits into their lives. This makes them seem “disciplined” when actually they’re not. No one is. Once a new behavior becomes a habit, it takes less discipline to maintain.

— 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.

— It takes an average of 66 days to acquire a new habit.

— Build one habit at a time. Success is sequential, not simultaneous.

— Willpower is so important that using it effectively should be a high priority. Willpower is a timing issue. When you have your will, you get your way. Although character is an essential element of willpower, the key to harnessing it is when you use it.

— 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. It’s incredibly powerful, but it has no endurance.

— Foods that elevate blood sugar evenly over long periods, like complex carbohydrates and proteins, become the fuel of choice for high-achievers—literal proof that “you are what you eat.”

— How do you put your willpower to work? You think about it. Pay attention to it. Respect it. You make doing what matters most a priority when your willpower is its highest.

— WHAT TAXES YOUR WILLPOWER: Implementing new behaviors; Filtering distractions; Resisting temptation; Suppressing emotion; Restraining aggression; Suppressing impulses; Taking tests; Trying to impress others; Coping with fear; Doing something you don’t enjoy; Selecting long-term over short-term rewards

— Do your most important work—your ONE Thing—early, before your willpower is drawn down.

— “The truth is, balance is bunk. It is an unattainable pipe dream… . The quest for balance between work and life, as we’ve come to think of it, isn’t just a losing proposition; it’s a hurtful, destructive one.”—Keith H. Hammonds. In your effort to attend to all things, everything gets shortchanged and nothing gets its due. The reason we shouldn’t pursue balance is that the magic never happens in the middle; magic happens at the extremes.

— Purpose, meaning, significance—these are what make a successful life.

— Research showed that individuals who worked more than 11 hours a day (a 55-plus hour workweek) were 67 percent more likely to suffer from heart disease.

— To achieve an extraordinary results, you must choose what matters most and give it all the time it demands. This requires getting extremely out of balance in relation to all other work issues.

— In his novel Suzanne’s Diary for Nicholas, James Patterson artfully highlights where our priorities lie in our personal and professional balancing act: “Imagine life is a game in which you are juggling five balls. The balls are called work, family, health, friends, and integrity. And you’re keeping all of them in the air. But one day you finally come to understand that 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.”

— No one knows their ultimate ceiling for achievement. It’s about bold ideas that might threaten your comfort zones but simultaneously reflect your greatest opportunities. Believing in big frees you to ask different questions, follow different paths, and try new things. This opens the doors to possibilities that until now only lived inside you. Thinking big is essential to extraordinary results. Success requires action, and action requires thought. Big stands for greatness—extraordinary results. Pursue a big life and you’re pursuing the greatest life you can possibly live. To live great, you have to think big. You must be open to the possibility that your life and what you accomplish can become great.

— Don’t fear failure. It’s as much a part of your journey to extraordinary results as success. Extraordinary results aren’t built solely on extraordinary results. They’re built on failure too.

— Mark Twain said, ‘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.’ A Chinese proverb goes – “A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.”

— The quality of any answer is directly determined by the quality of the question. Ask the wrong question, get the wrong answer. Ask the right question, get the right answer. Ask the most powerful question possible, and the answer can be life altering. How we phrase the questions we ask ourselves determines the answers that eventually become our life.

— Ask one ‘focus’ question to achieve success – What’s the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary? Example of a ‘focus’ 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?”

— Your focus question requires a great answer to achieve success. If you want the most from your answer, you must realize that it lives outside your comfort zone. The research and experience of others is the best place to start when looking for your answer.

— “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”—George Bernard Shaw

— A life lived on purpose is the most powerful of all—and the happiest. No matter our motivations, most of what we do in life is ultimately meant to make us happy. And yet we get it wrong. Happiness doesn’t happen the way we think. Securing money or something we want can spike our happiness meter—for a moment. Then it goes back down. Dr. Martin Seligman, past president of the American Psychological Association, believes there are five factors that contribute to our happiness: positive emotion and pleasure, achievement, relationships, engagement, and meaning. Of these, he believes engagement and meaning are the most important.

— If you’re offered a choice of $100 today or $200 next year, which would you choose? The $200, right? Strangely, most people don’t make that choice. People have stronger preference for present rewards over future ones—even when the future rewards are MUCH BIGGER.

— To achieve your big goal, take one small step at a time. In other words, think big, but go small.

— “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.”—Margarita Tartakovsky. The most successful people are the most productive people.

— “My goal is no longer to get more done, but rather to have less to do.”—Francine Jay

— Alexander Graham Bell said, “Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.” Time blocking harnesses your energy and centers it on your most important work. It’s productivity’s greatest power tool. So, go to your calendar and block off all the time you need to accomplish your ONE Thing.

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

— Take time off. Block out long weekends and long vacations, then take them. You’ll be more rested, more relaxed, and more productive afterward.

— “Efficiency is doing the thing right. Effectiveness is doing the right thing.”—Peter Drucker

— To experience extraordinary results, be a maker in the morning and a manager in the afternoon.

— Block an hour each week to review your annual and monthly goals.

— Walter Elliot said, “Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after another.”

— Day in and day out, your own need to do other things instead of your ONE Thing may be your biggest challenge to overcome. Life doesn’t simplify itself the moment you simplify your focus; there’s always other stuff screaming to be done. Always. So when stuff pops into your head, just write it down on a task list and get back to what you’re supposed to be doing. In other words, do a brain dump.

— When what you’ve chosen to master is the right thing, then pursuing mastery of it will make everything else you do either easier or no longer necessary. That’s why what you choose to master matters.

— 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.

— 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.

— 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. Accountable people absorb setbacks and keep going. Accountable people persevere through problems and keep pushing forward.

— Individuals with written goals were 39.5 percent more likely to succeed.

— “Focus is a matter of deciding what things you’re not going to do.”—John Carmack

— The way to protect what you’ve said yes to and stay productive is to say no to anyone or anything that could derail you. When you say yes to something, it’s imperative that you understand what you’re saying no to. You can’t please everyone, so don’t try.

— All of us struggle to some degree with saying no. There are many reasons. We want to be helpful. We don’t want to be hurtful. We want to be caring and considerate. We don’t want to seem callous and cold. All of this is totally understandable. Being needed is incredibly satisfying, and helping others can be deeply fulfilling. Focusing on our own goals to the exclusion of others, especially the causes and the people we value the most, can feel downright selfish and self-centered. But it doesn’t have to. Master marketer Seth Godin says, “You can say no with respect, you can say no promptly, and you can say no with a lead to someone who might say yes. But just saying yes because you can’t bear the short-term pain of saying no is not going to help you do the work.”

— When we tirelessly work our time block, clutter automatically takes up residence around us. Focusing on ONE Thing has a guaranteed consequence: other things don’t get done. There will always be unfinished work and loose ends lying around to snare your focus. Now, in anybody’s life or work there are some things that just can’t be ignored: family, friends, pets, personal commitments, or critical job projects. At any given time, you may have some or all of these tugging at your time block. You can’t forgo your power hours, that’s a given. So, what do you do? Figure it out. Find a way. Make it happen.

— High achievement and extraordinary results require big energy. The trick is learning how to get it and keep it. Consider this daily energy plan for high productivity. Begin early with meditation and prayer for spiritual energy; starting the day by connecting with your higher purpose aligns your thoughts and actions with a larger story. Figure out easy ways to eat right and then plan all your daily meals a week at a time. Exercise to relieve stress and strengthen your body. Hug, talk, and laugh with your loved ones. You’ll be reminded why you’re working in the first place.

— Plan your day. Calendaring your day frees your mind from worrying about what might not get done while inspiring you with what will.

— Get eight hours of sleep. You need your sleep so your mind and body can rest and recharge for tomorrow’s extraordinary productivity.

— Your environment must support your goals. For you to achieve extraordinary results, the people surrounding you and your physical surroundings must support your goals. Surround yourself with the right people; supportive people will do what they can to encourage or assist you. If the people you spend your time with are high achievers, their achievements can influence your own. “Surround yourself only with people who are going to lift you higher.”—Oprah Winfrey

— “Go live your life. Live it fully, without fear. Live with purpose, give it your all, and never give up.”

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Disclaimer: The key points of the book presented here are not a substitute for reading the book. To get the entire holistic message the author has offered requires reading the book.