The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results

by Gary Keller with Jay Papasan

This book is about finding your focus and making it your top priority in order to achieve extraordinary results.  Identifying your focus comes from asking The Focusing Question: “What’s the ONE Thing you can do this week such that by doing it everything else would 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 Focusing Question can be tiered to link short-term actions with long-term goals. Keller and Papasan refer to this as lining up your dominoes.  Based on your long-term goal, what’s the one thing you can do in the next five years? Based on your five-year goal, what’s the one thing you can do in the next year? In the next month? This week? Today? “Think big—but go small.”

We’ve all heard of the 80/20 rule. “If disproportionate results come from one activity, then you must give that one activity disproportionate time… This is how results become extraordinary.”

The authors recommend spending the entire morning on your one thing. Use the afternoon for everything else. They point to venture capitalist Paul Graham as an example. “Graham divides all work into two buckets: maker (do or create) and manager (oversee or direct)… Graham embraced this insight and created a company culture at Y Combinator that now runs completely on a maker’s schedule. All meetings get clustered at the end of the day.”

An accountability partner can improve your productivity. “Just knowing they are waiting for your next progress report can spur you to better results.” The book cites psychology professor Gail Matthews, who found that professionals with written goals were 39.5 percent more likely to accomplish them, while those “who wrote their goals and sent progress reports to friends were 76.7 percent more likely to achieve them.”

The book debunks the myth of multitasking. “You can do two things at once, but you can’t focus effectively on two things at once.” Quoting Stanford professor Clifford Nass, “Multitaskers were just lousy at everything.”

The book also debunks the myth of a balanced life. “The reason we shouldn’t pursue balance is that the magic never happens in the middle; magic happens at the extremes… The question of balance is really a question of priority. When you change your language from balancing to prioritizing, you set your choices more clearly and open the door to changing your destiny.”

Keller, Gary, and Jay Papasan. The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth behind Extraordinary Results. Austin, Texas: Bard Press, 2012. Buy from

Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. I received a review copy of this book.

One thought on “The One Thing

  1. Ahh the myth of a balanced life eh? I feel like I’ve been searching for this “balanced life” but I can never seem to find it.

    One one hand I want my business to boom, but I know that if I neglect it; I’ll neglect the important people in my life.

    Then if I give all of my attention to my friends, I feel good that I have close friends and family around me; but then I feel like I’m not living up to my full potential or “becoming all I can be.’

    Such a paradox.

    Great post, I’ll definitely be checking this book out!

    – Chris

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