This book is so comprehensive that even the introduction is three chapters long!
The author discovered that results at his company went through the roof when consultations with key employees resulted in todo lists containing one thing. The one thing with the most impact. Not a list of top 10 things to do, or top 5. THE ONE THING.
“When you want the absolute best chance to succeed at something, your approach should always be the same. Go small. […] You need to be doing fewer things for more effect instead of doing more things with side effects.”
That’s what this whole book is about, hence the title. Finding the ONE THING you should do with the most impact. And why this is so important.
The book is big on knocking over the first, most important, thing you need to do. The authors firmly believe that starting small will work to bigger and bigger results. They point out that a domino can knock over another domino that is 50% larger. This can create a compounding effect resulting in ever bigger dominos being knocked down.
So it’s imperative that you find that lead domino that’ll knock down the next and next and next, resulting in maximal effect. So find that first domino and whack away at it until it falls, because it’s the most important one!
This works because success is a result of successive steps. It’s not simultaneous. Each step builds on the results of the last. One thing at a time
The author of “The Greatest Salesman in the World” is Og Mandino, and he said that “It is those who concentrate on but one thing at a time who advance in this world.”
This chapter mentions a few ONE THINGs that crop up in society that produce excellence.
The author points out that companies that focus on one key product or one key service thrive.
“One person.” People thrive when they have a person mentoring them. “No one is self-made.”
“One passion, one skill.” Pat Matthews, a painter, says “he turned his passion for painting into a skill, and ultimately a profession, by simply painting one painting a day.” Passion for something means that you’ll spend a disproportionate amount of time on it. That eventually translates to more skill and more results. Which leads to more enjoyment and more passion and even more time. It just keeps building on itself, leading to extraordinary results.
So by focusing on the ONE THING you’re focusing on the heart of success and achieving extraordinary results.
Part I – The Lies
In part one, the authors debunk six lies that come between you and success:
4 – Everything Matters Equally
The heart of this chapter is about the Pareto principle. How 80% of the results are achieved by 80% of the effort. The Pareto principle isn’t just about results. The 80/20 guidelines can be found everywhere. 20% of people cause me 80% of my grief. 🙂
So it’s important to identify the 20% that’ll get you the maximum results. A todo list becomes a success list when it’s full of the 20% items.
And you don’t have to stop there. You can go from the 20% most effective things that produce most results to the ONE Thing.
5 – Multitasking
In this chapter the authors claim that nobody can be great at multitasking. They say that multitaskers were just lousy at everything.
6 – A Disciplined Life
This chapter discusses the lie of discipline. Often people think that if something isn’t working, they need to apply more discipline to the problem. What they actually need to do is apply some discipline into creating a good habit around the problem, and the habit will take care of the problem.
This is where books like Tiny Habits and Atomic Habits come in. They are both awesome books about habit building.
You need discipline to get that important habit going. 66 days on average.
“Sustain the discipline long enough on one habit, and not only does it become easier, but so do other things as well. It’s why those with the right habits seem to do better than others. They’re doing the most important thing regularly and, as a result, everything else is easier.”
Gary Keller espouses building these killer habits one at a time. Each of whose habits you build into your life one at a time.
7 – Willpower is Always on Will-Call
You can’t rely on willpower because you can’t call it up whenever you need it. Willpower is a finite resource, and you use it up throughout the day. It needs to be managed, like food or sleep. There are tricks to increase your willpower, but we still need to be careful of it.
When willpower runs out, we revert to what we normally would have done. What is your normal mode of operation? To grab the bag of carrots or the bag of chips? If you rely on willpower alone, average results are what you get.
So make the best use of your willpower. Use it for your most important thing – your ONE THING – as early in the day as possible to make use of your available willpower.
Don’t fight your willpower – use it intelligently.
8 – A Balanced Life
The Jedi keep pursuing balance in the Force – whatever that means. Does it mean there should be just as many Sith as Jedi? I don’t know. Doesn’t make sense. In a similar way, the authors argue that the pursuit of a balanced life doesn’t make sense either. You should be pursuing purpose, meaning, and significance, because THEY make a successful life, not balance.
Balance is a figment. As you go throughout life you’ll naturally swing towards different priorities. Time on one thing means time away from another, which makes balance impossible. If you try to attend to all things equally, everything gets short changed 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.”
To get extraordinary results, choose what matters and focus on that. But because your personal life is so important, you can’t neglect it, awareness there is an essential ingredient.
“When you act on your priority, you’ll automatically go out of balance, giving more time to one thing over another. The challenge then doesn’t become one of not going out of balance, for in fact you must. The challenge becomes how long you stay on your priority. 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.”
He seems to be saying it’s your work life that will be out of balance and mostly focused on the ONE Thing. Your personal life always requires attention.
9 – Big is Bad
Big and bad are not synonymous. Thinking that it is limits you. “No one knows their ultimate ceiling for achievement.”
You gotta think big to get big results. So think big.
Part II – The Truth. The Simple Path to Productivity
10 – The Focusing Question
The book revolves around this question. If you listen to the podcast, which I do, you hear it a lot there too. Here it is:
“What is the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
The answer to this question not only tells you where you go, but the first step to get there. How big your life can be and what the first tiny step is to get there.
11 – The Success Habit
Ask the Focusing Question in each area of your life. Constantly. “What’s the ONE Thing I can do today for [whatever you want] such that by doing it everything else will be easier or even unnecessary?” Asking should be routine. Habit.
You can use notes, screensavers, calendars cues, or whatever you want to remind you. You can use reminders like “The ONE Thing = Extraordinary Results” or “The Success Habit Will Get Me to My Goal”.
You can share this method and get support from others as they do it too.
12 – The Path to Great Answers
The question has to be big and specific. ‘What can I do to double sales in six months?’ and not ‘What can I do to increase sales?’ And then FOCUS it: ‘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?’
Then you need to come up with a Great Answer. And not just a straightforward to achieve one. But one that makes you strain to get it. Dig deep. Dig for answer you not only need to work for, but one that’ll stretch you – one that you need to research and develop and create new skills for.
They recommend digging for an answer that’s so different and original, you’ll probably need to reinvent yourself in some way to implement it.
Personally, I think that’s easy to say, but I have no idea how to implement this. Even now after having read the whole book and thought about it, I still have trouble with this step. I wish the book had dug into getting this answer a lot deeper.
Part III – Extraordinary Results
The author says you have a big ONE THING – the big long term you you wish to achieve, like becoming a millionaire or staring next to Emma Stone in a movie. And you ALSO have a small ONE THING – the priority you take action on to start you on the road to achieving the big ONE THING.
13 – Live With Purpose
This chapter includes one of the greatest quotes I’ve ever heard, and it’s by George Bernard Shaw:
“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”
Like so much I’ve heard since I started my self-improvement journey, this too is all about mindset. In this case, purpose. Our purpose sets our priorites which determine where our actions take us. A strong purpose gives you personal strength. If gives you clarity and leads to quicker decisions.
You can ask about your whole life: “What’s the ONE Thing I can do in my life that would mean the most to me and the world, such that by doing it everything else would be easier or unnecessary?”
Ask yourself if you have something that drives you and gets you up in the morning. If not, pick a direction. The ONE Thing you want your life to be about more than any other. Try writing down something you’d like to accomplish and then describe how you’d do it.
14 – Live by Priority
“Purpose without priority is useless.” The word ‘priority’ started off with no plural form. There was only one priority.
But the problem with a long term goal is that it’s too far in the future and has no immediacy. So you need to bring your goals to NOW. Goal setting to the NOW is what the author says.
You refine from a long time frame all the way down to what you need to do this moment. It goes from “What’s the ONE Thing I want to do someday?” to “Based on my someday goal, what’s the ONE Thing I can do this year?” to month to week to day and down to “Based on my daily goal, what’s the ONE Thing I can do right now?”
Connect today to all your tomorrows. It matters.
People tend to be overly optimistic about what they can accomplish, and therefore most don’t think things all the way through. Researchers call this the “planning fallacy.” 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.”
15 – Live for Productivity
Let’s be honest. Some of our activities matter little. Binge-watching Suits on Netflix results in a lot of wasted time and nothing else. If you want extraordinary results, then you need to focus on the most productive tasks, and set time aside for them. You have to block out time for your ONE THING, and guard those time blocks with a vengeance.
Sometimes your ONE THING is a one off. Time block it and get it done. Most often, it’s a recurring thing. Time block it into your calendar until it becomes habit. Everything else takes second seat.
“So, go to your calendar and block off all the time you need to accomplish your ONE Thing. If It’s a onetime ONE Thing, block off the appropriate hours and days. If it’s a regular thing, block off the appropriate time every day so it becomes a habit. Everything else—other projects, paperwork, email, calls, correspondence, meetings, and all the other stuff— must wait. When you time block like this, you’re creating the most productive day possible in a way that’s repeatable every day for the rest of your life.
Unfortunately, if you’re like most individuals, your typical day might look something like ﬁgure 27, When you ﬁnd yourself With less and less time to focus on what matters most.
image of pie with small slice dedicated to one thing
The most productive people’s day is dramatically different (figure 28).
image of pie with half dedicated to one thing
That ONE THING slice must be the result of your focusing question. Remember that one – “What’s the ONE Thing such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” Constantly ask yourself that and constantly work on what you come up with.
So do your ONE THING for the day first, get it done. Then use the focusing question again and again throughout the day until your workday is done.
“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.”
The book goes into detail on all three of those things. And he goes into detail on how important it is to protect those time blocks.
16 – The Three Commitments
The author says that you need to make commitments to THREE things to achieve extraordinary results:
1. Follow the Path of Mastery – Becoming Your Best
Note that this is a path, not a destination. You’re committing to striving to always doing better. You’re the master of what you know already, and you’re an apprentice to what you don’t.
Michelangelo once said, ‘If the people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it wouldn’t seem wonderful at all.’ It’s all about putting in the time.
When you time block your ONE THING, in that time block you’re committing to be the best you can be.
2. Seek the Best way to Do Things – Move from “E” to “P”
An interesting question the author asks top performers when coaching them is whether they’re trying to do something the best they can do it, or if they’re doing it the best way it can be done. It’s an interesting question that I’ve never thought of before. To be honest, I’m thinking that I probably only do things the best _I_ can do it. I don’t think about what the best way it could possibly be done. And I should be! It might mean changing myself more than I feal comfortable with at first.
The author calls this moving from “E” to “P.”
The E stand stands for Entrepreneurial. You’d think that’s good, right? But the author says that this is the natural way people approach tasks. With energy, enthusiasm, and our natural abilities. But this way of doing things has a natural ceiling, no matter who you are.
But when you’re trying to achieve your maximum, your ceiling must be challenged. So you have to take a Purposeful approach – Purposeful is the P.
Purposeful people don’t accept limitations. When they hit a ceiling, they look for ways to break through. An E person, when asked to cut some firewood, would grab and axe and head into the woods. A P purpose might wonder if they could procure a chainsaw.
You can’t put limits on what you’ll do. Be open to new ideas, new ways of doing things. Challenge both existing ways and yourself. Remember that a different result requires doing something different. Make this your mantra. Don’t settle on good enough.
The “P” person asks “what are my options?” when they hit a ceiling. Then use the Focusing Question to narrow down choice to next thing to do. you might need to adopt new skills, new relationships (like Toastmasters), and new thinking.
3. Live the Accountability Cycle
You must be willing to be held accountable to achieve your ONE THING. You accept responsibility and move on. They bring the best to whatever the task is, without reservation.
The author, Gary, recommends an accountability partner.
“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.”
For him, a coach or mentor is best.
“Ideally, a coach can ‘coach’ you on how to maximize your performance over time. This is how the very best become their best.”
In Dr. Gail Matthew’s research it said that writing down your goals made them 39.5% more likely to succeed. But sending progress reports on goals to friends made them 76.7% more likely to be achieved!
17 – The Four Thieves
The four thieves of productivity:
1. Inability to say “no”.
Steve Jobs said that he’s proud of what’s he’s said no to. Focus is all about saying yes to the right things and no to everything else. What’s the right thing? If it helps you with your ONE THING.
2. Fear of chaos.
When you focus on your ONE Thing, it means other things will fall by the wayside. Chaos! Get used to it and get over it.
3. Poor health habits.
You gotta be at peak health to work at your maximum. Pretty obvious
4. Environment doesn’t support your goals.
You need to make sure your environment supports what you’re trying to do. What’s your environment? Who you see and what you experience every day. Your physical environment, who you hang with, what you spend your free time on. Everything. It all affects you.
18 – The Journey
The last chapter of this book seems really meant to inspire you to, like, go forth and conquer.
“Imagine your life as big as it possibly can be. […] whatever you 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. Living large is just that simple.”
Pick some huge goal. Ask yourself: ‘Will my current actions get me to this [goal] in the next five years?” If they do, double your goal until they won’t. “If you then make your actions match your answer, you’ll be living large. […] When you lift the limits of your thinking, you expand the limits of your life. It’s only when you can imagine a bigger life that you can ever hope to have one.
“There is no sureﬁre thing, but there’s always something, ONE Thing, that out of everything matters more than anything. I’m not saying there will only be one thing, or even the same thing, forever. I’m saying that at any moment in time there can be only ONE Thing, and when that ONE Thing is in line with your purpose and sits atop your priorities, it will be the most productive thing you can do to launch you toward the best you can be.”
The author talked to a bunch of people nearing the end of their lives and asked them about how he should move forward. Their collective voice was ‘overwhelming’: live to minimize regrets.
Bronnie Ware researched old people’s regrets, and found in descending order:
v. I wish that I’d let myself be happier.
iv. I wish I’d stayed in touch with my friends.
iii. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
ii. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
i. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
Ware said, “Most people had not honoured even half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.”
Conclusion: Putting the ONE Thing to Work
So what now? We’ve read the book. How can we apply the ONE Thing principle to our personal life? Our family? Our job? Our work team? He gives examples for each, but you really have to personalize them for yourself. But because I myself like examples so much, here are some he gives in those areas:
What’s the ONE Thing I can do to ﬁnd time to practice the guitar 20 minutes a day such that by doing it everything will be easier or unnecessary?
What’s the ONE Thing we can do to make our next Christmas the best ever, such that by doing it everything will be easier or unnecessary?
What’s the ONE Thing I can do today to complete my current project ahead of schedule, such that by doing it everything will be easier or unnecessary?
What’s the ONE Thing I can do in the next six months to ﬁnd and develop incredible talent, such that by doing it everything will be easier or unnecessary?
Is it an easy read? Yes, it’s an easy read. It’s heartening, inspiring, and daunting all at the same time. I originally got this book from the library, but I’ve actually purchased this book because I liked it so much. I want to read it again, get out my highlighter, and mark it up like crazy. So yeah, I recommend this book.