The One Thing by Gary Keller & Jay Papasan


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Everyone wants to become more productive, but we keep trying to do more than we can handle. Learn how to choose the most important task at any given moment, and focus all of your energies on completing it.


21 lessons

The One Thing

– by Gary Keller & Jay Papasan –


1) Stick to one thing until you get there

Narrow your concentration down to one thing. Extraordinary results are directly determined by how narrow you can make your focus. Recognize that not all things matter equally and find the things that matter most. Connect what you do with what you really want.

2) It doesn’t have to be complicated

Most people think that big success is time consuming and complex. As a result, their calendars and to-do lists become overloaded and overwhelming. Success starts to feel out of reach, so they settle for less. Unaware that big success comes when we do a few things well, they get lost trying to do too much and in the end accomplish too little.

3) You only have so much time and energy

When you spread yourself out, you end up spread thin. 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 more things with side effects.

4) Trying to do too much has consequences

The problem with trying to do too much is that even if it works, adding more to your work and your life without cutting anything brings a lot of bad with it: missed deadlines, disappointing results, high stress, long hours, lost sleep, poor diet, no exercise, and missed moments with family and friends – all in the name of going after something that is easier to get than you might imagine.

5) Create a domino effect

The domino effect applies to the big picture, like your work or your business, and it applies to the smallest moment in each day when you’re trying to decide what to do next. 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.

6) Passion builds a powerful cycle

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.

7) Abundance is overwhelming

Through technology and innovation, opportunities abound and possibilities seem endless. As inspiring as this can be, it can be equally overwhelming. The unintended consequence of abundance is that we are bombarded with more information and choices in a day that our ancestors received in a lifetime. We are haunted by a nagging sense that we attempt too much and accomplish too little.

8) You have to make plans deliberately

Lacking a clear formula for making decisions, we get reactive and fall back on familiar, comfortable ways to decide what to do. As a result, we haphazardly select approaches that undermine our success.

9) Not everything matters equally

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. Knocking out a hundred tasks for whatever reason is a poor substitute for doing even one task that’s meaningful.

10) Learn to prioritize

The Pareto Principle states that the majority of what you want will come from the minority of what you do. Some things matter a lot more than others. The inequality of efforts for results is everywhere in your life if you simply look for it.

11) Multitasking is a lie

When you try to do too much at once, you can end up doing nothing well. If you think multitasking is an effective way to get more done, you’ve got it backward. It’s an effective way to get less done. Multitaskers often make more mistakes and poorer decisions because they don’t focus on one task at a time. Figure out what matters most in the moment and give it your undivided attention.

12) Habits are more important than discipline

When you discipline yourself, you’re essentially training yourself to act in a specific way. Stay with this long enough and it becomes routine. We don’t need any more discipline than we already have. We just need to direct and manage it a little better. If you are what you repeatedly do, then achievement isn’t an action you take but a habit you forge into your life.

13) Habits are only hard in the beginning

Over time, the habit you’re after becomes easier and easier to sustain. Habits require much less energy and effort to maintain than to begin. It takes time to develop the right habit, so don’t give up too soon. Decide what the right one is, then give yourself all the time you need and apply all the discipline you can summon to develop it.

14) Willpower is a renewable resource that must be managed

Willpower has a limited battery life but can be recharged with some downtime. Because you have a limited supply, each act of will creates a win-lose scenario where winning in an immediate situation through willpower makes you more likely to lose later because you have less of it. Make doing what matters most a priority when your willpower is its highest.

15) Thinking big is essential to extraordinary results

No one knows their ultimate ceiling for achievement, so worrying about it is a waste of time. None of us knows our limits. The only actions that become springboards to succeeding big are those informed by big thinking to begin with. Only living big will let you experience your true life and work potential. Don’t let small thinking cut your life down to size. Think big, aim high, act bold.

16) Ask yourself the ‘Focusing Question’

Start each day by asking, “What’s the ONE thing I can do today, that by doing it everything else will be easier or even unnecessary?” When you do this, your direction will become clear. Your work will be more productive and your personal life more rewarding.

17) Productivity is driven by purpose and priority

Productive people start with purpose and use it like a compass. They allow purpose to be the guiding force in determining the priority that drives their actions. The more productive people are, the more purpose and priority are pushing and driving them.

18) Resting is as important as working

Take time off. Block out long weekends and long vacations, then take them. You’ll be more rested, more relaxed, and more productive afterward. Everything needs rest to function better, and you’re no different. Manage your energy, and don’t sacrifice your health by trying to take on too much.

19) Find an accountability partner

Accountability can come from a mentor, a peer, or a coach. Whatever the case, it’s critical that you acquire an accountability relationship and give your partner license to lay out the honest truth. 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.

20) Focusing is about saying no

Saying yes to everyone is the same as saying yes to nothing. Each additional obligation chips away at your effectiveness at everything you try. So the more things you do, the less successful you are at any one of them. You can’t please everyone, so don’t try. Remember, saying yes to your ONE thing is your top priority.

21) Your environment must support your goals

Your environment is simply who you see and what you experience every day. The people are familiar, the places comfortable. But be aware. Anyone and anything at any time can become a thief, diverting your attention away from your most important work and stealing your productivity right from under your nose. For you to achieve extraordinary results, the people surrounding you and your physical surroundings must support your goals.