The One Thing

The One Thing by Gary Keller: Actionable Book Summary

By Alex • Updated July 4, 2023

Isn’t it mind-boggling when you find a simple, yet groundbreaking concept that has the power to transform the way you approach life, work, and everything in between? That’s precisely the kind of profound paradigm shift I encountered upon reading "The One Thing" by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. The insights gleaned from this book are nothing short of transformational, particularly for anyone grappling with the perils of multitasking, burnout, and the never-ending quest to achieve more by doing more.

Gary Keller, founder of the largest real estate agency in the United States, Keller Williams, and a renowned business coach, has presented us with an entirely unconventional approach to success. An approach that challenges the norms we've grown up believing – that to succeed, we need to juggle a plethora of tasks and take on a myriad of responsibilities. But this, my friends, is where we've got it all wrong.

Burnout and The Rebirth of Focus

After burning out in his pursuit of traditional success, Keller began focusing on fewer things and in the process, he unlocked a new paradigm of success. He learned that people achieve success in spite of juggling many things, not because of it. In essence, focusing on fewer tasks can help you achieve more.

Picture this. A chart I discovered in Gerald Weinberg's "Quality Software Management" demonstrated that a software programmer's productivity dropped significantly when they took on more than one project at a time. It's the result of context switching - continually moving back and forth between different tasks.

The Cost of Switching Context

Let's try a little exercise. Count from 1 to 5 – done in a second, right? Now, list the first five letters of the alphabet – A, B, C, D, E – again, just a second. But if you try to alternate between counting and sequencing letters, it takes twice as long. That's because the time taken to switch your focus and remember where you left off is adding up. The same thing happens when you switch between different tasks or projects. It might feel like you're being super productive, but in reality, a chunk of your day is being eaten up by non-productive activities.

A Question to Direct Your Focus

Now, imagine if you could minimize these switching costs by asking yourself one powerful question each time you're tempted to juggle priorities. Ready for it? Here it comes.

"What one thing can I do such that by doing it, everything else will become easier or unnecessary?"

This question is a mighty tool against feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or distracted. It's the question that will help you develop laser-like focus. It's the question that will reshape your thought process.

How The Question Works

Firstly, this question reinforces the fact that if you aspire to be a peak performer, you cannot afford to have multiple priorities. There should be only one priority at any given moment. This simple question can shatter the illusion that urgency equates to importance.

Secondly, the question forces you to think about the future implications of your actions. It’s like setting off a chain reaction, where each step you take impacts the next, eventually leading you to your goal.

Imagine you're trying to acquire a new client for your business. While there could be a hundred different tasks you could do, the first small step could be just two minutes of research on that client. That small step could lead to a successful meeting, help you build a strong rapport, and make acquiring that client significantly easier.

Achieving More by Doing Less

The underlying message is crystal clear. The key to success isn't doing more; it's about doing a few things exceptionally well. You need to get rid of those switching costs and stay focused on one thing at a given moment. And to do this, you need to keep asking the focusing question until you can confidently say, "This is where I'm meant to be right now, doing exactly what I'm doing."

If the idea of focusing on less to achieve more seems counterintuitive or challenging to accept, I highly recommend you grab a copy of "The One Thing." It's a game-changer, a book that can fundamentally alter the way you perceive success and productivity. So, go ahead, read it, apply it, and watch as things start falling into place in a surprisingly efficient and satisfying way.

Your productive journey is just one step away. Are you ready to take it?