The ONE Thing

The ONE Thing sits at the heart of success and is the starting point for achieving extraordinary results.”

– The One Thing, page 24

Think about the information and opportunities your great-grandmother received in her lifetime. Now contrast that with the information and opportunities you have. Staggering, isn’t it? You receive more information and opportunities in a day than your ancestors did in a lifetime. The unintended consequence of this abundance however is that you likely sometimes you feel harried and hurried with an ongoing sense that you attempt to do too much and accomplish too little.

Intuitively, you may sense that the path to more is through less. What if less is truly more? Gary Keller wrote The One Thing to convince us that focusing on your ONE Thing leads to tremendous results and to teach us how to choose that one thing. Once I realized the enormous implications of focusing on just ONE Thing in the first section of the book, I was anxious to proceed to the remaining three sections to learn the myths that derail us, his simple path to productivity and finally, how to unlock the possibilities within. I touch on each below.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Do you have a domino?

"When one thing, the right thing, is set in motion, it can topple many things. "
- The One Thing, page 13

Fact. A single domino is capable of bringing down a domino 50% larger than itself. Gary provides a ‘what if’ diagram to demonstrate the implication of this fact. It starts with a two-inch tall domino. Domino 18 rivals the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The 23rd domino towers over the Eiffel Tower and the 31st looms over Mount Everest. Domino 57 practically bridges the distance between the earth and the moon.

So, in other words, when you think about success, shoot for the moon. The moon is reachable if you prioritize everything and put all of your energy into the ONE most important thing. Getting extraordinary results is about creating this domino effect in your life.

Gary shares extensive proof that the ONE thing is everywhere. He demonstrates how extraordinarily successful companies always have one product or service they’re most known for or that makes them the most money. For example, I bet you know the ONE Thing that KFC, Starbucks, and The Adolph Coors Company are known for. A no brainer right?

What is your company’s ONE Thing? If you don’t know, then your company’s ONE Thing is to find out! What if there was just one thing that could move you from ordinary to extraordinary?

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

It all starts inside you!

"Success is an inside job"
- The One Thing, page 216

All success in life starts within you. When you put yourself together your world falls into place. How do you do that? Bring purpose to your life, know your priorities and achieve high productivity on the priority that matters most every day. That’s when life will make sense and the extraordinary becomes possible.

Over time, focusing on that ONE Thing will produce the results. Once we let go of the myths that we have been led to believe, we can focus on the ONE Thing. Those myths include:

  1. Everything matters equally – Don’t be tempted by the “check-off’ game. Crossing items off the to-do list does not lead to success just as activity is not necessarily related to productivity. Achievers always work from a clear sense of priority.
  2. Multitask – It just doesn’t work. Block time to stay focused. Don’t chase the shiny object or think you can overcome human limitations and actually focus on two things at once. It can’t be done.
  3. Live a disciplined life – Have you ever thought “if only I was more disciplined”? Don’t worry, you don’t need to be. In fact those people who you think are so disciplined really aren’t. They have just formed all the right habits. Success is actually a short race – a sprint fueled by discipline just long enough to form a habit. Choosing and building the right habits are the keys to success.
  4. Willpower will get you through. Just like the battery on your phone, your willpower has a limited life and it wanes as you use your mind and the day goes on. Once you know this, you see the importance of doing the most important work first thing in the day – when your willpower is highest. His recommendation is to block four hours a day for your ONE Thing.
  5. A balanced life. It cannot be perfectly balanced. Rather, an extraordinary life is a counterbalancing act. Let the right things take precedence when they should and get to the rest when you can.
  6. Big is bad. Don’t fear failure. Adopt a growth mindset. Only living big will let you experience your true life and work potential. So set a stretch goal so far above what you want that you’ll be building a plan that practically guarantees your original goal.

And the four thieves of productivity include:

  1. Inability to say ‘no’. Think of it this way, when you say ‘yes’ to something, what must you now say ‘no’ to? Is the request you are considering connected to your ONE Thing?
  2. Fear of chaos. Know that when you strive for greatness chaos is certain to join the party.
  3. Poor health habits. Mismanagement of your personal energy is the silent thief of productivity. Big results require big energy. Your body cannot be fooled. It will either be fueled correctly and run efficiently, or it won’t.
  4. Environment that doesn’t support your goals. Pay attention to who you surround yourself with. You will become like them – for the good or the bad.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Easier or Unnecessary

"What’s the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?"
- The ONE Thing, page 106

What is the one question you need to ask yourself? This focusing question is so deceptively simple that its power is easily dismissed by anyone who doesn’t closely examine it. It’s worth repeating:

What’s the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?

You can use it for big issues (What target should I aim for? Where am I going?), as well as small ones (What must I do right now to be on the path to getting the big picture?) The answer can show you how big your life can be as well as how small you must go to get there.

The focusing question leads you to your first domino. To stay on track keep asking yourself the focusing question to achieve your best day, week, month year or career. Powered by the focusing question, your actions become a natural progression of building one right thing on top of the previous right thing. That’s when you experience the domino effect.


Your journey toward extraordinary results will be built on one important element. You must believe in what you are trying to achieve. Find the purpose in what you are doing. (For more on this you may want to review the summary of Simon Sinek’s Start With Why.) What difference are you making and why? This will give you the personal power necessary to drive you through any hesitancy. Now, what is your one thing for the coming year, month, week, day, hour?

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Jill Donahue

ABOUT Jill Donahue

Everything I do is focused on improving patient outcomes. I do that by being a student and teacher of ethical, effective influence. I teach pharma people and health care professionals how to improve their ability to influence others...
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