The ONE Thing

“We sense intuitively that the path to more is through less but the question is, where to begin? From all that life had to offer, how do you choose? How do you make the best decisions possible, experience life at an extraordinary level, and never look back?”

The ONE Thing, page 24

Before reading Gary Keller’s new book, The ONE Thing: The Surprising Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, I thought I was a pretty productive guy. Like many others,  I spent time planning out my priorities and time blocking important tasks, trying my best to get everything done.

And therein lies the challenge that Keller addresses in his book: we think we can – and we should – be doing it all. By trying to do everything, we are actually holding ourselves back from being the most productive we can be. We neglect the ONE Thing that can take us to the next level and provide extraordinary results.

Keller provides the tools needed to narrow our focus to the ONE Thing that is most important in our work, our careers, and our personal lives. These tools are easy to implement daily, especially with helpful free resources provided on the book’s website.

The book is divided into three parts:

1. The lies we believe that are constantly keeping us from being our most productive and kick-butt selves;
2. The truth that Keller believes we need to hear and how by asking yourself ONE (seriously, just one) well-crafted question, you can place yourself on a path to greater productivity;
3. How to take that ONE question and apply it to create extraordinary results in all areas of your life.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

The Focusing Question

"One of the most empowering moments of my life came when I realized that life is a question and how we live it is our answer."
- The ONE Thing, page 105

Keller suggests asking yourself the following:

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

The Focusing Question forces us to do something that other, less thoughtful questions don’t: make a decision. Keller explains the importance of asking ourselves this question by breaking it into three main parts:

  1. “The ONE Thing I can do” – Which directs you to an action. (Notice it’s not “what should I do?” There’s a big difference.)
  2. “Such that by doing it” – Means that you’ve got to go pretty deep on this. It forces you to think about the actions you can take and the consequences or outcomes that will result.
  3. “Everything else will be easier or unnecessary” – This is the sweetest part. It means that by doing just this ONE Thing, everything else associated with it becomes easier or you just don’t even have to do it!

“How we phrase the questions we ask ourselves determines the answers that eventually become our life.” The Focusing Question doesn’t just help you find the answers to the big questions you have (“What am I doing with my life?” or “Is this really the right relationship for me?”) but it also helps focus on the small stuff (“Which opportunity do I take right now in order to go in the direction I want to go?” or “What can I do starting now to make this relationship stronger?”). As Keller puts it: “It shows you how big your life can be and just how small you must go to get there.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Making Success a Habit

"The choice we face is whether or not we want to form habits that get us what we want from life. If we do, then the Focusing Question is the most powerful success habit we can have."
- The ONE Thing, page 112

How do you take the Focusing Question and make it a habit that leads to great success in all areas of your life?

It’s a big question with a surprisingly simple answer:  You apply it to every single area of your life.

Because the Focusing Question can help you identify your ONE Thing in any situation, it can help you clarify what you want in the big areas of your life (your career, for example) and then help you narrow that focus down to the small thing you need to do first in order to achieve it.  It’s so simple it’s almost hard to believe that it can work.

By asking what the ONE Thing is that you want and need in order to excel in your career, you are then able to break that down into smaller actions and outcomes (“What’s the ONE Thing I need to do in order to achieve my ONE Thing?”)

Though it’s simple, Keller points out that the challenge of asking a Great Question is that once you’ve asked it, you have to find a Great Answer. It’s not enough to just find an acceptable answer.

It has to be Great.

That means it goes beyond what Keller calls “doable” or even a “stretch”, but into the realm of “possibility”. Meaning that the answer that you’re searching for lives outside of your comfort zone and in an area that requires you to research and study the lives of other high achievers and top performers.  But while you learn from other high achievers, you will, ultimately, create an answer you never knew existed—something that is only achieved through deliberate reflection and intensive research.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Protect your time, nobody else will

"Every minute of every day, the question is never will we be doing something, but rather what that something is we’ll be doing"
- The ONE Thing, page 157

It’s not how much time we have, but how we use the time we have. The only thing we have that’s absolutely equal is the amount of time we have in a day. Enter time blocking.

Keller shows us that time blocking is a results-oriented way of viewing and using our time. It’s a way to make sure that what has to get done (The ONE Thing) actually does.

Building off of the idea of creating success habits, time blocking is one of those habits.  Keller shows us how to block off appropriate time each day in a way that becomes habitual. For example, blocking off the first few hours in your day for your ONE Thing or blocking your mornings for creative and outcome oriented tasks and your afternoons for meetings and managerial responsibilities.

When you time block your time – when you protect it – it means that other things like smaller projects, emails, or meetings have to wait.  By doing this, you’re creating the most productive day possible in a way that can be repeatable each day.

Not convinced yet? Think about this: “If disproportionate results come from one activity, then you must give that one activity disproportionate time.”

Not all projects or tasks are created equal, and therefore, not all time should then be divided equally for those tasks.
Gary Keller’s The ONE Thing was a great read. Not only did he provide a clear outline of how to find your own personal ONE Thing, he explained “success” not just by what successful people are, but by what successful people do. This provided tangible and clear actions to become more productive.

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Matt Tod

ABOUT Matt Tod

Matt Tod is an international speaker, leadership facilitator, published writer and is passionate about helping people reach their full potential. Matt is the former Executive Director of Youth Programs for the Institute for Health and Human Potential and the current Director of Training & Development for North America’s largest youth-run Charity and Educational partner, Free The Children the innovative social enterprise, Me to We...
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