The One Thing: the bottom line.
Book review of The One Thing – The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results: what if thinking about (and finding out) what really drives you made a big difference in your life?
Productivity and success are big things these days. People want to do better and more because success and productivity are often associated with quantity. In The One Thing, Gary Keller and Jay Papasan say that success depends on the one thing that drives you, and they help you put your finger on it.
This book has helped me more than I thought it would. Yes, the argumentation is fairly repetitive (as this is often the case with self-development books) but it has given me great food for thought to move on with my own things. So I totally recommend it.
Oh, and don’t forget to let me know about your thoughts in the comments box down the page! Read smart, think smart!
Book suggestion & review: The One Thing – Gary Keller & Ray Papasan.
The One Thing – The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results dropped on my reading pipeline very unexpectedly, as a gift.
I was having lunch with my friend Philippe – who also turns out to be an adviser to CEOs and business executives here in Hong Kong. And we were talking about some work ideas and questions I had in mind. His input was very simple. He asked me a question. ” […] but, hey, what is your one thing anyway?”.
“What do you mean?”, I said. “My one thing? What are you talking about?”.
So he kept talking. “You know, what is the one goal you have, the one thing you want to stick to in your life and career that will make you progress?”.
And then I got stuck. I had never really thought about the question, I just didn’t have any answer. The thing, though, is that I had been trying to find my own focus for a while, without much success.
After lunch, we went into a bookshop and Philippe went straight for that book, The One Thing, by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. And he gave it to me.
The book didn’t look that life-changing to be honest, but it got me lots of food for thought, I have to say. No revolutionary story in there, that book wasn’t written to change the world. But it might change your world.
The idea behind is very straightforward – you need to focus on the ONE thing that drives you if you want to get results.
Said like that the idea makes obvious senses, yes. But unless you think about it seriously the question isn’t that natural. So, the book gave me a great opportunity and a good framework to think about my options in a much more constructive way. And that helped a lot. When you are looking for your own way out there, a framework is a game changer! Want to found out more? Read my book review of The One Thing!
As usual, here is what you get on this page:
- A brief overview of the book (that includes my SMART takes).
- A much more comprehensive commentary of what the book is about, with the author’s main topics explained in detail.
- The book’s main themes, questions, and conclusions in bullet points.
- Why the book was worth my time, why it will be valuable to you, and additional reading suggestions if you are interested in the topic!
A brief book review of The One Thing (for starters).
Now, as usual, let me start this book review with a brief overview of the book. The main topics are explored in more depth right after that. Just keep reading.
Gary Keller and Jay Papasan explore the idea that to get extraordinary results you need to focus on one thing. The ONE thing that counts for you. The ONE thing you want to achieve in the long run.
In short? How to focus to get things done for real. Even though that’s easier said than done.
So? Well, they get you to think about just that. Your ONE Thing. And they help you create your one thing action plan. It’s that simple. And it works damn well.
First, the topic is interesting and has the potential to give anyone out there some serious food for thought.
Second, the book is written in a simple and clean way so the style is very easy to get along with. Nothing tortuous, just what it takes to get you thinking smart about your own goals.
Last but not least, the authors (Gary Keller and Ray Papasan) are business experts who have both succeeded in the real estate sector… probably because they knew where they were going. At least, the advice is coming from somewhere!
I’m getting into the details with a much more comprehensive book review of The One Thing below (keep reading!), but in short, here is what the book says:
My comprehensive book review of The One Thing.
Now, let’s dig into the topic. To put things simply, the book starts from an idea most of us will relate to: we want to achieve more in terms of income and lifestyle, but we also want to put fewer efforts into getting there. The question is simple: how do we do that?
Keller and Papasan give a massive clue to answer that question: the more you try to do, the least you tend to achieve.
Okay. But how do we do then?
Well, the book is actually a great tool. As I mentioned earlier, it is an efficient framework to get you where you want. In fact, The One Thing deals with four big themes that all contribute to identifying your one thing.
First, the authors explain their logic – which in short is a matter of organizing a domino fall designed to match your own purpose. The rest of the book then follows that logic: Keller & Papasan kill a few myths and lies, then they talk about productivity, and they finish with what the whole one thing means for you in terms of results.
As usual, this more comprehensive part of my book review of The One Thing starts with the main themes and questions considered in the book – in bullet points. I’ll then elaborate on the themes more extensively. Let’s dig in!
The book in bullet points
Keller and Papasan explore these major themes:
- Reaching the work/life balance you want.
- Being productive and getting results.
- We all have ONE thing, but which one?
They also ask a variety of questions, including:
- What is success about?
- Is success the same thing for everyone?
- What do we mean by ‘being productive’?
- Is productivity really about doing as much as possible?
- Or should we try to focus on what drives us instead?
- How do you set goals and priorities? What are they here for?
- Can you leverage your efforts with a domino effect?
- What is your own one thing and how can it change your life?
Sounds interesting, right? Now, let’s get into the details. Just keep reading!
The One Thing – Theme #1: The domino effect logic to success.
You probably got the idea by now, but the logic behind The One Thing – The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results is that sharp focus is the key to getting results.
Sharp focus helps moving forward. It gives you motivation when you need a boost. And it helps you say no, as well. A great question formulated by Keller and Papasan, in fact, comes as follows: “what’s the ONE thing you can do this week such that by doing it everything else would be easier or unnecessary?”
Another way to say that is to look at what the authors describe as a domino effect. What domino pipeline can you create, so that when you push the first domino the others start falling without extra work or efforts?
Keller and Papasan insist on two things here. First, your ability to focus is the key. Second, time is the currency of achievement. In other words, use our time wisely.
Yet, in reality, people try to do too much. Most of us tend to think that success comes with quantity. But no.
To the opposite, Keller and Papasan’s point is that “the moon is reachable” provided that you define a goal and that you set specific priorities. Yet, do we define personal goal and priorities? No, most people don’t. And that’s precisely what the book is about.
The One Thing – Theme #2: Killing a few myths and lies.
The second theme of The One Thing builds on that. People don’t set priorities and they hardly set goals because they have bad habits. Think multitasking, for instance. Or, think ‘to-do-lists’…
Multitasking is a myth.
It flows from the above that multitasking is a bloody damn myth. Many people will proudly dismiss that the very idea of doing only one thing makes more sense. “I am a multitasker”, they all say.
Well. Fair enough. But no. For Keller and Papasan, doing multiple things at once gets you nothing. Multitasking is a powerful way of diluting your attention and energy. And, despite what people say, it is the worst way to get things done.
Priorities: think small.
To the opposite, what matters is to prioritize to make sure that everything you do gets you closer to your personal one thing goal.
Keller and Papasan use a great tool to illustrate the issue of priorities, and that’s the good old ‘to do list’.
We all have to do lists. We try to keep up with them, every day. And we stick with them. They become our daily goal. Often, they tend to be the only way to deal with stuff. They help us make sure that the urgent is dealt with. Blah blah blah.
But is that the solution? Nope!
For them, the to-do-list is a problem. Why? Because it gets you to focus on what needs to be done as a matter of routine. But it does not help you focus on what is really important to you.
In short, our to-do-lists give us a sense of activity. And they keep us (very) busy. But they make us focus on the wrong things and make us use our time the wrong way. Are we really productive? Not even close!
Success lists: think smart! (Oh yeah)
Their alternative is way more interesting. Instead of routine listing, Keller and Papasan say that we should all start writing our success lists.
Think about it. Why don’t we establish a list of long, medium and short-term goals that matter to us? To us only!
That would get us somewhere in terms of priorities, for starters. Plus, such lists can also be used as productivity benchmarks. That could be a win-win!
Instead of coping and struggling with the urgent, why not focusing on doing and achieving?
Extreme Pareto: go very small.
The Pareto optimum comes in next.
The Pareto optimum is a famous thing and most people know the rule: 20/80 is a winner. Nonetheless, Keller and Papasan go back the origins of the concept and explain the idea very simply: if a minority of issues creates the majority of our workload, why not shift the model to ensure that the 20% of our work actually generates 80% of our results and satisfaction? That’s Pareto.
Again, therefore, the key is to prioritize. Small efforts should generate big results.
Their suggestion, however, is that Pareto isn’t enough. We need the extreme Pareto.
In short, identifying the vital few things that matter to us isn’t enough. Once the vital few things are there, we must narrow down even more until “the vital few of the vital few” remains.
In turn, “could do” ideas must become “should-do” priorities. Which of course help you tick the boxes on your success list. And you know what? That’s your ONE thing.
There is something wrong with us, really.
The key take (and the main point in this book review of The One Thing, I guess) is that we are doing things wrong. Really.
For Keller and Papasan, the various ways we all condition ourselves is the problem. Multitasking and self-discipline are glorified as must-have skills that work in pair with strong organizational skills and robust willpower. But the two authors rather call all that a scam.
These ways of doing things are key to many people, but to those who really get results this is nothing more than rubbish un-common sense. Multitasking is nothing more than juggling. It is a focus diversion when what you really need is to narrow things as much as you can.
The same goes for self-discipline. which becomes useless if you only focus on one thing. Not to mention willpower and balanced lifes. Again, their logic makes sense: when you focus on what matters, everything gets in line for the best.
Their advice is therefore straightforward: pick “what matters most and give it all the time it demands”.
Go small, but aim big.
Now, that will sound like a contradiction but Keller and Papasan push you to aim big. Find your one thing, but make it so big (for you) that you will hold on to it in time.
While seeing big is usually perceived as disproportionate ambition, Keller and Papasan see ‘big’ – ONE Big Thing – as an opportunity to achieve extraordinary results.
They are talking about creating a move forward mindset here. And it sounds pretty convincing to me. Interesting? Go for more, get the book!
The One Thing – Theme #3: Being productive.
Productivity is another big topic in The One Thing. After all, the book’s promise is to make you achieve extraordinary results, right?
Interestingly, this part of the book is largely inspired by the authors’ personal failures -which in my opinion look very much like things we would all do without even thinking about it.
The focus question.
The second big thing you’ll want to remember from this book review of The One Thing is the focus question. We said already that the key is to focus on one narrow objective whilst aiming big. Right. But how do you identify that one thing in the first place?
Keller and Papasan say that to move forward and get the answers you want, you first need to ask the correct questions. Again, think Pareto. As mentioned previously, the key question is that one: what is the ONE thing you can do that will make everything else easier or pointless?
That question is essential because it brings perspective to whatever you are trying to do. In the long term, which one THING could make you happy enough to make everything else irrelevant? In the medium term, what is the thing you can do to implement and materialize your long-term goal? Oh, and, right now, what can you focus on to make sure the domino process will be launched as easily as possible?
In short? The focus question is the way to establish your priorities. For more explanation, just read the book.
There is one thing though. Keller and Papasan make a strong distinction between what you could do, what you should do, and what you can do.
Think about it for a second. Which option would you go for? Could? Can? Or should? Again, the whole process is based on doing one thing at a time. So? Well, if you need to get results, there is only one option to follow.
Go practical, go actionable, go narrow and concrete… and guess! Come on, you can do it!
Again, though, the book is a real framework for thinking about yourself. If you find the idea interesting, just go for it and get the book.
Now that you understand the difference between the big purpose picture and the small actionable steps you can take to reach your goal, you need to change your whole way of thinking.
The idea here is that the one thing question easily works in relation to the various aspects of your life. It works for work, obviously. But it also works very well if your priority relates to travels, spirituality, associative or family life, the very idea of focusing on the ONE thing that matters to you is easy to replicate.
What that means is simple: asking what you CAN do now to advance your goal needs to become a habit, a way of life. Later, tomorrow, now, what can I do to go where I want without wasting my energy and time?
The One Thing – Theme #4: Reaching extraordinary results.
Impossible to finish this book review of The One Thing without writing a little bit about results. You got the idea that for Keller and Papasan, reaching extraordinary results has absolutely NOTHING to do with productivity. Good. But how do you get there then?
To obtain results, you need to set goals which progressively will become benchmarks. Simply put, the goals help make your One Thing target more specific, more tangible.
Keller and Papasan explain a few things (interesting but I’ m not getting into the details here) about financial goals because the topic talks to everyone. But they also explore the idea that your One thing needs a sense of purpose.
The purpose is about setting where you want to go. Once the purpose is clear, then the priorities are the various steps you need to implement to get there. In other words, the One thing you decide to focus on needs to bring purpose and fulfillment to your life so that “your life just fed feels in rythm”.
The authors explain their logic and process very well, and the whole thing is very well illustrated too. It will help you make the bridge between your “someday” target and the domino fall you need to create to get there.
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Time management tips.
Keller and Papasan also explain how everyone can better manage their time to get to their one thing goal. A key tip here is that you need regularity which in turns requires blocking some time off for your One thing work. Again, planning is the thing. No multitasking, here. Just one thing at a time, until you start to see the results you need. I liked that idea, in fact:
when you know your one thing, make an appointment with yourself to tackle it […] great success shows up when time is devoted every day to becoming great.
A mindset thing.
I guess the main element in the book – and a key take in this book review – is that all your efforts are pointless unless you start to use your one thing as a mindset. The goal is not to do one thing here and then. It is to make one thing seriously until it actually becomes your thing.
What that means is, to get there, you need to take a ‘one thing habit’ and build your life and time around it. You need to do the best you can until your goal is achieved. You also need to improve, always, all the time.
This whole one thing isn’t just a thing. If you do it, it has to become your one thing.
Keller and Papasan talk about myths at the beginning of their book, but they also finish it with good troubleshooting advice everyone can use to gain in productivity. And focus.
Amongst these tips, the one I remember the most relates to the importance of saying ‘No’. The tip isn’t very innovative, needless to say. In fact, it can be found in quite a number of productivity books all around the place.
Still, few people dare to say no, if only because they have no real reason not to say yes.
Now, considering everything we’ve said so far, saying “no” becomes common sense. No, I can’t multitask. No, this is not in line with my priorities. Or, no, sorry, I can’t just right now, I have one thing to do and it’s important. In short, “no” is a focus tool, and we should use it more.
Book Review of The One Thing: The main conclusions
Keller and Papasan come to the following conclusions.
- Success is a personal thing, it does not mean the same for everyone, and it depends on what you really care about.
- Being productive is NOT a matter of quantity. And productivity does not depend on to-do-lits
- What matters is whether you are achieving your one thing, that thing you really care about, that thing which drives you.
- The important thing is therefore to determine what matters to YOU. Once this is done, you need to set up your own goals and priorities. These will then serve as your success benchmarks.
- All in all, Keller and Papasan explain how you can leverage your efforts with a domino effect, but to do that you need to make sure that your one thing is clear.
Book Review of The One Thing: Food for thought.
As usual, let’s finish this book review with some food for thought!
The One Thing, The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results is a very interesting book if you are into self-development discussions. The book can be summarised very simply with a quote provided on the first pages: “be like a postage stamp-stick to one thing until you get there” (Josh Billings).
The big idea, though, can be applied to a variety of things, from business to personal projects and priorities. Trying to build a startup? The book works. Trying to set up a club? The book works too. Trying to find time to write a book or get some family time? The book works again!
You get the point, this book is a real framework for those interested in organizing or re-organizing their lives into something that makes more sense to them. To me, that’s serious food for thought.
Easily actionable tips
Now, as with most good books, the main idea is simple. Trivial, even. Common sense! Look at Dale Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends and Influence People, for instance. The main idea is super easy to remember and repeat (what matters is people’s feeling of importance).
But in both cases, what makes the book powerful is exactly the same thing. Both books give you one idea. One actionable piece of advice. The recipe might sound trivial, yes. Still, have you established your one thing goal? Any specific targets perhaps? Probably not.
A little bit repetitive, but that’s the goal.
Now, to write a fully honest book review of The One Thing, I need to mention that I’ve found some parts of the book very redundant. The goals and priorities come again here and then, and the reader can really feel some repetition.
Having said that, I must say that the repetition really isn’t surprising considering that the book is all about creating a process for efficiency and results. The authors give the grand principles, they put them into application one way. Then they get back to it taking another perspective, so on and so forth. At the end of the day, you have to admit that repetition makes things practical in your mind, eventually.
That’s a very typical approach when it comes to self-development books. Take the famous book by leadership and self-development guru Dale Carnegie (the one I just mentioned): same recipe! Process, implementation, process again, implementation again, so forth, and so on. Nothing surprising, that is.
The book made a difference to me.
All in all, though, I’ll wrap up my book review of The One Thing with the idea that this book has worked very well for me. I’ve read a variety of self-development books but few of them had a real impact.
For instance, Tim Ferriss’ book on the 4-Hour Workweek clearly is a reference in the self-development field (which I’ve mentioned up there) and it is often praised as one of those books that help you quit your job, but its impact on me hasn’t been that notable.
The One Thing, in contrast, has helped me focus and, more importantly, find out what I wanted to focus on. And trust me, this is a thing I’ve been struggling with for a while.
Let’s forget about this book review for a sec. What worked for me was that The One Thing gave me a framework. It gave me food for thought (you know that’s something I like) but it also gave me a new process for deciding what to do next. It might very well work for you too!
If you are interested in the idea of re-focusing, there are other books you might want to look at. Generally speaking, have a look at my business and self-development book reviews and suggestions, as I’m sure you’ll find something worth your time there.
More specifically, though, a couple of titles come to my mind. If you are looking for a way to re-think the way you do things, have a look at Adam Grant’s book Originals, How Non-Conformists Move the World. This book explores what it takes to be creative and it really is a good read. If you already have an idea of what you want to do differently, another interesting read is The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau. This book is rather focused on the steps you would need to follow to build something with very little (passion, really), but that sounds very much in line with The One Thing. Just saying!
One (last) thing
For some reason, something clicked in my mind when I read the book’s last pages. Not the conclusion, but the author’s bios.
Here is the thing: both authors have had great success in the real estate world, but real estate isn’t their ONE thing! Keller’s one thing is teaching people how to make real estate profitable, and Papasan ‘s one thing is writing and ideas!
So? Well, what that means is that our jobs don’t need to be the one thing. What matters, however, is that your one thing is what makes your job worth the effort. If that’s not food for thought…
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