The One Thing – The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results

Author – Gary Keller

Genre – Management, Self-Help

Gary Keller has had extraordinary success. He cofounded and chairs the largest reality company in US, and has been an E&Y Entrepreneur of the Year. In this book, he writes about the simple truth behind his success: focussing on one thing at a time!

Gary’s main message is to “be like the postage stamp, stick to one thing until you get there”. He asks provocatively, “What’s the ONE thing you can do this week such that by doing it everything else would be easier or unnecessary?”

“You want your Achievements to add up, but that actually takes subtraction, not addition. You need to do fewer things for more effect instead of doing more things with side effects.”

Multi-tasking may be okay when we are doing small things, but why would we want to be distracted when working on the most critical project? Besides, multi-tasking takes a toll on health and creativity. 

The book encourages us to first identify our “ONE thing”, the key priorities for us. Start always with the big stuff. “How we phrase the questions we ask ourselves determines the answers that eventually become our life.”

“I worked for a menial’s hire,

Only to learn dismayed,

That any wage I had asked of Life,

Life would have willingly paid.”

Once we have decided our “ONE Thing”, across each key aspect of life (work, finances, relationship, spirituality), then productivity is to not let anything else interfere with it. In fact, at the beginning of each week, simply block time for these priorities. Problem with traditional time management is that it is reactive, it let’s others and their priorities block our calendar. And then we struggle in the ’thick of thin things’ without being able to achieve big results in our dream areas. 

Similarly, block one hour every week to review how we are progressing against the most important priorities. 

Michelangelo once said, “If the people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it wouldn’t seem wonderful at all.” Success will require mastery (a journey and not a destination) and that requires practise and practise, hence setting aside time for our core priority is critical. Unfortunately we accept mediocrity too soon.

Four big thieves of productivity: 

  1. Inability to say NO – one yes needs to be defended by many no 
  2. Fear of Chaos – when we strive for greatness, chaos is guaranteed to show up
  3. Poor Health Habits – Maintaining high personal energy is critical, so meditate, eat right, exercise, sleep sufficiently and spend time with loved ones.
  4. Environment doesn’t support your goals – People around you must support your goals; they either take you up or take you down. Choose your company wisely.

Successful people take Accountability for their lives and results and don’t blame circumstances. “If it is to be, it is up to me. If it’s up to me, it shall be” 

The last chapter is very inspirational. The authors ask us to close our eyes and dream big, of all that we can achieve, not limited by our current circumstances. They quote The Top Five Regrets of The Dying (from a book by Bronnie Ware who interviewed hundreds of dying people).

  1. I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself. Not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I had let myself be happier. Too late they realised that happiness is actually a choice.
  3. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. 
  4. I wish I had the courage to express my feelings. 
  5. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. Too much time spent making a living instead of building a life. 

Knowing this, that our biggest regret is what we don’t do, how would we live our lives differently?

Is it possible to think so big of ourselves? Wouldn’t we be afraid of failing, anxious of giving up the stability we have for the uncertainty of our dreams? How do we get that courage?

The authors tell an old Cherokee tale: One evening a grandfather tells his grandson the story of a battle that goes on inside all of us. “My son, that battle is between two wolves inside us. One is Fear. It carries anxiety, uncertainty, hesitation, inaction. The other is Faith. It brings calm, confidence, excitement, action.” The grandson meekly asks, “Which wolf wins?” And the wise elder replies, “The one you feed!”

Why Read This Book: A simple book and easy to read (the authors have already underlined key concepts in each page). Should take just a couple of hours to finish. Thinking Big and then focussing on a few key priorities is at the heart of being effective. And this book teaches this eternal truth in an engaging way.