Book Review: The ONE Thing by Gary Keller with Jay Papasan

by Bob Snyder on December 10, 2013

I recently heard an interview with Jay Papasan on the Entreleadersip Podcast. He was discussing the new book he recently co-authored with Gary Keller, The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results.the one thing

We live in such a hurried world. It seems like every time we turn around more is added to our plate. Many of us face more and more requirements at work, longer hours, and more responsibilities as companies try to do more with less to get ahead. Add to that family responsibilities, taking care of ourselves physically and spiritually, social obligations, etc., it’s no wonder many of us end up feeling a bit stressed.

Multi-tasking is a myth

Papasan noted that multi-tasking has become a coveted skill. We are impressed and envious of those who seem to be able to do 5 things at once.
The question is, does this really work? Is that great multi-tasker really more productive? Or are they just busy but mostly spinning their wheels?

The real truth is that our brains really aren’t capable of doing more than one task at a time. What we really do is change our focus from one task to another. This constant refocusing though comes at a price. For example, a 2009 study done by Matt Richtel, showed that driving while talking on the cell phone can reduce your ability to focus by as much as 40%. Surprisingly, the effect can be very similar to that of being drunk.

We are capable perhaps of performing two simple tasks at the same time. Most of us can pull off chewing gum and walking at the same time. The more complex the task is the more our ability breaks down. Keller asks, would you want your brain surgeon trying to multi-task while he was operating on you? Of course not. So why not commit to the same degree of focus on the most important tasks we have to accomplish?

What is “The One Thing” for you

Most common time management programs teach you to prioritize your tasks in some fashion, so that you determine what things are critical, what things need to be done, and what things can wait for later. Keller challenges you to take that to another level. Of those things that are critical what is the one thing that is most important.
Keller notes that he has found the secret to success is finding that one thing. Keller noted that in looking back over his career:

“Where I’d had huge success, I had narrowed my concentration to one thing, and where my success had varied, my focus had too.”

Figuring out the one thing

There is a famous scene from the movie City Slickers where the old cowboy, Curly, tells Billy Crystal’s character that the secret of life is one thing. Crystal asks what that is, and Curly responds “that’s what you have to figure out”.

After establishing the importance of figuring out the one thing, the natural question that arises is what is that one thing. In the bulk of the book, Keller lays out a process for how you go about doing just that.

Of course, there are always less important day-to-day activities that we still must accomplish. The key is to make sure that you prioritize your time so that one thing doesn’t get cheated. Those little things don’t move the needle, but they distract our attention from accomplishing the thing that will really make a difference.

Finding the one thing starts with asking the right question. Keller says that how we phrase the questions we ask ourselves determines the answers that eventually become our life. He suggests that the quality of any answer is directly determined by the quality of the question. Keller says the focusing question we should start with is:

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

Once you have determined that one thing you can then begin to break it down into smaller chunks. What’s the one thing I need to accomplish this month? And then what’s the one thing in support of what I need to get done today? And if that’s my goal for the week, what’s the one thing I need to get accomplished today?

Not just a career book

Certainly, the primary focus of The ONE Thing is success in your workplace, but Keller makes it clear that the principles apply to all areas of your life. What’s the one thing you need to have the success you want with your family? with your health? with your spiritual walk? with your friendships? with your finances?

The one thing is also not static. It can change over time as your life and circumstances change.

Your financial one thing

While this is primarily a financial blog, I felt this book was worth sharing because there is much here that applies to your finances.

Certainly, if it helps you be more successful in your career, and I think it can, then that can lead to more income and improved financial standing.

But even beyond the obvious, I think the principles of the one thing will help you make progress in your financial life. The whole principle of using the baby steps to get of debt is really about focus. We often fail to succeed because we are trying to accomplish too many things at once and don’t really make progress on any of them. By applying the focus of the one thing to our finances, we can make progress in the things that matter most.

Finding your one thing

I think The ONE Thing is one of the best books I have read in the past year. I highly recommend it, particularly if you find yourself feeling harried by too many conflicting priorities. Check out The ONE Thing. I think it will help you find the focus to accomplish what matters most.

What is your one thing?

Previous post:

Next post: