The One Thing by Gary Keller: Book Summary and Notes

The One Thing by Gary Keller: Book Summary and Notes

In ‘The One Thing‘ by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan, you’ll find a new way to think about being productive and successful. This book says that doing many things at once might not be the best approach.

Instead, it suggests focusing on just the most important task you have. The authors use examples from successful people and provide practical tips to help you find and focus on your own ‘one thing‘ for better personal and professional growth.

The book explains why trying to do too much can hold you back.

I’ll admit that I’m a slow learner. I’ve read this book twice and am ready to give it a third read. But each time I’ve read it, it’s always helped me clear my mind to focus on the “one thing” and what I should avoid.

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But this isn’t my ONLY goal, as I have personal and business goals.

So if I make progress on one goal, many times it means losing progress on another.

In my case, I can choose to work toward any number of goals today, but the truth is that progress on some goals means none or even potentially negative progress on others.

It’s now become clear that I need help with a method of prioritizing goals, which is why I’m so glad that I reread the book.

Here’s The ONE Thing Summary that will also help you with goal setting and achieve what you’re striving for.

Let’s get going…

Key Takeaways

  • Prioritizing a single goal can significantly enhance one’s efficiency and success.
  • Practical strategies from the book can guide you in achieving personal and professional milestones.
  • Overcoming distractions and maintaining balance are crucial for incorporating the book’s philosophy into daily life.
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The Core Concept of ‘The One Thing’

When you read ‘The One Thing,’ you’re introduced to a focused approach designed to yield extraordinary results.

The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results

Gary Keller and Jay Papasan present a principle that focuses on a single task.

They argue that spreading your energy across many tasks often leads to mediocrity. 

According to the authors, extraordinary success results from narrowing your concentration to one thing. You can achieve significantly better outcomes by directing your efforts to your most important task.

Concept Description Impact
Focus Concentrating on less to achieve more productivity in valued work. Leads to enhanced productivity and effectiveness.
Prioritization Identifying and concentrating on the most impactful task. Ensures significant progress towards goals.
Discipline Maintaining focus amidst distractions and less important activities. Key to staying on track and achieving success.
Results Achieving extraordinary outcomes by focusing on what matters. Leads to higher levels of success and productivity.

You transform how you approach your goals by embracing the surprisingly simple truth that Keller and Papasan share.

Remember, extraordinary results aren’t beyond reach—they require clarity, prioritization, and the relentless pursuit of your One Thing.

Focusing on What Matters Most

To achieve exceptional results, it’s critical to concentrate on your most significant task. This approach simplifies decision-making and boosts productivity.

Identifying Your Most Important Thing

Your success hinges on pinpointing the task with the highest payoff. Ask yourself, “What’s my Most Important Thing?”

This isn’t just another entry on your to-do list—the mission-critical objective will make everything else easier or unnecessary.

Make a list and evaluate each item based on long-term impact and immediacy.

Implementing the Focusing Question

Utilize the Focusing Question to maintain direction: “What’s the one thing I can do such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

Posing this question frequently becomes a compass guiding you to prioritize your actions effectively and say no to what’s less important.

The Domino Effect

The One Thing Book Summary

The “Domino Effect” concept, as presented in “The ONE Thing,” intrigued my children and me.

This concept illustrates a remarkable chain reaction based on a physicist’s study. It starts with toppling a small, 2-inch domino, which can set off a series of increasingly larger dominos, each 50% bigger than the last.

So if you start with knocking over the first domino(2 inches), then the:

  • 10th domino would be as tall as Peyton Manning
  • 18th domino would be the size of the Tower of Pisa
  • 23rd the size of the Eifel Tower
  • 31st taller than Mount Everest
  • 57th would nearly get you to the moon (amazing)

one thing book summary

The principle behind this is simple yet profound. Just as you’d line up several dominoes, where each triggers the fall of the next, success in life often follows a similar pattern.

However, life doesn’t always present us with neatly arranged opportunities. Unlike the straightforward act of lining up dominos and pushing the first one to initiate a cascade, identifying where to start can be less obvious.

The ONE Thing” shows that highly successful people understand the essence of prioritization, which means knocking over that lead domino first until it falls.

They know that BIG success is sequential, not simultaneous. You do the right thing, and then you do the next right thing, and over time, it begins to add up. For example, if you want to lose weight, you start with taking a walk around the block. It’s the first small domino to knock over until you add another one.

It’s all about lining up the domino, giving it all our attention, knocking it over, and then lining up the next domino. One thing at a time.

Over a long enough time period, big things will happen.

Strategies for Personal and Professional Success

To achieve big success, one must be strategic in setting goals and managing time effectively. Successful people often use these methods in both their personal and professional lives.

Crafting Your Success List with the Pareto Principle

The Pareto Principle, commonly known as the 80/20 rule, is critical in creating your success list. This rule suggests that 20% of your efforts lead to 80% of your results.

In practice, prioritize the tasks that yield the greatest outcome.

  • Identify Important Tasks: Review all tasks and highlight which ones contribute most to your goals.
  • Rank Your Tasks: Order these important tasks by their potential impact.

Mastering Time Blocking for Important Work

Time blocking is a powerful method for dedicating specific hours to important tasks without interruption.

  • Plan Time Blocks: Decide on clear time slots dedicated solely to important work during the day.
  • Protect Your Time: Enforce these blocks rigorously and treat them as non-negotiable appointments with yourself.

By mastering time blocking, you ensure that important tasks receive the attention they deserve, a habit often observed among successful people.

This practice improves your professional life and brings balance and productivity to your personal life.

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Overcoming Common Obstacles

In the journey to focus on the most impactful tasks, you’ll need to confront and overcome common hurdles such as negative health routines and the anxiety tied to disrupting the status quo.

Moving Past Poor Health Habits

Poor health habits often stand between you and your goals, draining your energy and clouding your focus. To break free from these habits, start by identifying them.

  • Sleep: Ensure at least 7-8 hours of quality sleep to improve concentration.
  • Diet: Incorporate a balanced diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and lean proteins to fuel your body and mind.
  • Exercise: Regular physical activity, even brief walks, keeps your body energized and ready to tackle challenges.
  • Breaks: Integrate short breaks into your routine to avoid burnout and maintain a high level of productivity.

Your health is foundational. Improving it puts you on the right direction to effectively prioritize and conquer your one thing.

Conquering the Fear of Chaos

Encountering fear of chaos is inevitable when you shift your focus to what’s truly important. This fear stems from the worry that by prioritizing, other areas will fall into disarray.

#1. Recognize

Understand that temporary chaos is a natural response to change.

#2. Prioritize

Identify your clear sense of priority. Stick to it, even when things get turbulent.

#3. Manage

Develop systems to manage less critical tasks without letting them interfere with your main objective.

#4. Accept

Accept that some disorder is part of the process and doesn’t mean you’re heading in the wrong direction.

By embracing these strategies, you position yourself to navigate through distractions and focus on your highest-impact activities.

Living a Balanced and Extraordinary Life

Pursuing an extraordinary life while maintaining a work-life balance involves focusing on what truly matters. The key is to find enough time for your most important tasks and to cultivate the right habits for the long-term.

Achieving a Counter-Balanced Life

To achieve a balanced life, you need to prioritize your big picture goals and understand that not all areas of life can be perfectly balanced at all times.

A counter-balanced life is not about equal division of time but about making enough time for what’s truly important.

  • Identify Your Priorities: Pinpoint areas that need immediate attention and those that contribute to your long-term success.
  • Allocate Time Wisely: Dedicate uninterrupted time slots to your top priorities to ensure progress.
  • Accept Imbalance: Understand that some phases of life will require more focus on either work or personal life.

Integrating the Right Habits

Developing the right habits is pivotal for leading an extraordinary and balanced life. Small focus on a new habit can yield significant improvements over time, steering you in the best way possible.

  • Start Small: Begin with one new habit that can move you toward your big picture. Make it so easy you can’t say no.
  • Be Consistent: Prioritize consistency over intensity. Even small actions, done regularly, create a big impact.
  • Measure Progress: Track your habits to see your improvement. This keeps you motivated and helps you correct course when necessary.

Incorporating ‘The One Thing’ into Your Daily Routine

Your daily task: Identify the single thing that will move you toward your big goal.

Start your day with this in mind, and allow this priority to guide your actions. Small, deliberate actions build up to create huge success.

  1. Define Your Big Goal: Write down your overarching objective. This should be significant and ambitious, a goal that provides direction and purpose.
  2. Determine Your One Thing: Every day, ask yourself what one action you can take that makes everything else easier or unnecessary. This defines your focus for the day.

Example: Creating Your First Passive Income Stream

The One Thing Book Summary

Step 1: Define Your Big Goal

Imagine Sarah, an aspiring entrepreneur. Her big goal is to generate a steady passive income stream within two years. She dreams of earning enough to cover her living expenses, allowing her more freedom and time to pursue her passions.

Step 2: Determine Her One Thing

Each day, Sarah asks herself, “What can I do today to move closer to my passive income goal?” Her answers vary – some days, it’s researching investment opportunities, other days, it’s learning about the real estate market; and sometimes, it’s setting aside a small portion of her income for future investments.

Action Steps for Sarah:

  1. Education: She dedicates 30 minutes each morning to learning about passive income streams, like real estate investments or starting a blog.

  2. Saving and Investing: Sarah decides to save a fixed percentage of her monthly income to invest in a diversified portfolio, which she can manage online.

  3. Building a Side Business: On weekends, Sarah works on setting up a blog, aiming to monetize it through affiliate marketing and ad revenue.

  4. Networking: She joins online forums and local groups where she can get advice and share ideas with others pursuing similar goals.

Sarah builds a foundation for her passive income stream by focusing on one key action each day. She understands it’s not about grand, sweeping efforts but consistent, focused actions aligning with her big goal.

Over time, these small steps will compound, bringing her closer to achieving financial independence through passive income.

Setting Up a Productive Environment

Your workspace: Create it into the best place for extraordinary focus. This means minimizing distractions and ensuring you have what you need to succeed.

  • Eliminate Distractions:
  • Social Media: Log out of all social media platforms on your computer and cell phone during your work hours.
  • Cell Phone: Set to do not disturb mode, or keep it in another room entirely.
  • Physical Space: Establish a tidy, clutter-free environment that enables concentration.
  • Optimize for Success:
    • Keep necessary tools at hand.
    • Use ergonomic furniture to maintain comfort and focus.
    • Consider noise-canceling headphones if in a noisy environment.
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Learning from Great Achievers

Utilizing Role Models


Think of people who have done great things and try to learn from them. Take Walt Disney, for example. He was very dedicated to his ideas and changed how we think about entertainment. Look at what these successful people did to make their dreams come true.

Consider the diligence of Michael Phelps; his rigorous training schedule is a testament to how big action is necessary to achieve excellence.

Traits of Successful Role Models:

  • Visionary Thinking: Like Steve Jobs, aim to see beyond the present.
  • Perseverance: Emulate the resilience of figures who overcame countless setbacks.
  • Consistency: Align daily actions with long-term goals.

Big Thinking

Recognize that big thinking precedes significant achievement. Instead of conforming to the limitations of conventional wisdom, channel your inner vision.

Develop a habit of considering your ideas’ larger implications and potential impact.

Big Thinking Principles:

  • Aim High: Think in terms of what could be, not just what is.
  • Broaden Your Perspective: Regularly expose yourself to new ideas and bold ambitions.

Remember that every long journey begins with a single step in big thinking and action. Your willingness to take that step repeatedly is what sets you apart from the rest.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who is the author of ‘The ONE Thing’, and what is their background?

Gary Keller, co-founder of Keller Williams Realty, wrote ‘The ONE Thing’ alongside Jay Papasan, an executive at the same company. Keller has a wealth of experience in real estate and entrepreneurship, which informs the book’s insights.

What are the core principles and lessons found in ‘The ONE Thing’?

‘The ONE Thing’ introduces the idea that success isn’t about doing more—it’s about doing fewer things with more focus. The book encourages you to concentrate on the single task that will make the biggest difference in your life or work.

How does ‘The ONE Thing’ propose to enhance personal productivity?

The book suggests that focusing intensely on one task at a time leads to superior productivity. It advises you to prioritize your to-do list, with your “ONE Thing” standing as your most critical task.

Can you describe the ‘Domino Effect’ as explained in ‘The ONE Thing’?

The ‘Domino Effect’ emphasizes that your efforts can create a cascading success similar to falling dominoes. If you concentrate on the one critical action or goal, it can topple many subsequent tasks or goals with less effort.

What are some of the habits recommended by ‘The ONE Thing’ to achieve success?

Developing a habit of asking yourself the question, “What’s the ONE thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” is key. The book also emphasizes the importance of time-blocking for your ONE Thing to ensure progress.

How can an individual apply ‘The ONE Thing’ theory to identify their primary goal?

You’re encouraged to narrow down your focus to a singular goal by visualizing the big picture and working backward to the present. This identifies the immediate actions that most directly lead to your ultimate objective.