Book Review – The One Thing by Gary Keller with Jay Papasan


If you are expecting a really big one thing from Gary Keller’s The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, you might be a little frustrated reading this book. There are many things in this book for those wanting to achieve results in their life or business. Spoiler alert: there is no one thing in terms of a secret, or guaranteed action, for success. The one thing is for you to identify and focus on. The one thing is a focus. The aim of this book is to show you how to find that one thing in order to achieve your goal.

One of the things I like about this book, is the debunking of clichés. Keller lists six big lies when it comes to success, these are:

  • Everything matters equally
  • Multitasking
  • A disciplined life
  • Will power is always on will call [this doesn’t make sense. Typo?]
  • A balanced life
  • Big is bad

Believing in the existence of any of the above is a barrier to success.

All To-Do’s Are Not Equal

When we look at our to-do list, we see a small collection of items that take us toward our goals for the day, the week, the year, and beyond. Not all of them are of equal importance. If you have read Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, you will recall the quadrants of Important/Urgent, Non-Important/Urgent, Important/Not Urgent, and Non-Important/Not Urgent. Covey wants us to prioritise our to-do list in these terms. Also, Brian Tracey’s famous Eat That Frog, is a similar principle, that being to tackle the important/urgent tasks first. Keller’s advice to think about the Pareto principle when looking at our to-do list is similar. Tackle the 20% of tasks that will give us 80% of results. I do prefer the Covey & Tracy approaches. After reading 150 business books, my eyes glaze over when the words “Pareto Principle” inevitably appears.

Big is not Bad – it is Essential

To achieve transformative results in our life, or grand goals in our business, we need to think big, and the journey to realising your goals is filled with many tasks requiring action. Keller does not let us lose site of the Big Thing, the BHAG (big hairy audacious goal), he reminds us that success requires action, but it is lead by thinking big and having the courage and commitment to do so. So big is not bad.

It’s not about Discipline, but Good Habits

A disciplined life is really a set of good habits, habits are important so have the discipline to focus and form positive ones.

Multitasking is Fake News

There is no such thing as multitasking. You might be able to walk and chew gum at the same time, but you can’t focus on them both at the same time (should you actually need to). Choose one thing and give it all your focus.

Willpower is not Always There When You Need It

Will power is not a latent resource we can call upon at … well … will. During the day we have peaks and troughs in terms of mental and physical energy. During the peaks we have more access to willpower. During the troughs, we slacken off. It is best to plan your day around those peaks and troughs.

Work/Life Balance is Unachievable

There is no such thing as a balanced life, at least for the vast majority of people. In business, work tends to dominate our week. Face up to that and make time count. It will never be 50/50 so make your work time count, and your personal time count. But remember your goals, and what is important and prioritise and plan both sides of your life accordingly so there is plenty of time to go around.

The above lessons and realisations are very effective, and one of the reasons why I like this book. A bit of realism in our business life is essential so we do not hold impossible ideals or strategies as goals and actions. Exposing the myths means we can we take realistic and achievable actions without the pressure of living up to a cliche.

The One Thing is a focussing question that can align everything we do toward the achievement of our goals. Here is the mantra of the book, and that we can adopt in our thinking: “What’s the ONE thing I can do, such that by doing it everything else will become easier or unnecessary?” Keller suggests asking this at the think big level, that is, in life, then work backwards asking the same question until you get to the actions in the next hour or sooner. The longer term things are directional, the shorter terms become actions. This one thing, this planning and focus strategy, when taken with all the other things in mind for vision and execution, is the path to achieving success in work and in life.

The book contains a lot of character, it is engaging, and the paper version is light and has the key points already conveniently underlined for you. It is very practical and actionable, and although I found a bit of it was covered in previous books, it is a useful packaging into the one resource with the aim on focussing on The One Thing by prioritising, managing or avoiding distractions, and achieving great results.

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