Narrow Focus: Accomplish More by Going Small

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The One Thing" by Gary Keller. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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How can a narrow focus help you get more done? How can you go small while thinking big?

A narrow focus is key to accomplishing more. Rather than scattering your focus and spreading yourself thin, do one thing and then the next thing until you’ve tackled a big goal.

Keep reading to learn how a narrow focus can help you do more.

Go Small With a Narrow Focus Every Day

Everyone has the same number of hours in a day, yet some people accomplish more than others in the same amount of time because they “go small” or narrow their daily focus.

Going small is:

  • Ignoring the vast array of things you could do and focusing on the right things.
  • Recognizing that everything isn’t equally important and finding the things that matter the most.
  • Connecting what you do (your immediate actions) with what you ultimately want, realizing that you get big results by narrowing your daily focus.

Most people think and act in the opposite way. Achieving big goals seems too complicated and time-consuming, so they set modest goals and keep busy with immediate demands. They work from jam-packed calendars and unprioritized to-do lists that keep getting longer. Before long they feel overwhelmed and even modest goals seem unattainable, so they scale back their goals and settle for less.

Doing too many things without subtracting anything means missed deadlines, high stress, long hours, lackluster results, lost sleep, and missed time with family and friends—when success is actually a lot easier to attain than you might think.

Big success comes, not from lowering your expectations, but from doing a few things well—subtracting rather than adding to your daily tasks. Do fewer things that have more impact and your daily, focused achievements will add up to success.

Thinking big but focusing small works in any area of life. It means identifying and doing the One Thing that most advances your purpose.

The Question to Ask Yourself

If the key to getting extraordinary results is a narrow focus on the right One Thing, then you need a way of figuring out what that thing is. The way you determine it is by asking the Focusing Question: “What’s the one thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

The focusing question takes two forms—a big-picture and a small-focus question: 1) “What’s my One Thing?” and 2) “What’s my One Thing right now.” You ask the first to determine your purpose and the second to determine the most important immediate action toward attaining it.

You can apply it to every area of your life—spiritual, health, personal, relationships, job, and finances—to ensure that you’re doing what matters most. Customize the focusing question by inserting your area of narrow focus; you can also include a time frame (this year/month). For instance—for my health, what’s the One Thing I can do to ensure I exercise (today, this week, this year) such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?

A narrow focus helps you accomplish what is most important right now on the way to your bigger goals.

Narrow Focus: Accomplish More by Going Small

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Gary Keller's "The One Thing" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full The One Thing summary:

  • Why focusing daily on one thing, rather than many, is the key to success
  • How success is like dominos
  • The six common myths about success

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, science, and philosophy. A switch to audio books has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a creative nonfiction book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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