In The One Thing, real estate entrepreneur Gary Keller argues that the key to extraordinary success is focusing daily on the “One Thing” that will make the biggest difference in achieving your goal.
Keller, founder of the world’s largest real estate company Keller Williams, says that success comes from choosing and doing the right things sequentially, each connected to and building on the previous one, rather than doing a lot of disparate things, regardless of value, simultaneously. Extraordinary focus on One Thing each day is what leads to extraordinary success.
You start by thinking big—imagining extraordinary results—then narrowing your focus until you’re thinking small—that is, focusing on the most important thing you can do at the moment to help get you where you ultimately want to go. Focus on it exclusively, and when you complete it, move on to the next One Thing on your way to your goal.
When you prioritize so you’re focusing on the right thing at the moment, everything after that subsequently falls into place like a progression of dominoes.
Physicist Lorne Whitehead determined in 1983 that a single domino can bring down another domino that’s 50% bigger. Another physicist tested and confirmed this in 2001, using eight dominoes of plywood, each 50% larger than the one before. The first was two inches tall and the last one thirty-six inches tall.
When you pursue your goals by starting with the one, right thing, it leads to bigger things—you build energy in a geometric progression like Whitehead’s progressively larger dominoes. To keep doing the math:
To achieve success, aim for the moon. Getting there is doable when you create a domino effect in your life.
Exceptional success, like a domino fall, is sequential, not something you achieve by multitasking or doing a lot of things simultaneously. You line up your priorities and focus on the first domino until you topple it. You begin with a linear process that becomes geometric; you build momentum as you do the first right thing, followed by the next and the next.
A wealthy person doesn’t become wealthy in a day; a champion athlete doesn’t start winning on day one. Money, skills, expertise, and accomplishments are built over time. Success builds on success, sequentially, as you move from One Thing to another until you reach the highest level possible.
Despite our potential for huge success, most of us believe a number of myths we’ve been taught about it, which keep us from focusing on One Thing:
Myth 1) Everything is equally important and we must do it all. We’re flooded with new information and input constantly. Everything feels urgent and important, so we try to do everything, using an ever-increasing to-do list that gives every item equal weight. However, without prioritization, it’s merely a “survival” list. All things are not equally important. Research shows that a minority of our effort (20%) produces the majority (80%) of our results, which means focusing on the few, highest-impact things is the key to creating extraordinary results.
Myth 2) Multitasking gets more done. Multitasking is a myth—our brains can’t focus on more than one thing at a time. What looks like multitasking is actually task-switching as our brains go back and forth between tasks. Rather than increasing our efficiency, this process is a huge time-waster. Researchers estimate that employees are interrupted every eleven minutes and spend a third of their day recovering from interruptions. It also takes longer to do things. Depending on the complexity of the task, switching can add 25% to 100% more time to completing it. You won’t succeed in your work or life unless you figure out what matters most in the moment and give it your undivided attention.
Myth 3) Only people with superhuman discipline succeed. Most people have all the discipline they need to succeed. Success isn’t a result of ongoing discipline. It results from applying discipline long enough for a new habit to stick and become automatic. When you exercise discipline, you’re training yourself to act in a certain way. When you do it long enough—research shows it takes 66 days to establish a habit—the new behavior becomes routine. You become successful when you’ve strategically applied discipline to the right thing—establishing a powerful new habit.
Myth 4) Willpower is unlimited. Willpower is like the battery power of your phone. As you draw on the available power, the supply diminishes. You make difficult challenges harder when you don’t reserve enough willpower to help you with them. Things that sap willpower include: resisting temptation,...
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In The One Thing, author and real estate entrepreneur Gary Keller argues that the key to extraordinary success is focusing daily on the “One Thing” that will make the biggest difference in achieving your goal.
Keller, founder of the world’s largest real estate company Keller Williams, acknowledges this is counterintuitive in our multitasking world. But he argues that success comes from doing the right things sequentially, each connected to and building on the previous one, rather than doing a lot of disparate things simultaneously. Extraordinary focus on One Thing each day is what leads to extraordinary success.
The One Thing tells you how to apply this simple but transformative principle to your work and in your personal life, where escalating demands and constant distractions work against focusing on anything for long.
You start by thinking big—imagining extraordinary results—then narrowing your focus until you’re thinking small—focusing on the most important thing you can do at the moment to get you where you ultimately want to go. Focus on the small One Thing exclusively, and when you complete it, move on to the next One Thing on your way to your goal.
When you prioritize so you’re focusing on the right thing at the moment, everything after that subsequently falls into place like a progression of dominoes. Each domino represents a small amount of energy and as your dominoes fall, the energy in the string builds so that your final results are astounding.
In 1983, physicist Lorne Whitehead determined that a single domino can bring down another domino that’s 50% bigger. Another physicist tested and confirmed this in 2001, using eight dominoes of plywood, each 50% larger than the one before. The first was two inches tall and the last one thirty-six inches tall.
**When you attack your goals by starting...
Focusing on One Thing instead of many things brings success—examples proving this are abundant. The One Thing spurring success can be a product, person, passion, or life purpose.
Hugely successful companies focus on one product or service:
Successful businesses continually ask themselves, “What’s our One Thing?” because it has to evolve in response to competition, technology, and consumer demand.
Apple focused on one exceptional product at a time, moving from the Mac, iMac, iTunes, and iPod, to the iPhone and then iPad. If your business doesn’t know what its One Thing is, then its One Thing or focus should be determining what that is.
No one succeeds totally alone. Many of those who’ve achieved exceptional success can cite one person who made the difference by pointing them in the right direction—for...
Focusing on One Thing brings success. The One Thing spurring success can be a product, person, passion, or life purpose. To discover the impact of the One Thing principle in your life, consider the following:
Does your company know its One Thing—the distinctive product or service that defines it? What is your company’s One Thing? How has it evolved over time and where is it headed?
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We act on what we believe. Unfortunately, a lot of what we believe—what we accept as objectively true or as common sense—is nonsense. For instance, we believe that:
Most of us believe similar myths about success, which keep us from focusing on One Thing.
The first myth standing in the way of success is that everything is important. However, all things are not equally important—figuring out and focusing on the most important things is the key to success.
We’re flooded with new information and input constantly—from personal interactions, family demands, directives from the boss, emails, requests from colleagues, and constant “alerts” from our cell phones. Everything feels urgent and important, so we try to do everything. However, despite being busy, we don’t accomplish much. Being busy isn’t the same as being productive or successful.
In fact, no one succeeds by being the person who does the most.
The time-management and “success industry” advocates tell us to-do...
A second myth that stands in the way of success is the belief that you can get more done by multitasking. You can’t.
With impossibly long to-do lists, many people believe multitasking is the way to get everything done. People think it’s something they should learn and practice in the name of efficiency. Web pages and blogs offer instructions. Some employers list multitasking as an essential skill for prospective hires.
However, 2009 research by Clifford Nass of Stanford University showed it doesn’t work. While multitaskers think they’re succeeding, they’re actually performing poorly. Nass found that multitaskers “were lousy at everything.”
As speaker and author Steve Uzzell noted, “Multitasking is merely the opportunity to screw up more than one thing at a time.”
Multitasking might be a holdover from humans’ earliest days, when they had to watch their surroundings for predators while doing other things like picking berries. We seem to be wired to try to do more than one thing at a time. Because we feel so pressed for time, multitasking has become a hallmark of the modern human.
**The term multitasking entered the lexicon in the 1960s,...
Studies show that when we try to multitask, we end up doing multiple things badly. In addition, trying to do two things at once wastes time because the brain has to switch back and forth between the tasks and reorient itself each time.
Think about how your day went yesterday. How many times did you attempt to multitask and what tasks were involved?
People often think that only those with superhuman discipline achieve success. However, this is another myth. Almost everyone has sufficient discipline to achieve success—they just need to apply it more strategically.
Success isn’t a result of ongoing discipline. It results from applying discipline long enough for a new habit to stick and become automatic. When you exercise discipline, you’re training yourself to act in a certain way. When you do it long enough, the new behavior becomes routine and no longer requires discipline.
You become successful because you’ve strategically applied discipline to the right thing—establishing a powerful new habit.
Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps is an example of...
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We’ve all heard the adage, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” and taken it to mean that with enough determination you’ll accomplish your goals. Just summon up your willpower and you can do anything.
But you set yourself up for failure if you don’t understand how willpower works and manage it properly. When you’re struggling to accomplish something and can’t seem to muster the willpower, you may feel you lack character or fortitude, so you try harder. But the problem isn’t your determination. The truth is that willpower isn’t always there when you need it. It’s not on call.
Yet willpower is critical to success.
In the sixties and seventies, researchers at Stanford University did a famous study of willpower with 500 toddlers called the Marshmallow Test. Kids were offered their choice of one of three treats (one was a marshmallow) but told if they waited fifteen minutes, they’d get a second treat. Only three in ten succeeded in waiting the full fifteen minutes.
Decades later, researchers tracked down the original subjects and found that ”high delayers” had more successful lives—for instance, higher test scores and academic achievements, better stress management, and...
Willpower is like the battery power of your phone. As you draw on the available power, the supply diminishes. You make difficult challenges harder when you don’t reserve enough willpower to help you with them.
Think of a time when you wanted to accomplish something (for instance, to complete a task) but you couldn’t summon the willpower to make it happen. What was the situation and what time of day did it occur?
A balanced life in which no area of life—for instance, work, family, or health—is neglected is a myth. Trying to maintain balance will keep you from achieving extraordinary success because success requires allowing some things to remain unaddressed, at least temporarily, so you can focus on what’s most important.
The goal of achieving balance in our lives is relatively recent. For most of human history, work and life were synonymous. You had to work all the time, hunting or raising crops and livestock, in order to live. With the rise of the industrial age, people began working for others, who then controlled much of their time. Unions and labor laws sought to mitigate work demands on time.
The work-life balance concept emerged in the 1980s, when a critical mass of women entered the workforce and had to meet the demands of both work and home life. In the 1990s, balance became important for men too. The rise of technology that erased work-life boundaries added to the craving for balance.
The problem is that balancing all areas of your life at once keeps you from making an extraordinary commitment to anything. Yet the extremes are where...
Many people fear “going big” or pursuing exceptional achievement in their professional lives because it sounds difficult or like “pie in the sky.” Lowering your sights seems more prudent and realistic. But thinking big is essential to extraordinary results. (This is different from having a small focus—that is, narrowing your focus to a single priority or most important step toward your big goal. You need to think big and focus small.)
Since what you think determines what you do, how big you think determines your level of success. Big success has to start with big thinking. For example, Sabeer Bhatia, the man who developed Hotmail and eventually sold it to Microsoft for $400 million, arrived in Silicon Valley as an immigrant with only $250 and a big idea. He believed he could build a major tech company that stood out from any other in record time—and he did.
Other examples of thinking—and achieving—big are:
We overanalyze and overplan our careers and lives. We accept feeling overstressed, while following conventional advice for success, including acting and dressing for success, meditating for inspiration, and getting to work before anyone else so we can do more. However, the key to success isn’t doing more than anyone else, but focusing on a few, right things and doing them well.
Andrew Carnegie, whose steel company was the largest enterprise in the world, gave this advice to college students in 1885: “Concentrate your energy, thought, and capital exclusively upon the business in which you are engaged.”
He had observed that the companies that fail are the ones that spread themselves too thin by going in too many directions. “Put all your eggs in one basket, and then watch that basket,” he said. “It’s easy to watch and carry the one basket. It is trying to carry too many baskets that breaks the most eggs in this country.”
The way you determine which basket to pick 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 is a simple formula for getting answers that lead...
The focusing question, intended to help you figure out what your immediate priority should be, is: “What’s the One Thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” You can apply it to your work or any aspect of your life. For practice, try applying it to a simple goal, such as healthy eating.
Start by considering the question, “What’s the One Thing I can do to ensure that I eat healthy today such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” What are some possible answers?
There are three components to implementing your One Thing and achieving exceptional results: purpose, priority, and productivity. Your big One Thing is your purpose, and your small One Thing is what you do now—your priority—to achieve it.
Purpose, priority, and productivity are like three parts of an iceberg. Productivity is the tip or part you see (just one-ninth of the iceberg). Priority is directly under the surface and purpose is deeper. Your purpose determines your priority, and both purpose and priority drive productivity.
How well you connect your purpose, priority, and productivity determines your personal level of success; the same formula applies to business success as well. The formula for an exceptional life is to live with purpose, live by priority, and live for productivity.
Your purpose is the one thing you want your life to be about more than any other.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens illustrates how purpose sets or changes the course of your life. At first, Scrooge’s purpose is to have money. His priority is amassing as much as he can. With maximum productivity, he accomplishes his goal/purpose....
The key to productivity is scheduling or blocking time on your calendar—at least four hours daily—to focus on your priority and resisting distractions and interruptions.
How much uninterrupted time do you consistently spend each day on your top priority at work or in your personal life, so that you are making measurable progress each day and week toward your big goal?
Achieving exceptional results from time blocking requires exceptional effort in three areas: 1) committing yourself to mastery, 2) determining the best way to do something, and 3) holding yourself accountable.
Mastery is a process rather than an end result. It’s based on the desire to become the best you can be at doing your most important thing and an understanding that there’s always more to learn. You’ve mastered tasks accomplished in the past, but you’re an apprentice when it comes to future tasks. There’s always a new level of expertise to reach.
Mastery of the right thing topples your first domino and “makes everything else easier or no longer necessary.”
Besides requiring a mindset of continual learning, achieving mastery or expertise requires a significant investment of time. The time you spend is ultimately more important than talent.
Psychologist K. Anders Ericsson debunked the idea that top performers excel because they’re gifted. He found that the key to reaching elite levels was intense and “deliberate” practice over many years—for instance, top violinists accumulated over 10,000 hours of practice by age 20. If you put in 250...
Despite your best intentions, several tendencies can block your productivity.
Saying yes to (or focusing on) your One Thing is your priority. This means you have to protect what you’ve said yes to by saying no to everything else that impinges on your time block. To put it another way, one yes must be defended over time by a thousand nos.
When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, he proceeded over the next two years to reduce the company’s products from 350 to ten. He understood that the more things you do (say yes to), the less successful you are at any of them.
It’s human nature to want to be helpful when someone asks you for something. Saying no in order to focus on your own goals can seem selfish. But you can do it in a respectful and even helpful way by:
Your talent, abilities, and time are limited. Your life must be about what you say yes to—rather than what you ought to have said no to.
When you focus on your One...
Focusing on your One Thing is your priority. This means you have to protect your priority by saying no to everything else that impinges on your time block.
Think about the past few days at work. How much time did you spend responding to others’ requests? What were some of the requests you received?
When you dream big and then make that dream your goal, you’ll end up living large. To see what this could look like, write down your income and multiply it by two, five, ten, or some other number. Then write down the new number.
Ask yourself whether what you’re doing now will get you this number in the next five years. If your current actions will get you there, continue doubling the number until they won’t.
If you change your actions to match the ultimate number—your big goal—you’ll be living large.
You can apply this process to anything that matters:...