Book Review

Book Title: The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results

Authors: Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

Date Published: 2013

Rating: 9/10


The One Thing

The One Thing – Author Background Facts and Tidbits

Gary Keller

Gary Keller is chairman of the board and cofounder of Keller Williams Realty, Inc., one of the largest real estate companies in the world. His New York Times bestselling books have sold more than 1,300,000 copies. He is an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year and finalist for Inc. Magazine’s Entrepreneur of the Year. He has helped many small business owners and entrepreneurs find success through four nationally bestselling books.

Jay Papasan

Jay Papasan is the vice president of publishing and executive editor at Keller Williams Realty, Inc. In 2003, with the release of The Millionaire Real Estate Agent, co-authored by Gary Keller and Dave Jenks, Papasan became a best-selling author when the book spent time on BusinessWeek’s best-seller list. In 2005, they co-authored their second bestseller, The Millionaire Real Estate Investor.

His latest book, The ONE Thing, co-authored with Gary Keller, came out April 1, 2013, and debuted at #6 on the Wall Street Journal bestseller list and reached #1 on May 3, 2013. Since then, it has made more than 500 appearances on national bestseller lists and has been translated into 30 languages.

The following is a summary of the book chapters and some key words/notes extracted. These extractions are all original writings from Richard Koch but in an abbreviated form for busy readers. In some instances, there may be slight abbreviations in order to shorten the sentences, but all content is directly from the authors. 

Part 1 – Overture

1-The One Thing

  • The ONE Thing is the best approach to getting what you want
  • Where I’d had huge success, I had narrowed my concentration to one thing, and where my success varied, my focus had too
  • When you want the absolute best chance to succeed at anything you want, your approach should always be the same. Go small
  • It’s realizing that extraordinary results are directly determined by how narrow you can make your focus
  • Going small is a simple approach to extraordinary results, and it works. It works all the time, anywhere and on anything. Why? Because it has only one purpose—to ultimately get you to the point.

2-The Domino Effect

  • So when you think about success, shoot for the moon. The moon is reachable if you prioritize everything and put all of your energy into accomplishing the most important thing. Getting extraordinary results is all about creating a domino effect in your life
  • Find the lead domino, and whack away at it until it falls
  • The key is over time. Success is built sequentially. It’s one thing at a time.

3-Success Leaves Clues

  • Extraordinarily successful companies always have one product or service they’re most known for or that makes them the most money. Colonel Sanders started KFC with a single secret chicken recipe
  • Take Google. Their ONE Thing is search, which makes selling advertising, its key source of revenue, possible
  • Everyone has one person who either means the most to them or was the first to influence, train, or manage them. No one succeeds alone. No one
  • Pat Matthews, one of America’s great impressionist painters, says he turned his passion for painting into a skill, and ultimately a profession, by simply painting one painting a day
  • Applying the ONE Thing to your work—and in your life—is the simplest and smartest thing you can do to propel yourself toward the success you want.


4-Everything Matters Equally

  • The problem is we tend to act on what we believe even when what we believe isn’t anything we should. As a result, buying into The ONE Thing becomes difficult because we’ve unfortunately bought into too many others—and more often than not those “other things” muddle our thinking, misguide our actions, and sidetrack our success
    • Everything Matters Equally
    • Multitasking
    • A Disciplined Life
    • Willpower Is Always on Will-Call
    • A Balanced Life
    • Big Is Bad
  • Not everything matters equally, and success isn’t a game won by whoever does the most
  • Achievers always work from a clear sense of priority
  • Pareto points us in a very clear direction: the majority of what you want will come from the minority of what you do (80/20 Principle)
  • Start with as large a list as you want, but develop the mindset that you will whittle your way from there to the critical few and not stop until you end with the essential ONE. The imperative ONE. The ONE Thing
    • Go small. Don’t focus on being busy; focus on being productive. Allow what matters most to drive your day
    • Go extreme. Once you’ve figured out what actually matters, keep asking what matters most until there is only one thing left. That core activity goes at the top of your success list
    • Say no. Whether you say “later” or “never, ” the point is to say “not now” to anything else you could do until your most important work is done
    • Don’t get trapped in the “check off” game. If we believe things don’t matter equally, we must act accordingly. We can’t fall prey to the notion that everything has to be done, that checking things off our list is what success is all about. We can’t be trapped in a game of “check off” that never produces a winner.


  • When you try to do two things at once, you either can’t or won’t do either well. If you think multitasking is an effective way to get more done, you’ve got it backward
  • It’s not that we have too little time to do all the things we need to do, it’s that we feel the need to do too many things in the time we have
  • Researchers estimate that workers are interrupted every 11 minutes and then spend almost a third of their day recovering from these distractions
  • Multitasking is a scam
  • Every time we try to do two or more things at once, we’re simply dividing up our focus and dumbing down all of the outcomes in the process
    • Distraction is natural. Don’t feel bad when you get distracted. Everyone gets distracted
    • Multitasking takes a toll. At home or at work, distractions lead to poor choices, painful mistakes, and unnecessary stress
    • Distraction undermines results. When you try to do too much at once, you can end up doing nothing well. Figure out what matters most in the moment and give it your undivided attention.

6-A Disciplined Life

  • There is this pervasive idea that the successful person is the “disciplined person” who leads a “disciplined life.” It’s a lie. The truth is we don’t need any more discipline than we already have. We just need to direct and manage it a little better
  • Success is a short race—a sprint fueled by discipline just long enough for habit to kick in and take over
  • Success is about doing the right thing, not about doing everything right
  • When you do the right thing, it can liberate you from having to monitor everything
  • It takes an average of 66 days to acquire a new habit
    • Don’t be a disciplined person. Be a person of powerful habits and use selected discipline to develop them
    • Build one habit at a time. Success is sequential, not simultaneous. No one actually has the discipline to acquire more than one powerful new habit at a time. Super-successful people aren’t superhuman at all; they’ve just used selected discipline to develop a few significant habits. One at a time. Over time
    • Give each habit enough time. Stick with the discipline long enough for it to become routine. Habits, on average, take 66 days to form. Once a habit is solidly established, you can either build on that habit or, if appropriate, build another one.

7-Willpower is always on Will-Call

  • Willpower is always on will-call is a lie
  • Willpower has a limited battery life but can be recharged with some downtime
  • Willpower is like a fast-twitch muscle that gets tired and needs rest. It’s incredibly powerful, but it has no endurance
  • So how do you put your willpower to work? You think about it. Pay attention to it. Respect it. You make doing what matters most a priority when your willpower is its highest
    • Don’t spread your willpower too thin. On any given day, you have a limited supply of willpower, so decide what matters and reserve your willpower for it
    • Monitor your fuel gauge. Full-strength willpower requires a full tank. Never let what matters most be compromised simply because your brain was under-fueled. Eat right and regularly
    • Time your task. Do what matters most first each day when your willpower is strongest. Maximum strength willpower means maximum success.

8-A Balanced Life

  • A balanced life is a lie
  • In your effort to attend to all things, everything gets shortchanged, and nothing gets its due
  • Time waits for no one. Push something to an extreme and postponement can become permanent
  • To achieve an extraordinary result you must choose what matters most and give it all the time it demands. This requires getting extremely out of balance in relation to all other work issues
  • When you act on your priority, you’ll automatically go out of balance, giving more time to one thing over another
    • Think about two balancing buckets. Separate your work life and personal life into two distinct buckets—not to compartmentalize them, just for counterbalancing
    • Counterbalance your work bucket. View work as involving a skill or knowledge that must be mastered
    • Counterbalance your personal life bucket. Acknowledge that your life actually has multiple areas and that each requires a minimum of attention for you to feel that you “have a life”.

9-Big is Bad

  • Thinking big is essential to extraordinary results
  • What you build today will either empower or restrict you tomorrow. When J. K. Rowling conceived Harry Potter, she thought big and envisioned seven years at Hogwarts before she penned the first chapter of the first of seven books
  • Big stands for greatness—extraordinary results. Pursue a big life and you’re pursuing the greatest life you can possibly live
  • Only living big will let you experience your true life and work potential
    • Think big. Avoid incremental thinking that simply asks, “What do I do next?” This is at best the slow lane to success and, at worst, the off ramp. Ask bigger questions
    • Don’t order from the menu. Apple’s celebrated 1997 “Think Different” ad campaign featured icons like Ali, Dylan, Einstein, Hitchcock, Picasso, Gandhi, and others who “saw things differently” and who went on to transform the world
    • Act bold. Big thoughts go nowhere without bold action. Once you’ve asked a big question, pause to imagine what life looks like with the answer
    • Don’t fear failure. It’s as much a part of your journey to extraordinary results as success. Adopt a growth mindset, and don’t be afraid of where it can take you.

Part 2 – The Truth: The Simple Path To Productivity

10-The Focusing Question

  • In the words of Mark Twain, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret to getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks and then starting on the first one”
  • Answers come from questions, and the quality of any answer is directly determined by the quality of the question
  • How we phrase the questions we ask ourselves determines the answers that eventually become our life
  • What’s the One thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?
  • Powered by the Focusing Question, your actions become a natural progression of building one right thing on top of the previous right thing. When this happens, you’re in position to experience the power of the domino effect
    • Great questions are the path to great answers. The Focusing Question is a great question designed to find a great answer. It will help you find the first domino for your job, your business, or any other area in which you want to achieve extraordinary results
    • The Focusing Question is a double-duty question. It comes in two forms: big picture and small focus. One is about finding the right direction in life and the other is about finding the right action
    • The Big-Picture Question: “What’s my ONE Thing?” Use it to develop a vision for your life and the direction for your career or company; it is your strategic compass. It also works when considering what you want to master, what you want to give to others and your community, and how you want to be remembered
    • The Small-Focus Question: “What’s my ONE Thing right now?” Use this when you first wake up and throughout the day. It keeps you focused on your most important work and, whenever you need it, helps you find the “levered action” or first domino in any activity.

11-The Success Habit

  • When we start and continue a way of thinking or a way of acting over a long enough period, we’ve created a new habit
  • For me, the Focusing Question is a way of life. I use it to find my most leveraged priority, make the most out of my time, and get the biggest bang for my buck
    • Understand and believe it. The first step is to understand the concept of the ONE Thing, then to believe that it can make a difference in your life. If you don’t understand and believe, you won’t take action
    • Use it. Ask yourself the Focusing Question. Start each day by asking, “What’s the ONE Thing I can do today for [whatever you want] such that by doing it everything else will be easier or even unnecessary?”
    • Make it a habit. When you make asking the Focusing Question a habit, you fully engage its power to get the extraordinary results you want. It’s a difference maker. Research says this will take about 66 days
    • Leverage reminders. Set up ways to remind yourself to use the Focusing Question. One of the best ways to do this is to put up a sign at work that says, “Until my ONE Thing is done —everything else is a distraction.” Put up reminders like, “The ONE Thing = Extraordinary Results”
    • Recruit support. Research shows that those around you can influence you tremendously. Starting a success support group with some of your work colleagues can help inspire all of you to practice the Success Habit every day.

12-The Path To Great Answers

  • Ask a great question
    • Big & Broad
    • Big & Specific
    • Small & Broad
    • Small & Specific
  • Find a great answer
  • Answers come in three categories: doable, stretch, and possibility
  • Extraordinary results require a Great Answer
  • The research and experience of others is the best place to start when looking for your answer
  • A new answer usually requires new behavior, so don’t be surprised if along the way to sizable success you change in the process
    • Think big and specific. Setting a goal you intend to achieve is like asking a question. It’s a simple step from “I’d like to do that” to “How do I achieve that?” The best question—and by default, the best goal—is big and specific: big, because you’re after extraordinary results; specific, to give you something to aim at and to leave no wiggle room about whether you hit the mark. A big and specific question, especially in the form of the Focusing Question, helps you zero in on the best possible answer
    • Think possibilities. Setting a doable goal is almost like creating a task to check off your list. A stretch goal is more challenging. It aims you at the edge of your current abilities; you have to stretch to reach it
    • Benchmark and trend for the best answer. No one has a crystal ball, but with practice you can become surprisingly good at anticipating where things are heading
    • Businesses who get there first often enjoy the lion’s share of the rewards with few, if any, competitors. Benchmark and trend to find the extraordinary answer you need for extraordinary results.

Part 3– Extraordinary Results: Unlocking The Possibilities Within You

13-Live With Purpose

  • Who we are and where we want to go determine what we do and what we accomplish
  • Happiness happens on the way to fulfillment
  • Purpose provides the ultimate glue that can help you stick to the path you’ve set
  • Live with purpose and don’t be surprised if you actually hum more and even whistle while you work
    • Happiness happens on the way to fulfillment. We all want to be happy, but seeking it isn’t the best way to find it. The surest path to achieving lasting happiness happens when you make your life about something bigger, when you bring meaning and purpose to your everyday actions
    • Discover your Big Why. Discover your purpose by asking yourself what drives you. What’s the thing that gets you up in the morning and keeps you going when you’re tired and worn
    • down? I sometimes refer to this as your “Big Why.” It’s why you’re excited with your life. It’s why you’re doing what you’re doing
    • Absent an answer, pick a direction. “Purpose” may sound heavy but it doesn’t have to be. Think of it as simply the ONE Thing you want your life to be about more than any other. Try writing down something you’d like to accomplish and then describe how you’d do it.

14-Live With Priority

  • Live with purpose and you know where you want to go. Live by priority and you’ll know what to do to get there
  • Purpose without priority is powerless
  • The truth about success is that our ability to achieve extraordinary results in the future lies in stringing together powerful moments, one after the other
  • Visualizing the process—breaking a big goal down into the steps needed to achieve it—helps engage the strategic thinking you need to plan for and achieve extraordinary results. This is why Goal Setting to the Now really works
  • Writing down your goals and your most important priority is your final step to living by priority
    • There can only be ONE. Your most important priority is the ONE Thing you can do right now that will help you achieve what matters most to you. You may have many “priorities” but dig deep and you’ll discover there is always one that matters most, your top priority—your ONE Thing
    • Goal Set to the Now. Knowing your future goal is how you begin. Identifying the steps you need to accomplish along the way keeps your thinking clear while you uncover the right priority you need to accomplish right now
    • Put pen to paper. Write your goals down and keep them close.

15-Live For Productivity

  • Productive action transforms lives
  • In the end, putting together a life of extraordinary results simply comes down to getting the most out of what you do, when what you do matters
  • The most successful people are the most productive people
  • Time blocking is a very results-oriented way of viewing and using time. It’s a way of making sure that what has to be done gets done
  • To achieve extraordinary results and experience greatness, time block these three things in the following order:
    1. Time block your time off – Resting is as important as working
    2. Time block your ONE Thing – To experience extraordinary results, be a maker in the morning and a manager in the afternoon; block 4 hours if you can
    3. Time block your planning time – Block an hour each week to review your annual and monthly goals; There is magic in knocking down your most important domino day after day
    • Connect the dots. Extraordinary results become possible when where you want to go is completely aligned with what you do today. Tap into your purpose and allow that clarity to dictate your priorities. With your priorities clear, the only logical course is to go to work
    • Time block your ONE Thing. The best way to make your ONE Thing happen is to make regular appointments with yourself. Block time early in the day, and block big chunks of it—no less than four hours! Think of it this way: If your time blocking were on trial, would your calendar contain enough evidence to convict you?
    • Protect your time block at all costs. Time blocking works only when your mantra is “Nothing and no one has permission to distract me from my ONE Thing.” Unfortunately, your resolve won’t keep the world from trying, so be creative when you can be and firm when you must. Your time block is the most important meeting of your day, so whatever it takes to protect it is what you have to do.

16-The Three Commitments

    1. Follow the Path of Mastery – when you can see mastery as a path you go down instead of a destination you arrive at, it starts to feel accessible and attainable
    2. Move from “E” to “P” – The path of mastering something is the combination of not only doing the best you can do at it, but also doing it the best it can be done (Entrepreneurial to Purposeful)
    3. Live the Accountability Cycle – Accountable people achieve results others only dream of; Highly successful people are clear about their role in the events of their life.
    • Commit to be your best. Extraordinary results happen only when you give the best you have to become the best you can be at your most important work. This is, in essence, the path to mastery—and because mastery takes time, it takes a commitment to achieve it
    • Be purposeful about your ONE Thing. Move from “E” to “P.” Go on a quest for the models and systems that can take you the farthest. Don’t just settle for what comes naturally—be open to new thinking, new skills, and new relationships. If the path of mastery is a commitment to be your best, being purposeful is a commitment to adopt the best possible approach
    • Take ownership of your outcomes. If extraordinary results are what you want, being a victim won’t work. Change occurs only when you’re accountable. So stay out of the passenger seat and always choose the driver’s side
    • Find a coach. You’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who achieves extraordinary results without one.

17-The Four Thieves

    1. Inability to Say “No” – When you say yes to something, it’s imperative that you understand what you’re saying no to; You can’t please everyone, so don’t try
    2. Fear of Chaos – When you strive for greatness, chaos is guaranteed to show up
    3. Poor Health Habits – High achievement and extraordinary results require big energy
    4. Environment Doesn’t Support Your Goals – Your environment must support your goals.
    1. Meditate and pray for spiritual energy
    2. Eat right, exercise, and sleep sufficiently for physical energy
    3. Hug, kiss, and laugh with loved ones for emotional energy
    4. Set goals, plan, and calendar for mental energy
    5. Time block your ONE Thing for business energy.
    • Start saying “no.” Always remember that when you say yes to something, you’re saying no to everything else
    • Accept chaos. Recognize that pursuing your ONE Thing moves other things to the back burner. Loose ends can feel like snares, creating tangles in your path
    • Manage your energy. Don’t sacrifice your health by trying to take on too much. Your body is an amazing machine, but it doesn’t come with a warranty, you can’t trade it in, and repairs can be costly. It’s important to manage your energy so you can do what you must do, achieve what you want to achieve, and live the life you want to live
    • Take ownership of your environment. Make sure that the people around you and your physical surroundings support your goals.

18-The Journey

  • A life worth living might be measured in many ways, but the one way that stands above all others is living a life of no regrets
  • The most common regret “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself not the life others expected of me”.

Putting The One Thing To Work

  • The ONE Thing forces you to think big, work things through to create a list, prioritize that list so that a geometric progression can happen, and then hammer away on the first thing—the ONE Thing that starts your domino run
  • If you try to do everything, you could wind up with nothing. If you try to do just ONE Thing, the right ONE Thing, you could wind up with everything you ever wanted
  • So don’t delay. Ask yourself the question, “What’s the ONE Thing I can do right now to start using The ONE Thing in my life such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” And make doing the answer your first ONE Thing.


Gary Keller discusses the One Thing. Interview with Kevin Kauffman (YouTube)


Key Takeaways

The is the second time I have read this book and each time, I pick up some new ideas and mental reinforcements. After reading this book and carefully digesting its contents and key messages, I list below my key takeaways:

  • From my experiences in work and in life, I can concur that unless you take the effort and concentration to mostly concentrate on ONE THING, you will end up not fully completing anything well or completing things in half measures. You will not be satisfied with the outcomes.
  • In this day and age, we are captivated by a variety of things and bombarded with hundreds if not thousands of messages daily. It is so very easy to be distracted. In my younger days as a teen, I could be distracted by the radio or the black-and-white TV. I was much more inclined to do a hobby or play outdoors. Today, teens can be distracted by computers, radios, colour TV’s, mobile phones, games systems, streaming services and the myriad of social networking influences. I feel sorry for them in a way and just wonder how they manage to sit still long enough on thing to actually achieve meaningful outcomes.
  • This time around, the one area of the book which really hit home for me, was in Chapter 10 – The Focusing Question. Having this one question in your ‘tool belt’ to use at any time of the day when you have a choice around what you should do next. Ask yourself, “What’s the One thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”. What a powerful question.


Closing thoughts

This book was an easy, enjoyable, and informative read. Every chapter was jam packed with amazing advice. I honestly feel it should be mandatory reading for all teens aged 17 and above and all adults, particularly if you are still in the work force. Read this book a couple of times and take notes but most importantly, learn and take action!

As summed up nicely by the authors, and to help reinforce this very important point that the book is conveying to us, “don’t delay. Ask yourself the question, “What’s the ONE Thing I can do right now to start using The ONE Thing in my life such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” And make doing the answer your first ONE Thing”!

If you are very interested in all things “The ONE Thing”, checkout their website.

If you enjoyed this book review, you will also enjoy my review of the book, “The 80/20 Principle“.

Read, learn, enjoy, be persistent and most importantly, take action!

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