The One Thing | Gary Keller

Summary of: The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results
By: Gary Keller

Willpower and Decision-Making

Our willpower is a fluctuating resource that drains throughout the day and is affected by decision-making. We may be more prone to giving in to guilty pleasures or making poor judgments when our willpower is low. For example, research shows that Israeli parole judges were more likely to give favorable judgments at the start of a hearing than towards the end when their willpower ran low. To maintain full-strength willpower, we should avoid making key decisions or judgments when we’re running low.


In the world of never-ending to-do lists and constant distractions, ‘The One Thing’ by Gary Keller presents a fascinating concept that can change the way we approach our tasks and goals. The book thoroughly explains the Pareto Principle (80/20 rule) to emphasize the importance of focusing on one thing that delivers the most extraordinary results. Through the use of the ‘focusing question’, Keller wants readers to find that one task that makes everything else easier or unnecessary. This introduction into the art of prioritization and effective time management is meticulously crafted to provide concrete steps towards achieving success amid life’s chaos.

Prioritizing Tasks for Success

Many people make to-do lists, but few know how to prioritize the tasks on the list. Joseph M. Juran coined the Pareto Principle which states that 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts. This principle can be applied to task prioritization by focusing on the tasks that will achieve the greatest proportion of your results. In other words, not all tasks on your list are equally important.

The Power of the Focusing Question

The secret to success lies in the focusing question. It’s a question that helps identify one’s overall goal and the most effective task to start with. Repeatedly asking yourself the focusing question creates progress and momentum towards achieving your goals.

According to Mark Twain, the secret to getting ahead is getting started. But breaking complex tasks into smaller ones and starting on the first one can be overwhelming. That’s where the focusing question comes into play.

The focusing question is designed to help individuals identify their overall goal and the most effective task to start with. It’s a question that asks, “What’s the ONE thing I can do, such that by doing it everything else will become easier or unnecessary?”

There are two levels on which the focusing question can be asked. On a macro level, the question helps identify one’s overall goal in life. On a more practical, short-term level, it provides a small focus to prioritize immediate options and select the most effective task to start with.

Asking the focusing question repeatedly keeps individuals aimed towards their goal and provides actionable steps that build on each other, creating progress and momentum. By consistently asking it, individuals can achieve more than they thought possible.

In conclusion, the focusing question can help prioritize, create actionable tasks and achieve one’s goals.

Sequential Habits Lead to Success

The success of highly accomplished individuals like Bill Gates and Michael Phelps is often attributed to their immense self-discipline. However, it’s not about being constantly disciplined but selectively applying it to form enduring good habits. Take Phelps, for instance; he has ADHD but channeled all of his discipline into developing a simple habit of swimming every day, which made him an Olympic champion.

The key is to build on habits systematically. Once a habit is established, gradually move on to the next one, and this will give the appearance and benefits of a disciplined life without the need for super-human discipline. Therefore, to lead a disciplined life, focus on forming sequential habits.

The Inefficiency of Multitasking

Multitasking may seem effective, but it is actually highly inefficient and time-consuming. Although we can perform simple tasks simultaneously, humans are actually just switching between tasks, resulting in a time penalty. This penalty is magnified when we switch from complex tasks. In the workplace, these time penalties can add up and lead to a significant loss of productivity. To maximize efficiency, focus on one task at a time and give it your undivided attention.

The Power of Saying No

In order to achieve your biggest goals, you need to learn how to say no to lower-priority requests and trivial tasks. Even Steve Jobs, the master of innovation, understood the importance of saying no and reduced Apple’s output from 350 products to just ten. Saying no doesn’t have to be cold or selfish; you can offer alternative solutions or redirect people to someone else who can help. Implement strategies like frequently asked questions to limit the number of requests you receive, but remember that sometimes you will still have to say no. Saying no to unimportant tasks is essential for focusing your efforts on the most significant ones.

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