This incredible book by Gary Keller has been out for about four years now–I wish I had read it sooner! Filled with great advice, The ONE Thing is a clear call-to-action to take charge of your life by focusing your time and effort only on the tasks required to attain the most meaningful goals in your life and minimizing the rest. Recognizing that this is easier said than done, Keller addresses common productivity misconceptions and universal pitfalls that lead to our over-busy yet underproductive lives. To power home his message, Keller relates the findings from life satisfaction surveys and personal interviews with individuals near the end of their lives; the most overwhelming emotion for most was regret caused by unfilled dreams and hopes. To me, this was one of the most impactful (and heartbreaking) passage in the book. Keller urges us to avoid this fate by living our lives with purpose, priority and meaning. To this end, he teaches us how to accomplish our "ONE Thing" by not only focusing on what we should do, but also ignoring the many things we could do.
We all admire those who excel in their field of expertise but, too often, we assume that success is achieved purely through talent. Keller takes exception to this and contends that extraordinarily successful people have one intense emotion or learned ability—a one thing—that drives their choices and defines who they are. This passion leads to disproportionate time in practice or work on their "one thing" which eventually translates to skill; when skill improves, results improve. Better results generally lead to more enjoyment and more passion, and more time is invested. It can be a virtuous cycle all the way to extraordinary results.
Keller writes, "When you see someone who has a lot of knowledge, they learned it over time. When you see someone who has a lot of skills, they developed them over time. When you see someone who has done a lot, they accomplished it over time. When you see someone who has a lot of money, they've earned it over time. The key is over time. Success is built sequentially. It’s one thing at a time.
One passion can become one skill, and together ignite and define an extraordinary life. But how to get there and what will side track us on this journey? Keller calls it the “Six Lies.”
1. Everything Matters
“It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is, what are we busy about?”
Henry David Thoreau
Keller writes, “While to-dos serve as a useful collection of our best intentions, they also tyrannize us with trivial, unimportant stuff that we feel obligated to get done—because it’s on our list.”
I’m certainly guilty as charged. I love my Wunderlist app and nothing gives me greater satisfaction that hearing the “ding” as I knock an item off my To-Do list. Without a doubt, I need to rethink this and work from a clearer sense of priority. Me, and most everyone I know, also need to learn to say ‘no” or “later” or “not now” to anything else you could do until your most important work is done.
Doing the most important thing is always the most important thing.
I have long been skeptical of my kids, having instant messenger, Facebook, Snapchat and their phone next to them while studying and Keller confirms my hunch – multitasking doesn’t work.
Consider these facts cited by Keller:
Researchers estimate that workers are interrupted every 11 minutes and then spend almost a third of their day recovering from these distractions.
Bounce between one activity and another and you lose time as your brain reorients to the new task. Those milliseconds add up. Researchers estimate we lose 28 percent of an average workday to multitasking ineffectiveness.
Distracted driving is responsible for 16 percent of all traffic fatalities and nearly half a million injuries annually.
Even an idle phone conversation when driving takes a 40 percent bite out of your focus and, surprisingly, can have the same effect as being drunk.
Why would we ever tolerate multitasking when we’re doing our most important work?
Multitasking takes a toll and distractions lead to poor choices, painful mistakes, wasted time and unnecessary stress. Do not tolerate multitasking when you are doing your most important work.
3. A Discipline Life
Discipline is not the key ingredient for achievers; it is really habit. Success is actually achieved by choosing the right habit and bringing just enough discipline to establish it.
Habits require much less energy and effort to maintain than to begin.
It takes an average of 66 days to acquire a new habit.
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.
Willpower is Always on Will-Call
Researchers that have tracked children from preschool until adulthood over several decades have proven that willpower, or the ability to delay gratification, was a huge indicator of future success.
But, willpower comes and goes and needs to be recharged with some downtime.
The brain makes up l/50th of our body mass but consumes a staggering 1/5th of the calories we burn for energy.
Foods that elevate blood sugar evenly over long periods, like a combination of complex carbohydrates and protein, become the fuel of choice for high-achievers—literal proof that “you are what you eat."
Keller writes that you should build your day around how willpower works and let it do its part to build your life. Think of resolve as a resource that gets used up and try to do most creative work when your fresh and do low energy tasks when willpower is low.
A Balanced Life
The elusive balanced life – how do we get there?
I love this quote:
“Imagine life is a game in which you are juggling five balls. The balls are called work, family, health, friends, and integrity. And you’re keeping all of them in the air. But one day you finally come to understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four balls—family, health, friends, integrity—are made of glass. If you drop one of these, it will be irrevocably scuffed, nicked, perhaps even shattered.”
Makes you think, doesn’t it?
Keller says that we should change our language from balancing to prioritizing. He reminds us that we cannot sacrifice our awareness of our spirit and health, awareness of our family and friends and awareness of our personal if we intend to “have a life." You can never forsake them for work or one for the other.
Here is the tricky part. Even though Keller is saying that you need to focus on the ONE Thing that is the most important – there isn’t really just one thing. You have to constantly ask yourself – is this the most important thing for my career right now, for my family right now, for my health right now. Once you have a definite purpose and plan for the most important parts of your life you will feel that your life needs are being served and met.
Remember that your life actually has multiple areas and that each requires a minimum of attention for you to feel that you “have a life."
Big is Bad
This section asks the reader to “go big" instead of settling for low level goals. Too many people never reach their full potential because they don't set their sights as high as they could go.
Keller writes, “No one knows their ultimate ceiling for achievement, so worrying about it is a waste of time. Believing in big frees you to ask different questions, follow different paths, and try new things. This opens the doors to possibilities that until now only lived inside you.”
He stresses that big thoughts go nowhere without bold action and that anyone who dreams of an uncommon life eventually discovers there is no choice but to seek an uncommon approach to living it.
Finally, Keller says that one of the most empowering moments of his life came when he realized that:
Life is a question
How we live it is our answer
How to Apply “The ONE Thing” Mindset
“What’s my ONE Thing right now?” should pop into your brain the moment your eyes flutter open with the rising sun. This question will keep you focused on your most important work and give you the day's first imaginary domino to knock down to set off a powerful chain reaction towards success.
As I mentioned earlier – this question should be asked for all the important areas of your life: spiritual, physical health, personal, key relationships, job, business, and financial.
Hang this sign above your desk until you have made it a habit (66 days, rememberJ)
“Until my ONE Thing is done—everything else is a distraction"
Keller stresses the importance of creating a four-hour time block on your calendar every day for your “ONE Thing” and suggests that mangers do no schedule meetings in the mornings when people are doing their most creative work. Keller says to experience extraordinary results, be a maker in the morning and a manager in the afternoon. I’d like to try this going forward with my business.
You also need to block one hour each week to review your annual and monthly goals and reflect on where you are and where you want to go.
If life gets in the way and you need to move your four-hour block, Keller has a simple rule “if you erase, you must replace.”
Finally, build a bunker that is conducive to work (no multitasking) and avoid leaving your bunker (stock with drinks and snacks.)
There is so much more to this great read including “Goal Setting to the Now” (hint, written goals are 39.5% more likely to be accomplished), how to go down the mastery path, searching for the best ways of doing things, coaches and more.
I’ll leave you with you just a couple of Keller’s other great thoughts:
“If you can have a highly productive day until noon, the rest of the day falls easily into place.”
“Learning to say no can and will liberate you. It’s how you’ll find the time for your ONE Thing.”
“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.”
My favorite story of all:
“My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us. One is Fear. It carries anxiety, concern, uncertainty, hesitancy, indecision and inaction. The other is Faith. It brings calm, conviction, confidence, enthusiasm, decisiveness, excitement and action.” The grandson thought about it for a moment and then meekly asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?” The old Cherokee replied, “the one you feed."
Go out and live your dream—no regrets.