The ONE Thing Summary By Gary Keller

The following, The ONE Thing summary focuses on all of the key insights from the book, The ONE Thing by Gary Keller. Before I go into all of the key insights from the book, I highly recommend that you buy a physical copy for yourself as the book contains a bunch of awesome graphics that help drive the points home that we are about to discuss below.

For example…

The ONE Thing Summary

Also, I write all of my book summaries for my own note-taking and retention purposes. All of my books are marked up with highlighter and notes and I recommend that you do the same.

The key takeaways below are insights that I have gathered based on my own personal goals and ambitions. But when you read through the actual text you might come up with something totally different.

With that being said, let’s dive into The ONE Thing summary…



A revolving concept in The ONE Thing summary will be about the following question, “What is the ONE thing this week such that by doing it everything else would be easier or unnecessary?”

The ONE thing is about simplifying your life by focusing on your highest priority tasks (and nothing else) that will bring you closest to where you want to be.

Successful people have a single focus on the most important task at hand, while unsuccessful people have scattered focus.

In order to accomplish focusing on the ONE thing, you must “go small” by narrowing your focus. Success comes from doing a few things really well as opposed to doing many things mediocre.


Part 1: The Lies That Mislead & Derail Us

The problem we face as humans is that we tend to act on what we believe, even when what we believe we shouldn’t. Most of our beliefs aren’t grounded in reality and they, therefore, cloud our judgement when trying to determine what the ONE thing is that we should be focusing on. Throughout our lives, myths and mistruths get thrown around so often that we start to view them as truthful.

The 6 biggest mistruths are:

  1. Everything matters equally
  2. Multitasking is good
  3. Living a disciplined life is necessary
  4. Willpower is the answer
  5. A balanced life is key
  6. Big is bad


Myth #1: Everything Matters Equally

Without a clear formula for making decisions, we fall back on relying upon old habits that don’t serve us. Although not intentionally, we select approaches that undermine our success. Without a framework for determining what is important and what isn’t, everything seems equally urgent.

The whole notion of being the “busiest”, which has seemed to gain massive popularity in our generation is not at all linked to success. The mentality of being the busiest tends to result in us focusing on the least important tasks in order to create “busy work”.

People who actually achieve results put their main thing first, while others defer the most important task.

To-do lists lack the intent of success and are more so survival lists than organizing your day so each is a stepping stone to success.

Replace your to-do list with a success list.

To-do lists are long. Success lists are short and focus on what you should be doing, not what you could be doing.

The 80/20 principle applies here – 80% of your results will come from 20% of your inputs. But we want to take this even a step further by focusing on the VERY few crucial tasks.

Key Insights:

  • Go small by focusing on being productive over being busy
  • Refine your 80/20 list even further so you are only focusing on the vital tasks that you should be doing
  • Say “no” to everything else
  • Don’t get trapped in the habit of checking off long lists of tasks and assuming they are equally important


Myth #2: Multitasking Is Good

When you try to do two things at once you either can’t or do a poor job at both.

Multitasking is a complete lie.

You and Elon Musk have the same number of hours in the day. The difference isn’t that we have too little time, it’s that we feel the need to do too many things in the time that we have.

When you engage in “task switching” (i.e. diverting your focus from one task to another instead of focusing all out on one specific task until it is done) it results in time spent anywhere from 25-100%. You are essentially creating double the work for yourself by not focusing on one single thing.

Not only that but when we focus on two different things we dumb down the potential options and solutions that we can come up with.

Your surroundings play a massive role in your ability to focus.

You should avoid any distractions like people, multimedia, etc… that divert your attention away from your one thing.


Myth #3: Living A Disciplined Life Is Necessary

We don’t need any additional discipline than we already have.

You only need enough discipline to build the habit, not to sustain it forever.

When you consistently do the right thing it liberates you from having to monitor and stress over every little thing.

Contrary to what most books say, it takes 66 days to form a habit.


Myth #4: Willpower Is The Answer

Willpower is a limited resource. The more you use your mind the weaker it becomes. This is scientifically proven by various studies.

If you use your willpower for one task, there will be less of it available for the next task. When our willpower is low we tend to rely upon our default settings.

You can solve this by focusing on what is most important when your willpower is at its highest (i.e. first thing in the day).


Myth #5: A Balanced Life Is Key

Having a purpose is the only thing that makes for a successful life – not balance.

Balance only applies when it comes to giving time to the things that matter, not everything by default. Achieving exceptional results requires focused attention and time.

Living in the middle (i.e. a balanced life) prevents you from making commitments to the things that matter. By trying to do everything, nothing gets done well or with any depth.

The answer to this is a technique called counterbalancing.

By focusing on your ONE thing, naturally other areas of your life will go out of balance. But you must not let them get too far out of balance so that you can’t find your way back.

Your personal life requires very tight counterbalancing. This means you must have very short intervals where you are out of balance or else the effects can be damaging and permanent.

But with your professional life, you can go long in the sense that you can avoid focusing on everything else and only focus on the one most important thing.

It comes down to a question of priority instead of balancing.


Myth #6: Big Is Bad

Most people associate success with the words; hard, complicated, time-consuming, etc…

But having these subconscious associations with big achievement we are self-sabotaging our efforts and lower our trajectory so we feel safe.

Big thinking is a prerequisite as a springboard to success.

You must adopt a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset.

A growth mindset thinks big and looks for solutions, while a fixed mindset places artificial limits and avoids failure at all costs.

None of us know our true potential and the only way to discover what it truly is is by thinking big.

Key Insights:

  • Avoid asking questions like, “what do I do next?” and instead ask bigger questions by doubling down (e.g. if your goal is 10, ask “how can I reach 20?”)
  • Don’t look at the possible (create your own version of what is possible and “order off the menu”)
  • Ask yourself, what are the models, systems, and beliefs that others have used to achieve similar results?
  • Don’t fear failure


Part 2: The ONE Thing Summary

The Focusing Question

Andrew Carnegie stated, “concentrate your energy, thought and capital exclusively upon the business in which you are engaged”.

By scattering your focus you scatter your ability to execute.

In order to determine where to focus, you must be able to ask the right question.

How we phrase the questions that we ask ourselves, determines how we will live our lives.

If you dream of living an uncommon life then you must seek out an uncommon approach to living it.

Your focus question should have two components:

  1. Big Picture (i.e. Where am I going? What is my target?)
  2. Small Focus (i.e. What must I do right now to make sure I am on target for the big picture?)

Here is the anatomy of a good focus question:

  1. “What’s the one thing I can do…” (boil the options down to the one most important thing)
  2. “Such that by doing it…”
  3. “Everything else will become easier or unnecessary?” (is the highest value task)

A focus question leads you to finding two key things;

  1. The right direction in life
  2. The right action to take to lead you in that direction


The Success Habit

The ONE thing doesn’t only apply to work. It can help you in all areas of your life.

You can alter the focus question to serve whatever it is that you are looking to improve.

For example: “What is the one thing I can do today for [INSERT REASON] such that by doing it, everything else becomes easier or unnecessary?”


The Path To Great Answers

When you are coming up with a focus question, you want to make it small and specific. Think about a quadrant that has four categories; Big, Small, Broad, and Specific.

The following image explains this concept well…

The ONE Thing Summary - Focus Question

A great answer to your question should meet three criteria:

  1. Doable (i.e. finding solutions that others have used before you to accomplish this)
  2. Stretch (i.e. it must make you extend yourself in order to find the answer)
  3. Possibility (i.e. an answer that is beyond what is already known and being done)

Research others who have done it before you by reading books or seeking out mentors.


The ONE Thing Summary Part 3

There is a simple three-step formula for implementing the ONE thing:

  1. Purpose (this is your big ONE thing)
  2. Priority (this is your small one thing – the action you take to achieve the big ONE thing)
  3. Productivity (productivity is fueled by purpose and priority)


Live With Purpose

Our priority is what we place the greatest importance on and productivity comes from the actions that we take.

Purpose sets our priority and our priority determines the actions that we choose to pursue.

A bottomless pit of desire makes us unhappy. By not knowing what the “big picture” is, it becomes easy to constantly want more resulting in an endless spiral of desire.

Happiness is achieved when you are pursuing fulfillment.

There are five factors that contribute to our happiness:

  1. Positive emotions and pleasure
  2. Achievement
  3. Relationships
  4. Engagement
  5. Meaning

This is probably my favorite line throughout the entire book:

“Financially wealthy people are those who have enough money coming in without having to work to finance their purpose in life”.

Without purpose, you will never know when you have achieved “enough”.


Live By Priority

In order to succeed, you must connect priority to your purpose.

Your present situation and the future vision that you have for yourself is determined by the priority that you live out each day.

As humans, we tend to value rewards that can be enjoyed immediately.

To fight this, you need to break down your goals to “the now”…

For example, your ultimate goal must be broken down into a 5-year goal, into a 1-year goal, into a monthly goal, into a weekly goal, into a daily goal, to a “right now” goal.


Live For Productivity

The solution to productivity is time blocking. It harnesses your most valuable energy on the most important task.

You must give disproportionate time to your ONE thing.

You must time block three things:

  1. Your time off (you need time off to recharge and reward yourself)
  2. Your ONE thing (block off time until it gets done)
  3. Your planning time (an hour each week to review monthly and annual goals)

At a minimum, you should give 4 hours per day to your ONE thing.


The Three Commitments

To achieve extraordinary results you must do three things:

  1. Adopt the mindset of seeking mastery
  2. Seek the best ways of doing things
  3. Be willing to be held accountable

When you start seeing mastery as a journey and not a destination, it starts to feel attainable.

You must always seek out the best ways of doing things, not merely give your individual best. Sometimes you need to accept your limitations and look for new ways of doing things.

Instead of avoiding reality, you need to seek reality out, acknowledge it, own it, find a solution, and then execute it.

The best way to be held accountable is through an accountability partner.


The Four Thieves Of Productivity

  1. The inability to say “no”
  2. The fear of chaos
  3. Poor health habits
  4. A poor environment

To some extent, we all struggle to say “no” to things. But by saying “yes” to everything you must realize what you are sacrificing in terms of your purpose. If it doesn’t fit your purpose then say no to it.

When you focus on your one thing, chaos will ensure because you are neglecting everything else. Resist the temptation to divert your attention.

You must manage your energy through mediation, healthy eating, exercise, emotional connections, time planning, and focusing on your ONE thing.

If working out is too overwhelming then just aim for 10,000 steps per day.

You need to make sure you surround yourself with success-minded people as they will have a direct impact on the results that you achieve.


The ONE Thing Summary Conclusion

In Bronnie Ware’s book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, she outlined the top 5 regrets people had at the end of their lives:

  1. I wish I let myself be happier
  2. I wish I stayed in touch with my friends
  3. I wish I had the courage to express my feelings
  4. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard
  5. I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself and not the life that others expected of me

I will conclude The ONE Thing summary by re-stating the high-level focus of this book…

When you have a purpose in your life and know your priorities then productivity and results will follow.

It all starts with your ONE thing.

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