Book Notes – The ONE Thing: The surprisingly simple truth behind extraordinary results by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

The book | Read in October 2016 | Rating 4.5 

Notes and takeaways

  • Your big ONE Thing is your purpose and your small ONE Thing is the priority you take action on to achieve it.
  • It’s all about The Focusing Question: “What’s the ONE Thing you can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

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.

  • Find the first domino and focus on it until you knock it over. You’ll find a line of dominoes behind it either ready to fall or down.
  • “A single domino is capable of bringing down another domino that is actually 50 percent larger.”
  • No one is self-made.

It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is, what are we busy about?

— Henry David Thoreau

  • Achievers do sooner what others plan to do later. They also defer, perhaps indefinitely, what others do sooner.
  • “Most to-do lists are actually just survival lists—getting you through your day and your life, but not making each day a stepping-stone for the next so that you sequentially build a successful life.”
  • “Long hours spent checking off a to-do list and ending the day with a full trash can and a clean desk are not virtuous and have nothing to do with success.”
  • There will always be just a few things that matter more than the rest. Out of those, one will matter most. Find it.

Multitasking is merely the opportunity to screw up more than one thing at a time.

— Steve Uzzell

  • Focus on one thing, avoid multitasking. “We think we’re mastering multitasking, but we’re just driving ourselves bananas.”
  • With an average of 4,000 thoughts a day flying in and out of our heads, it’s easy to see why we try to multitask.
  • Multitaskers develop a distorted sense of how long it takes to do things (longer rather than shorter).
  • We not only have a job to do, but a job that deserves to be done well.
  • “If we really lose almost a third of our workday to distractions, what is the cumulative loss over a career?”
  • To be successful, you need to choose the right habit. Then, you need just enough discipline to establish the habit. That’s it.

Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.

— Will Rogers

  • “Super-successful people aren’t superhuman at all; they’ve just used selected discipline to develop a few significant habits.”
  • Because you have a limited supply of willpower each day, be careful where and when you spend it. You’ll have less later. And don’t fight it: build your days around how it works and let it do its part to build your life.
  • Never compromise what matters by underfueling your brain. Eat well and regularly.
  • Everyone has the same amount of time, and hard work is simply hard work. It’s what you do in the time you work that matters.

Day, n. A period of twenty-four hours, mostly misspent.

— Ambrose Bierce

  • Pursue a big life and you’re pursuing the greatest life you can possibly live. To live a big life, think big and be open to the possibility that your life and what you accomplish can become great.
  • “What seemed an insurmountable mountain from a distance is just a small hill when you arrive—at least in proportion to the person you’ve become.”
  • “Don’t fear big. Fear mediocrity. Fear waste. Fear the lack of living to your fullest.”
  • Ask bigger questions. Aim to double down everywhere in your life. If your goal is ten, ask how to reach twenty.
  • Low goals don’t require extraordinary actions so they rarely lead to extraordinary results.
  • Find people who have already gone down the road you’re traveling so you can research, model, benchmark, and trend their experience.
  • “’Gary, you’re smart, but people have lived before you. You’re not the first person to dream big, so you’d be wise to study what others have learned first, and then build your actions on the back of their lessons.’ He was so right.”
  • Great businesses are built one productive person at a time. And their most productive people receive the greatest rewards.
  • “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”
  • “Pick a direction, start marching down that path, and see how you like it. Time brings clarity, and if you find you don’t like it, you can always change your mind. It’s your life.”

I cannot believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. I think the purpose of life is to be useful, to be responsible, to be compassionate. It is, above all, to matter, to count, to stand for something, to have made some difference that you lived at all.

— Leo Rosten, screenwriter

  • The word priority remained unpluralized until around the 20th century.
  • “Students who visualized the process performed better across the board—they studied earlier and more frequently and earned higher grades than those who simply visualized the outcome.”
  • If we’re alive, we’re doing something. Even if we’re doing nothing, that’s something. Every minute of the day, the question is what.

My own schedule is pretty clear-cut. Mornings belong to whatever is new—the current composition. Afternoons are for naps and letters. Evenings are for reading, family, Red Sox games on TV, and any revisions that just cannot wait. Basically, mornings are my prime writing time.

— On Writing by Stephen King

  • People can be very accommodating to your need for focus when they see the big picture and know when they can access you.
  • “Nothing and no one has permission to distract me from my ONE Thing.”

Nobody who ever gave his best regretted it.

— George Halas

  • Mastery is a way of thinking, a way of acting, and a journey you experience. It’s not an end point.
  • “When what you’ve chosen to master is the right thing, then pursuing mastery of it will make everything else you do either easier or no longer necessary. That’s why what you choose to master matters.”
  • “The creativity you see at a black-belt level comes from mastery of the white-belt fundamentals.”
  • “Many elite performers complete their journey in about ten years, which, if you do the math, is an average of about three hours of deliberate practice a day, every day, 365 days a year.” Increase it to four hours a day to fit in holidays.

If the people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it wouldn’t seem wonderful at all.

— Michelangelo

  • Commit to mastering one thing and you’ll acquire others faster. Knowledge begets knowledge and skills build on skills. It’s what makes future dominoes fall more easily.
  • “Are you doing this to simply do the best you can do, or are you doing this to do it the best it can be done?”
  • “When you’ve done the best you can do but are certain the results aren’t the best they can be, look for the better models and systems, the ways that can take you farther. Then adopt new thinking, new skills, and new relationships to help you put them into action.”

Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

— Mark Twain

  • It’s hard to find an elite achiever without a coach helping them in key areas of their life.
  • When you say yes to something, always understand what you’re saying no to.
  • To be most productive, you have to allow for chaos.
  • Fuel yourself. You can’t run long on empty calories, and you can’t run at all on an empty tank.

When you spend the early hours energizing yourself, you get pulled through the rest of the day with little additional effort.

  • “No one succeeds alone and no one fails alone. Pay attention to the people around you.”
  • “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself not the life others expected of me. Half-filled dreams and unfulfilled hopes: this was the number-one regret expressed by the dying.”

Some ONE thing focusing questions

For my physical health

  • What’s the ONE Thing I can do to ensure that I exercise … ?
  • What’s the ONE Thing I can do to relieve my stress … ?

For my personal life

  • What’s the ONE Thing I can do to improve my skill at ____________ … ?  
  • What’s the ONE Thing I can do to find time for myself … ?

For my key relationships   

  • What’s the ONE Thing I can do to improve my relationship with my spouse/partner … ?

For my job    

  • What’s the ONE Thing I can do to help my team succeed … ?     
  • What’s the ONE Thing I can do to further my career … ?

For my business

  • What’s the ONE Thing I can do to make our product the best … ?
  • What’s the ONE Thing I can do to improve our customer experience … ?

For my finances

  • What’s the ONE Thing I can do to increase my net worth … ?     
  • What’s the ONE Thing I can do to eliminate my credit card debt … ?


Instead of a to-do list, you need a success list—a list that is purposefully created around extraordinary results.

Find your one thing

  • Go small by identifying the 20 percent, and then go even smaller by finding the vital few of the vital few.
  • Figure out what matters most in the moment and give it your undivided attention.
  • Set a goal so far above what you want that you’ll be building a plan that practically guarantees your original goal.

Establish your minimum benchmark

  • First always ask yourself, “Has anyone else studied or accomplished this or something like it?” The answer is almost always yes.
  • What are the models, systems, habits, and relationships of other people who have found the answer?
  • Establish a benchmark, the current high-water mark for all that is known and being done. In the past this might have been your maximum, but now it is your minimum.

Make the time

  • Block four hours a day. “This isn’t a typo. I repeat: four hours a day. Honestly, that’s the minimum.”
  • 1.  Time block your time off.    2.  Time block your ONE Thing.    3.  Time block your planning time.
  • Be a maker in the morning and a manager in the afternoon.

Build the right environment

  • Build a bunker. Find somewhere to work that takes you out of the path of disruption and interruption.
  • Walk through the path you’ll take each day, and eradicate all the sight and sound thieves that you find.
  • Turn off your phone, shut down your e-mail, and exit your Internet browser. Your most important work deserves 100 percent of your attention.

Pause and review

  • Block an hour each week to review your annual and monthly goals.
  • Take a look at your someday and five-year goals and assess the progress you must make in the next year to be on track.

I want you to close your eyes and imagine your life as big as it can possibly be. As big as you have ever dared to dream, and then some. Can you see it? Now, open your eyes and listen to me. Whatever you can see, you have the capacity to move toward. And when what you go for is as vast as you can possibly envision, you’ll be living the biggest life you can possibly live.