The One Thing Summary0

The One Thing Summary – These are the main points from The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan.

I have condensed the book by chapter. It will give you an idea of what the original book is about. 

The Book in One Sentence: The One Thing provides an approach which, if you apply it, will help you solve many of your work and life issues that are related to purpose, priority, and productivity.  

Who is This Book For?

If you’re not getting what you want in life or if you want to become extraordinary, the One Thing offers an approach you might want to try out. If you want to become more productive, this book is for you.

The One Thing Summary Chapter 1 – The One Thing

The book starts by saying that the secret of success and the best approach to getting what a person wants is to do the one thing.

When Gary Keller’s business was failing, he sought help from a coach. After they went through the situation, the coach told him that there was only one thing he needed to do.   He did that one thing and experienced success. But a challenge happened among his top people and that was when he discovered the real power of the following question.

 “What’s the ONE Thing you can do this week such that by doing it everything else would be easier or unnecessary?”

The results rose at a very high level. And he came to this realization.

“After these experiences, I looked back at my successes and failures and discovered an interesting pattern. Where I’d had huge success, I had narrowed my concentration to one thing, and where my success varied, my focus had too.”

The authors say that if you want the best chance to succeed at anything you want, you must go small. What they mean by going small is to ignore all the things that you could do and focus on what you should be doing. You must find the thing that matters most.

“Extraordinary results are directly determined by how narrow you can make your focus.”

You must go as small as possible because big success comes when you do a few small things well.

 “You need to be doing fewer things for more effect instead of doing more things with side effects.”

The side effects of trying to do too much include missed deadlines, unsatisfactory results, stress, long hours of work, lost of sleep, poor eating habits, and a lot more negative effects.

 “When you go as small as possible, you’ll be staring at one thing.”


The One Thing Summary Chapter 2 – The Domino Effect

“When one thing, the right thing, is set in motion, it can topple many things.”

It is similar to the domino effect.

 “Each standing domino represents a small amount of potential energy; the more you line up, the more potential energy you’ve accumulated. Line up enough and, with a simple flick, you can start a chain reaction of surprising power.”

The lead domino will topple the lined domino pieces and these dominoes will also bring down a domino that is 50 percent larger.

 “Getting extraordinary results is all about creating a domino effect in your life.”

After you have lined up a set of dominoes, you just need to hit the first one to make all of them topple. However, unlike dominoes, life is more complicated. You have to set our priorities every day and find the lead “domino” and then strike it.

 “The domino effect applies to the big picture, like your work or your business, and it applies to the smallest moment in each day when you’re trying to decide what to do next. Success builds on success, and as this happens, over and over, you move toward the highest success possible.”

The One Thing Summary Chapter 3 – Success Leaves Clues

The authors cite examples of companies that apply the one thing. These companies achieve extraordinary success and make money by focusing on one product or service. The companies they mention are KFC, the Adolph Coors Company, Intel, Starbucks, Google, Star Wars and Apple.

When it comes to people, the one thing shows that one person can make all the difference.

“Everyone has one person who either means the most to them or was the first to influence, train, or manage them.”

Walt Disney had his brother Roy who got him work at an art studio where he learned animation and began creating animated cartoons.

Sam Walton’s father in-law, Robson, loaned him the money he needed to start his first retail business.

Albert Einstein first mentor was Max Talmud who introduced a ten-year-old Einstein to key texts in math, science, and philosophy.

Oprah Winfrey credits her father, and the time she spent with him and his wife, for “saving” her. And professionally, she had Jeffrey D. Jacobs who persuaded her to establish her own company rather than simply be a talent for hire.  

John Lennon and Paul McCartney had George Martin who helped them achieved their heights.

Extraordinarily successful people have one intense emotion or one learned ability that not only shine through but also drive them more than anything else.

“Passion for something leads to disproportionate time practicing or working at it. That time spent eventually translates to skill, and 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.”

 Examples of these people include Pat Matthews, one of America’s great impressionist painters.  He turned his passion for painting into a skill, and ultimately a profession, by simply painting one painting a day.

Angelo Amorico, Italy’s most successful tour guide, developed his skills and ultimately his business from his singular passion for his country and the deep desire to share it with others.

“Bill and Melinda Gates are living proof of the power of the ONE Thing.”

The authors tell a story of how Bill Gates started with one passion in high school; the computer. He developed one skill, computer programming. He ended up many years later doing one thing; saving human lives.

The one thing sits at the heart of success and is the starting point for achieving extraordinary results.

So if you want to propel yourself to the success you want, apply the one thing to your work and in your life.


There are six lies or beliefs that muddle your thinking, misguide your actions and sidetrack your success. And they keep you from living the one thing.   

The Six Lies Between You and Success

1.Everything Matters Equally

2. Multitasking

3. A Disciplined Life

4. Willpower Is Always on Will-Call

5. A Balanced Life

6. Big Is Bad            

The One Thing Summary Chapter 4 – Everything Matters Equally

Equality is a lie. In the real world of achievement and results, things are never equal. And understanding this is the basis of all great decisions.

How do you decide when you have a lot to get done in the day? How do you decide what to do first? How do you make good decisions when you have too many choices and you believe all of them must get done?

Without a clear formula for making decisions, you get reactive and get back to your familiar and comfortable ways to decide what to do. As a result, your haphazard approaches undermine your success.  

“When everything feels urgent and important, everything seems equal. We become active and busy, but this doesn’t actually move us any closer to success. Activity is often unrelated to productivity, and busyness rarely takes care of business.”

 “Knocking out a hundred tasks for whatever the reason is a poor substitute for doing even one task that’s meaningful. Not everything matters equally.”

Even though to-do lists are invaluable and are a staple of the time-management-and-success industry, they have a dark side.


You fill your to-dos with unimportant stuff that you feel must get done.

It is more like an inventory on what you need to do, which could lead you astray.

Your to-do list usually contains a long list of things to do and those actions pull you in many directions, not where you should really go or want to go.

The first thing on the list is usually the first thing you thought of and what you will do first. The list is not based on your priorities.

And finally, “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.”

The authors suggest that you make a success list instead. A success list is one where you create around results, are more organized and help you aim at the right direction.

How do you turn a to-do list into a success list? With so many things you could do, how do you decide what matters most at any given moment on any given day?

Use the Pareto or 80/20 Principle.

Richard Koch says, “The 80/20 Principle asserts that a minority of causes, inputs, or effort usually lead to a majority of the results, outputs, or rewards.”

In terms of success, this principle shows that things are not equal and a few selected efforts create most of the results and the rewards.  Or the majority of what you want will come from the minority of what you do. You can achieve extraordinary results by taking fewer actions because some things matter a lot more than others.

When you apply the Pareto Principle to your to-do list, it becomes a success list. It is when you prioritize your to-do list by removing the “could do” stuffs and write only the “should dos.”

The authors suggest that you take the Pareto Principle to the extreme.

“I want you to go small by identifying the 20 percent, and then I want you to go even smaller by finding the vital few of the vital few…You can actually take 20 percent of the 20 percent of the 20 percent and continue until you get to the single most important thing!”

 “No matter the task, mission, or goal. Big or small. 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.”

The One Thing Summary Chapter 5 – Multitasking

Clifford Nass, a professor at the Stanford University conducted a study in 2009 to find out how multitaskers multitasked. The result showed that high multitaskers were terrible at everything.

 When you try to do multiple tasks at once, you are multitasking. You can’t or won’t do well in any of the tasks. It is neither an efficient nor effective strategy to get results. Furthermore, when you try to do too many things at once, you forget to do the thing that you should.

There are actions that we can do simultaneously, such as walking and talking or chewing gum and reading a map. But, even though we could do them at the same time, we can only focus on one.

Why do people multitask? One reason is because they feel the need to do too many things in the time they have. The next reason is because their thoughts jump from one to another and that prompt them to do something else and at the same time.  

At work, workers find it difficult and exhausting to stay on task because of distractions, disturbances, and disruptions.

 “Researchers estimate that workers are interrupted every 11 minutes and then spend almost a third of their day recovering from these distractions.”

Juggling isn’t multitasking. Researchers refer to it as “task switching.”

“To the casual observer, a juggler is juggling three balls at once. In reality, the balls are being independently caught and thrown in rapid succession. Catch, toss, catch, toss, catch, toss. One ball at a time.”

An example of switching from one task to another is when you watch television and folding clothes. This is a voluntary and instantaneous action because you decide to switch.

An example of switching tasks that is less predictable and simple is when you are working on a spreadsheet and a co-worker comes in to discuss a problem. Since the two tasks are complex, you cannot jump back and forth and it takes some time for you to restart or pick up where you left. It wastes your time.

When you are doing two things at one time, you’re not focused on both activities. You can give attention to things but you cannot do it at once. Your attention will be divided between the two.

When you get distracted, you make poor choices and painful mistakes. And you experience unnecessary stress. When you try to do too much at once, you end up doing nothing well. In order to manage distraction, you must figure out what matters most in the moment and give it your undivided attention.


The One Thing Summary Chapter 6 – A Disciplined Life

 “When we know something that needs to be done but isn’t currently getting done, we often say, “I just need more discipline.” Actually, we need the habit of doing it. And we need just enough discipline to build the habit.”

You don’t need to be more disciplined to achieve success. You need selected discipline to establish a handful of the right habits.

 The authors cite Michael Phelps, the most-decorated Olympian in any sport in history, as a person of selected discipline.

“Phelps channeled all of his energy into one discipline that developed into one habit – swimming daily”.

When you choose selected discipline, you simplify your life. You will focus on what to do well. It reduces the need to monitor everything.

To do better, you must do the most important thing in your lives regularly. You must sustain the discipline long enough on one habit. Everything else in your life will become easier.

Focus on establishing one powerful habit at a time. When you have established the one important habit, you can build on that habit or develop another new habit until you have established a few significant habits.

Building habits is only hard in the beginning. When you have sustained the habit and it becomes part of your life, you require less energy and effort to maintain it.

Researchers at the University College of London suggest that it takes an average of 66 days to acquire a new habit.

The One Thing Summary Chapter 7 – Willpower Is Always on Will-Call

Willpower is a source of personal strength. But it is not the prescription for success. Willpower is powerful only if timing, an essential element, is involved.

Willpower, unlike discipline which is based on training, is the raw power of will. But you cannot rely on will power to succeed.

Willpower is the ability to delay gratification.  It is a huge indicator of future success. This conclusion is based on the “Marshmallow test” conducted by researcher Walter Mischel on four-year-olds at Stanford University. The researcher tracked all the subjects over the next thirty years after he started it in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

Being a personal resource, you can manage willpower.

“Think of willpower like the power bar on your cell phone. Every morning you start out with a full charge. As the day goes on, every time you draw on it you’re using it up. So as your green bar shrinks, so does your resolve, and when it eventually goes red, you’re done. Willpower has a limited battery life but can be recharged with some downtime. It’s a limited but renewable resource. Because you have a limited supply, each act of will creates a win-lose scenario where winning in an immediate situation through willpower makes you more likely to lose later because you have less of it.”

The food we eat affects our willpower.  The conclusion is based on nine separate studies on the impact of nutrition and willpower. When you use your willpower to perform one task, your level of willpower will drop. It will bounce back when you refuel with foods that elevate blood sugar levels.

When you do your most important task when your willpower is low, the result you produce will be average.

If you want to succeed, you must use your willpower for the most important things and replenish it when it is low. 

“Every day, without realizing it, we engage in all manner of activities that diminish our willpower. Willpower is depleted when we make decisions to focus our attention, suppress our feelings and impulses, or modify our behavior in pursuit of goals.”

The One Thing Summary Chapter 8 – A Balanced Life

A “balanced life” is a myth and a lie. If you want to acquire extraordinary results, you have to focus your attention and you require time. The time you spend on one thing means you are away from another, which means that balance is impossible.

You don’t need a balanced life. What you need and what is missing are purpose, meaning, and significance in your life. What you need to live a successful and full life is a balancing act.

Your desire for balance happens because you want to have enough time for everything and that everything is done on time. But if you were to attend all things, you will not be able to get extraordinary results. 

You shouldn’t pursue balance because it prevents you from pushing to the extremes. But, pursuing the extremes presents its own set of problems too.

“When we say we’re out of balance, we’re usually referring to a sense that some priorities—things that matter to us—are being underserved or unmet. The problem is that when you focus on what is truly important, something will always be underserved. No matter how hard you try, there will always be things left undone at the end of your day, week, month, year, and life. Trying to get them all done is folly. When the things that matter most get done, you’ll still be left with a sense of things being undone—a sense of imbalance. Leaving some things undone is a necessary tradeoff for extraordinary results. But you can’t leave everything undone, and that’s where counterbalancing comes in. The idea of counterbalancing is that you never go so far that you can’t find your way back or stay so long that there is nothing waiting for you when you return.”

There are two types of counterbalancing: your professional life and personal life.

When it comes to your professional success, you must put in focused time over time. You must choose what matters most, which means some work issues will be out of balance.

As for your personal life, the essential ingredient is awareness. You need to be aware of your body and spirit, your family and friends, and your own personal need. These are the things that give everyone a life. You cannot forsake them for work. Your personal life needs thigh counterbalancing. You cannot neglect the essential ingredients in your personal world. You cannot allow your personal life to go out of balance for long periods.

Instead of hoping to balance your life, think of prioritizing your life. Set a priority and act on it. Your decision to prioritize will cause and out of balance because you are giving more time to one thing over another. Your challenge is to decide on how long you will stay on your priority.

The One Thing Summary Chapter 9 – Big Is Bad

“Big is bad is a lie. It’s quite possibly the worst lie of all, for if you fear big success, you’ll either avoid it or sabotage your efforts to achieve it.”

Many people fear that big success brings pressure and stress, rob them of their time with their families and friends, and have negative effect on their health. And they feel fearful of what might happen if they try and fail.   

When you associate big with bad, you trigger shrinking thinking. You will lower your standard because it feels safe.

You don’t know your limits. But if you accept that you can become big, you are able to see possibilities. You will then be able to ask different questions, follow different paths, and see new things.

In order to achieve extraordinary results, you must think big. You must take action. And action requires thoughts.

What you think determines what you do. How big you think is the launching pad to how high you can achieve. But to achieve a higher level, you must think, do, and act on a different level. Otherwise, you will be stuck at an artificial ceiling that you have created.

So if you want to grow and become big, ask big questions, set big goals, and stretch yourself. You must develop a growth mindset because people with a growth mindset think big and seek growth.

When you think big, you are able to move past your doubts. These big thoughts must follow with bold actions. To act boldly, imagine what your life would be like. Or, study people who have already achieved it. What works for others will almost always work for you too.


The One Thing Summary  Chapter 10 – The Focusing Question

“What is the one thing I can do such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

Answering this powerful question can alter your life.

 Questions engage critical thinking and improve learning and performance by as much as 150 percent.

The benefits of asking the focusing question:

  • It helps keep your first step from being a misstep.
  • It helps you find the right direction in life and leads you to answer other important questions such as, “Where am I going? What target should I aim for?”
  • It assists you in finding the right action to another question, “What must I do right now to be on the path to getting the big picture?”
  • It is the map for your big picture and also a compass for your smallest next move.
  • It forces you to make the best decision and focus on what matters.
  • It leads you to your first domino for your job, your business, or any other area in which you want to achieve extraordinary results.

You must keep asking the focusing question, even if you already know the answer. It helps you see your next priority, develop the right mindset, and decide on what is the next right task.

The authors explain in detail the anatomy of the focusing question.

 “What’s the ONE Thing I can do / such that by doing it / everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

What is the one thing: It sparks a focused and specific action. It tells you to pick one thing versus many options.

Can do: It directs you to take one specific action.

Such that by doing it: It lets you know you’re going to have to dig deep, because when you do this one thing, something else is going to happen.

Everything else will be easier or unnecessary: It is your first domino. When you do this one thing, everything else that needs to be done will be either doable with less effort or unnecessary.                         

The One Thing Summary Chapter 11 – The Success Habit        

“The Focusing Question is the most powerful success habit we can have.”

You can use the focusing question to direct you to your one thing in different areas of your live. You just have to reframe the question by inserting your area of focus. You can also include a time frame.

 Here is an example: “For my job, what’s the ONE Thing I can do to ensure I hit my goals this week such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

 “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?” When you do this, your direction will become clear. Your work will be more productive and your personal life more rewarding.”


The One Thing Summary Chapter 12 – The Path to Great Answers

When you’re asking a great question, you’re actually pursuing a great goal.

After you’ve asked a great question, you need to find a great answer. The answer comes in three categories.

Doable – this will come from your knowledge, skills, and experience

Stretch – getting a stretch answer requires that you do some research and study what other have done

Possibility – the possibility answer is the hardest to come by because it lives outside of your comfort zone. If you find it, you will expand and enrich your life for the better. You can find a possibility answer by doing research and studying the lives of high achievers. You can acquire the information from books and other published works. Then you benchmark and trend the experiences.


The formula for implementing the one thing and achieving extraordinary results are purpose, priority, and productivity.

Purpose is the big one thing. Purpose acts like a compass. It is the force that determines priority, which drives action.

Priority is the small one thing; the action we take to achieve the big one. Productivity is driven by purpose and priority.

The One Thing Summary Chapter 13 – Live with Purpose

 “Our purpose sets our priority and our priority determines the productivity our actions produce.”

Purpose is the source of personal strength; strength of conviction and strength of perseverance. Having a definite purpose enables you to gain clarity faster, which leads to more conviction and faster decisions.

You can discover your purpose by asking what it is that drive you to get up in the morning and to keep going when you’re tired and worn down. When you know what excites your life and why you do what you do, you have found your purpose.  If you are unable to find out your why, what you can do is ask yourself what is the one thing that you want in life more than any other.

“Live with purpose and you know where you want to go. Live by priority and you’ll know what to do to get there.”

The One Thing Summary Chapter 14 – Live 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.”

“Purpose without priority is powerless.”      

“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.”

The One Thing Summary Chapter 15 – Live for Productivity

“Productive people get more done, achieve better results, and earn far more in their hours than the rest. They do so because they devote maximum time to being productive on their top priority, their ONE Thing. They time block their ONE Thing and then protect their time blocks with a vengeance. They’ve connected the dots between working their time blocks consistently and the extraordinary results they seek.”

Time Blocking:

  • Is a results-oriented way of viewing and using time
  • Is a way of making sure what has to be done gets done
  • Is a powerful productivity’s tool
  • Harnesses your energy and centers it on your most important work
  • It makes it easy for you to move to the next one thing, with the help of the focusing question. As a result, you get everything else done.

What to time block?

Time off: You need to block your time for rest, getting recharged, recreation, and relaxation. 

The one thing: The authors recommend that you time block a minimum of 4 hours to do the one thing and to do it as early in the day as possible.

Planning time: You need to block time for reflection and reviewing your goals.

You must protect your time from distractions and interruptions. The authors provide several suggestions to do so which include making sure that other people know that you will not be disturbed and doing a brain dump so that you can get your mind quite while you focus on the one thing.

The One Thing Summary Chapter 16 – The Three Commitments

The Three Commitments to Your One Thing

1.Follow the Path of Mastery

“Mastery is a way of thinking, a way of acting, and a journey you experience. 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.”

2. Move from “E” to “P”: Entrepreneurial (“E”) or Purposeful (“P”).

“Entrepreneurial is our natural approach. It’s seeing something we want to do or that needs to be done and racing off to do it with enthusiasm, energy, and our natural abilities. No matter the task, all natural ability has a ceiling of achievement, a level of productivity and success that eventually tops out… When you’re going about your ONE Thing, any ceiling of achievement must be challenged, and this requires a different approach— a Purposeful approach… With a “P” mindset, you can achieve breakthroughs and accomplish things far beyond your natural abilities. You must simply be willing to do whatever it takes.”

3. Live the Accountability Cycle

 “Accountability is most likely the most important of the three commitments. Without it, your journey down the path of mastery will be cut short the moment you encounter a challenge. Without it, you won’t figure out how to break through the ceilings of achievement you’ll hit along the way. “

People who are accountable:

  • Accept setbacks and keep going
  • Persevere through problems and keep pushing forward
  • Are results-oriented
  • Do their best

 The fastest way to develop accountability is to find an accountability partner.

The One Thing Summary Chapter 17 – The Four Thieves

The 4 thieves of productivity are:

1.Inability to say “No”

2. Fear of chaos

3. Poor health habits

4. Doesn’t support your goals

 Inability to say “No”:  You must learn to say no to your peers, co-workers, friends, and strangers in order for you to focus, stay productive and devote your time on doing the one thing.

The authors provide some suggestions on how to say no which include, asking the one who asks to find someone else for help, suggesting a new or different approach that doesn’t require help at all, and prompting the asker to get creative in finding a solution.

Learning to say no gives you freedom and flexibility.

Fear of chaos:  Chaos comes in the form of clutter where things rack up or stack up. There will be unfinished work. There will be people and projects that get neglected or ignored because they are not part of your biggest priority.

If you give in to the chaos, you get the less important things done and feel a sense of relief. But it affects your productivity and result.  But if you stick to your time block to get the one thing done, you might feel pressured because you have to attend to things that can’t be ignored, such as personal commitments, critical job projects, and family.

The authors suggest that you figure out a way to stick to your time block on doing the one thing. They say that you must pass the fear of chaos, to learn to deal with it and to trust that the eventual result will create the income or opportunity that will help you manage the chaos

Poor health habits: When your health is poor, it will affect your focus and ability to function. 

To achieve extraordinary results, you need a lot of energy. When you mismanage your personal energy, it affects your productivity.  Mismanagement includes sacrificing your health by staying up late, missing meals or eating poorly, and not exercising.

To get and keep your energy level, the authors offer some suggestions.

For spiritual energy, start the morning with meditation

Have nutritious meals and do an exercise or workout for physical energy.

Plan the day and make sure to block a time to get the one thing done. This is for your mental energy.

For your emotional energy, you need to spend time with your loved ones.

To give your mind and body a rest and to recharge, get eight hours of sleep. 

Environment doesn’t support your goals:  A supportive environment comprises of people and physical environment or surrounding that supports your efforts to get to your one thing.

You must surround yourself with people who encourage and assist you and those who are success-minded and high achievers. It is important because their behaviors and attitudes will influence you.

A physical environment that is free from distractions and diversions will help get the one thing done.

Chapter 18 – The Journey

“No matter the objective, no matter the destination, the journey to anything you want always starts with a single step. That step is called the ONE Thing.”

“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.”

Buy the book: The ONE Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

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