The one thing by Gary Keller

The One Thing by Gary Keller

If you chase two rabbits… … you will not catch either one. – Russian proverb


“Be like a postage stamp— stick to one thing until you get there.” —Josh Billings

Gary Keller realized early on that “where he’d had huge success, he had narrowed his concentration to one thing, and where his success varied, his focus had too.”

We only have one mission: to find our ONE Thing.


The one thing


Going small

“When you want the absolute best chance to succeed at anything you want, your approach should always be the same. Go small.”

“Going small” is ignoring all the things you could do and doing what you should do. It’s recognizing that not all things matter equally and finding the things that matter most.”

“The way to get the most out of your work and your life is to go as small as possible.”

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

“Going small is a simple approach to extraordinary results, and it works. It works all the time, anywhere and on anything. Why? Because it has only one purpose—to ultimately get you to the point”

In his book, “Essentialism: The disciplined pursuit of lessGreg McKewon presents this powerful picture


scattered energy


“In both images the same amount of effort is exerted. In the image on the left, the energy is divided into many different activities. The result is that we have the unfulfilling experience of making a millimeter of progress in a million directions.”

“In the image on the right, the energy is given to fewer activities. The result is that by investing in fewer things we have the satisfying experience of making significant progress in the things that matter most.”



“Every great change starts like falling dominoes.” — BJ Thornton

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

Imagine this, “a single domino is capable of bringing down another domino that is actually 50 percent larger.”

If you line up a set of dominoes, each of which is 50% larger than the previous one you will observe an incredible geometric progression.

“By the 18th, you’re looking at a domino that would rival the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The 23rd domino would tower over the Eiffel Tower and the 31st domino would loom over Mount Everest by almost 3,000 feet. Number 57 would practically bridge the distance between the earth and the moon!”

In our lives, we have to find the lead domino that will have the biggest impact.

“Success builds on success, and as this happens, over and over, you move toward the highest success possible”

If you see a big muscular guy, they work out and build muscles over time. When you see someone who is a world-chess master, they develop their skills over time. When you see Warren Buffett having accumulated so much wealth, he built it over time.

“The key is over time. Success is built sequentially. It’s one thing at a time.”





“It is those who concentrate on but one thing at a time who advance in this world.” — Og Mandino

“Extraordinarily successful companies always have one product or service they’re most known for or that makes them the most money.”

Google’s success is based on one single thing: search. Apple is generating billions of revenue with the IPhone.

“If today your company doesn’t know what its ONE Thing is, then the company’s ONE Thing is to find out.”

“There can only be one most important thing. Many things may be important, but only one can be the most important.” —Ross Garber

One person

“The ONE Thing is a dominant theme that shows up in different ways. Take the concept and apply it to people, and you’ll see where one person makes all the difference.”

In his book, “The 21 irrefutable laws of leadership”, John C. Maxwell explains how one single man led McDonald’s to how it is now. If it wasn’t for his leadership, McDonald’s wouldn’t have had such success. It’s true that Dick and Maurice McDonald started the business, but their leadership was too weak. Ray Kroc is that man; he envisioned the restaurant scale up in hundreds of markets.

“The ONE Thing shows up time and again in the lives of the successful because it’s a fundamental truth.”

The same principle applies for Amazon which one single focus was online book-selling. Take another example, Bill Gates. He was the richest man in the world for 15 years straight because he developed one single passion and skill: computer programming.

One thing

“The ONE Thing sits at the heart of success and is the starting point for achieving extraordinary results.”

How then can we live the “one thing” if it’s at the heart of success?

The author reveals some of the big fallacies about success. There are myths and misinformation we must be aware of. To live the one thing, we must get rid of such lies of success first.


“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” —Mark Twain

A lie repeated often enough can become a truth.

Have you heard of the famous metaphor? “Toss a frog into a pot of hot water and it will jump right back out. But if you place a frog in lukewarm water and slowly raise the temperature, it will boil to death.”

According to Garry Keller, that’s not true. In the same way, the explorer Cortez arriving at the Americas never burnt the ship to motivate his men.

“Over time, myths and mistruths get thrown around so often they eventually feel familiar and start to sound like the truth. Then we start basing important decisions on them.”

As a matter of fact, we talk about six lies between you and success in the “One thing”


  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



“Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” —Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Society is constantly looking for equality. Indeed, it might be a right ideal to pursue in the name of justice and human rights. But it’s different in the real world of results.

Things are never equal, “There will always be just a few things that matter more than the rest, and out of those, one will matter most.”

To be productive, busyness isn’t enough. You can be very busy pushing against the Eiffel Tower and do that for the whole day, but you won’t be productive. It’s crucial to identify the “vital few and trivial many.”

“Achievers […] have an eye for the essential. They pause just long enough to decide what matters and then allow what matters to drive their day”

The law of Pareto

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

“A small amount of causes creates most of the results. Just the right input creates most of the output. Selected effort creates almost all of the rewards”

The law of pareto

Extreme Pareto

Acknowledging the 20/80 principle, the author proposes the Extreme Pareto Law.

Why not identify the 20% of the 20%? Selectively choosing the vital few of the vital few?

It’s the best way to achieve what you want. Identify the most important thing amidst the other important ones and continue until it’s done.

“There will always be just a few things that matter more than the rest, and out of those, one will matter most.”

“Doing the most important thing is always the most important thing”

As I highlighted in another article Essentialism: the Disciplined pursuit of lessby Greg McKewon, there are three laws to remember when it comes to priority setting:

The Law of Pareto: The “Pareto Principle,” is an idea, introduced as far back as the 1790s by Vilfredo Pareto, arguing that 20 percent of our efforts produce 80 percent of results.

The Law of the Vital Few: Developed in 1951 by Joseph Moses Juran, in his Quality-Control Handbook, one of the fathers of the quality movement expanded on this idea. His observation was that you could massively improve the quality of a product by resolving a tiny fraction of the problems.

The power law: According to the power law theory, certain efforts actually produce exponentially more results than others.




“To do two things at once is to do neither.” —Publilius Syrus

“Multitasking is neither efficient nor effective.”

“People can actually do two or more things at once, such as walk and talk, or chew gum and read a map; but, like computers, what we can’t do is focus on two things at once. Our attention bounces back and forth.”

“You can do two things at once, but you can’t focus effectively on two things at once.”

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

Why multitasking short-circuits you:

  1. “There is just so much brain capability at any one time. Divide it up as much as you want, but you’ll pay a price in time and effectiveness.”
  2. “Bounce between one activity and another and you lose time as your brain reorients to the new task. “
  3. “Multitaskers make more mistakes than non-multitaskers.”



“It’s one of the most prevalent myths of our culture: self-discipline.” —Leo Babauta

A disciplined life sounds boring and dull.

Someone who looks disciplined has developed the right habits that made her look disciplined.

“Success is about doing the right thing, not about doing everything right”

When you’ve identified the right thing, “we need the habit of doing it. And we need just enough discipline to build the habit.”

“When you discipline yourself, you’re essentially training yourself to act in a specific way. Stay with this long enough and it becomes routine—in other words, a habit.”

“The trick to success is to choose the right habit and bring just enough discipline to establish it.”

Sixty-six days to the sweet spot

“Researchers at the University College of London have the answer. In 2009, they asked the question: How long does it take to establish a new habit?”

“The results suggest that it takes an average of 66 days to acquire a new habit.”

”Once a new behavior becomes a habit, it takes less discipline to maintain.”

To read more on the power of routines, consult my article: “The Miracle Morning” by Hal Elrod

To read more on how to create long-lasting habits, consult my article: “The Atomic Habits” by James Clear

new habit


“Odysseus understood how weak willpower actually is when he asked his crew to bind him to the mast while sailing by the seductive Sirens.” —Patricia Cohen

The author admits that he “quickly discovered something discouraging: he didn’t always have willpower. One moment he had it, the next—poof! He didn’t. One day it was AWOL, the next— bang! It was at his beck and call. Willpower seemed to come and go as if it had a life of its own.”

He then concluded that willpower is a finite resource that needs to be wisely managed.

“Willpower has a limited battery life but can be recharged with some downtime. It’s a limited but renewable resource.”

“Every day, without realizing it, we engage in all manner of activities that diminish our willpower.”

“So, if you want to get the most out of your day, do your most important work— your ONE Thing—early, before your willpower is drawn down.”

“Willpower is always on will-call is a lie.”



“The truth is, balance is bunk. It is an unattainable pipe dream… . The quest for balance between work and life, as we’ve come to think of it, isn’t just a losing proposition; it’s a hurtful, destructive one.” —Keith H. Hammonds

“A balanced life is a lie”

“The reason we shouldn’t pursue balance is that the magic never happens in the middle; magic happens at the extremes.”

“Extraordinary results demand that you set a priority and act on it. “

“The problem with living in the middle is that it prevents you from making extraordinary time commitments to anything. In your effort to attend to all things, everything gets short changed and nothing gets its due.”

“When you act on your priority, you’ll automatically go out of balance, giving more time to one thing over another. The challenge then doesn’t become one of not going out of balance, for in fact you must. The challenge becomes how long you stay on your priority.”

“To be able to address your priorities outside of work, be clear about your most important work priority so you can get it done. Then go home and be clear about your priorities there so you can get back to work.”

“To achieve an extraordinary result you must choose what matters most and give it all the time it demands. This requires getting extremely out of balance in relation to all other work issues”



“We are kept from our goal, not by obstacles but by a clear path to a lesser goal.” —Robert Brault

We’ve been conditioned to think that big and bad are related.

“The Big Bad Wolf. Big Bad John. From folktales to folk songs, the suggestion that big and bad go together has been a common theme across history”

But here’s the thing; “Thinking big is essential to extraordinary results. Success requires action, and action requires thought.”

How big you think determines the level of actions that you’re willing to take.

“Only living big will let you experience your true life and work potential.”

“Don’t let small thinking cut your life down to size. Think big, aim high, act bold. And see just how big you can blow up your life.”

To read more on how to think big, consult my article: “The magic of thinking big” by David J Schwartz


Think big act big



“Be careful how you interpret the world; it is like that.” —Erich Heller

Gary Keller the author of the “One thing” admits that living the lies of success might’ve got him success, but it also got him sick, and eventually got him sick of success.

He then “ditched the lies and went in the opposite direction.”

Among his biggest realizations, he found out that the ONE Thing is “the surprisingly simple truth behind extraordinary results”


“There is an art to clearing away the clutter and focusing on what matters most. It is simple and it is transferable. It just requires the courage to take a different approach.” —George Anders

Andrew Carnegie, one of the richest men who ever lived recommended one simple strategy for success. As he said: “concentrate your energy, thought and capital exclusively upon the business in which you are engaged.”

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

“The Focusing Question is a double-duty question. It comes in two forms: big picture and small focus. One is about finding the right direction in life and the other is about finding the right action.”

“Extraordinary results come from asking the Focusing Question.”



“Success is simple. Do what’s right, the right way, at the right time.” —Arnold H. Glasow

One of the most powerful habits you could implement is the habit of asking the Focusing question.

This simple habit will get you the extraordinary results you’ve always dreamt of.

The key here is to stick with it long enough until it becomes a habit, set different reminders that will help you form that habit. Create yourself a mastermind group, a supportive environment that will get you the success habit.

To effectively apply the focusing question, you can use different areas of your life.

For example:


What’s the ONE Thing I can do to help others…?

What’s the ONE Thing I can do to improve my relationship with God…?


What’s the ONE Thing I can do to achieve my diet goals…?

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…?

“The first step is to understand the concept of the ONE Thing, then to believe that it can make a difference in your life. If you don’t understand and believe, you won’t take action.”



“People do not decide their futures, they decide their habits and their habits decide their futures.” —F. M. Alexander

1- Ask a great question

You have to ask a great question to find a great answer.

“The Focusing Question helps you ask a great question. Great questions, like great goals, are big and specific. They push you, stretch you, and aim you at big, specific answers.”

“A big, specific question leads to a big, specific answer, which is absolutely necessary for achieving a big goal”

A great question must be specific and should be composed of a big goal. The best is to include a time frame in it because you’ll challenge yourself more. “You’ll have to stretch what you believe is possible and look outside the standard toolbox of solutions”

2- Find a great answer

“The challenge of asking a Great Question is that, once you’ve asked it, you’re now faced with finding a Great Answer.”

“Answers come in three categories: doable, stretch, and possibility.”

High achievers don’t limit themselves to what’s doable or to what’s stretchy. Their limits are self-imposed so they seek beyond their comfort zone what’s possible.

“Highly successful people choose to live at the outer limits of achievement (possibility). They not only dream of but deeply crave what is beyond their natural grasp.”

“If you want the most from your answer, you must realize that it lives outside your comfort zone.”

And finally “A new answer usually requires new behavior,”

As the maxim goes: ““Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny,”


“Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” — Will Rogers

“The most productive people start with purpose and use it like a compass. They allow purpose to be the guiding force in determining the priority that drives their actions. This is the straightest path to extraordinary results.”

“The more productive people are, the more purpose and priority are pushing and driving them.”

“Productivity is driven by purpose and priority.”


Productivity priority


“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” —George Bernard Shaw

“How do you use purpose to create an extraordinary life?”

“Purpose helps you when things don’t go your way. Life gets tough at times and there’s no way around that.”

“Knowing why you’re doing something provides the inspiration and motivation to give the extra perspiration needed to persevere when things go south. Sticking with something long enough for success to show up is a fundamental requirement for achieving extra-ordinary results.”

“Happiness happens on the way to fulfillment.”

“When our daily actions fulfill a bigger purpose, the most powerful and enduring happiness can happen.”

“Who we are and where we want to go determines what we do and what we accomplish. A life lived on purpose is the most powerful of all—and the happiest.”

“Our purpose sets our priority and our priority determines the productivity our actions produce. […] our purpose determines who we are”

“When what you do matches your purpose, your life just feels in rhythm, and the path you beat with your feet seems to match the sound in your head and heart. Live with purpose and don’t be surprised if you actually hum more and even whistle while you work.”



“Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.” —Alan Lakein


“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 has the power to shape our lives only in direct proportion to the power of the priority we connect it to. Purpose without priority is powerless”

“Our ability to achieve extraordinary results in the future lies in stringing together powerful moments, one after the other.” that’s the secret to success.

By visualizing the process needed to achieve a goal, we are more likely to achieve it. This means that “visualizing the outcomes” alone doesn’t work; we need to visualize the process.

“Much has been written about writing down goals and for a very good reason—it works. “

“Those who wrote down their goals were 39.5 percent more likely to accomplish them. Writing down your goals and your most important priority is your final step to living by priority.”



“Productivity isn’t about being a workhorse, keeping busy or burning the midnight oil… . It’s more about priorities, planning, and fiercely protecting your time.” —Margarita Tartakovsky

“Productive action transforms lives.”

“Living for productivity produces extraordinary results”

“The most successful people are the most productive people.”

Read my article on “how to be more productive

Read my article on “how to be more organized

Time blocking

“Time blocking is a very results-oriented way of viewing and using time. It’s a way of making sure that what has to be done gets done.”

“Time blocking harnesses your energy and centers it on your most important work. It’s productivity’s greatest power tool.”

“If disproportionate results come from one activity, then you must give that one activity disproportionate time”


The productive day


To achieve extraordinary results and experience greatness, time block these three things in the following order:

  1. Time block your time off.
  2. Time block your ONE Thing.
  3. Time block your planning time.



“By planning your time off in advance, you are, in effect, managing your work time around your downtime instead of the other way around”

“Resting is as important as working.”


“After you’ve time blocked your time off, time block your ONE Thing.”

For your one thing, the author Garry Keller recommends us to block four hours a day a more if possible.

The best also is to block time in the morning.

Read my article on “The Miracle Morning” by Hal Elrod



“The last priority you time block is planning time. This is when you reflect on where you are and where you want to go.”

“Block an hour each week to review your annual and monthly goals.”


“The best way to protect your time blocks is to adopt the mindset that they can’t be moved. So, when someone tries to double-book you, just say, “I’m sorry, I already have an appointment at that time”

You then will need to learn how to say no.

In my other article “Essentialism: the Disciplined Pursuit of less” a summary of Greg McKewon’s book, I talked about strategies and techniques on how to say no.

The “no” repertoire

  1.     The awkward pause
  2.     The soft “no” (or the “no but”).
  3.     “Let me check my calendar and get back to you.”
  4.     Use e-mail bouncebacks
  5.     Say, “Yes. What should I deprioritize?”
  6.     Say it with humor.
  7.     Use the words “You are welcome to X. I am willing to Y.”
  8.     “I can’t do it, but X might be interested.”

Read my article on “How to say no without feeling guilty



“Nobody who ever gave his best regretted it.” —George Halas

Time blocking will not be effective unless you respect 3 commitments.

  1. Follow the Path of Mastery
  2. Move from “E” to “P”
  3. Live the Accountability Cycle



Mastery is “a path you go down instead of a destination you arrive at”

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

“Mastery is a pursuit that keeps giving, because it’s a path that never ends.”

Our way to success then should be regarded not as a destination but as a journey.

  1. MOVE FROM “E” TO “P”

“Continually improving how you do something is critical to getting the most from time blocking. It’s called moving from “E” to “P.” (Entrepreneurial to Purpose)

“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.”

“Highly productive people don’t accept the limitations of their natural approach as the final word on their success. When they hit a ceiling of achievement, they look for new models and systems, better ways to do things to push them through.”

“Too many people reach a level where their performance is “good enough” and then stop working on getting better.”

“People on the path to mastery avoid this by continually upping their goal, challenging themselves to break through their current ceiling, and staying the forever apprentice.”


“Accountable people achieve results others only dream of”

“One of the fastest ways to bring accountability to your life is to find an accountability partner.”

“Individuals with written goals were 39.5 percent more likely to succeed. But […] individuals who wrote their goals and sent progress reports to friends were 76.7 percent more likely to achieve them.”

“Accountability works.”



“Focus is a matter of deciding what things you’re not going to do.” —John Carmack

“There are Four Thieves that can hold you up and rob you of your productivity.”


  1. Inability to Say “No”
  2. Fear of Chaos
  3. Poor Health Habits
  4. Environment Doesn’t Support Your Goals



The more things you do, the less successful you are at any one of them. You can’t please everyone, so don’t try.

“Remember, saying yes to your ONE Thing is your top priority.”


“When you strive for greatness, chaos is guaranteed to show up.”

“In other words, get used to it and get over it”

“Move past your fear of chaos, learn to deal with it, and trust that your work on your ONE Thing will come through for you.”


“Personal energy mismanagement is a silent thief of productivity”

“High achievement and extraordinary results require big energy.”

“Begin early with meditation and prayer for spiritual energy; starting the day by connecting with your higher purpose aligns your thoughts and actions with a larger story.”

“A nutritious breakfast designed to fuel your day’s work”

“Fueled up, head to your exercise spot to relieve stress and strengthen your body.”



  1. Meditate and pray for spiritual energy.
  2. Eat right, exercise, and sleep sufficiently for physical energy.
  3. Hug, kiss, and laugh with loved ones for emotional energy.
  4. Set goals, plan, and calendar for mental energy.
  5. Time block your ONE Thing for business energy

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

To read more on the power of routines, consult my article: “The Miracle Morning” by Hal Elrod


“Your environment must support your goals.”

“For you to achieve extraordinary results, the people surrounding you and your physical surroundings must support your goals.”

“Seek out those who will support your goals, and show the door to anyone who won’t.”



“To get through the hardest journey we need take only one step at a time, but we must keep on stepping.” —Chinese Proverb

We are either stopped by fear or motivated by faith.

“Your journey toward extraordinary results will be built above all else on faith. It’s only when you have faith in your purpose and priorities that you’ll seek out 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.”

“Go live your life. Live it fully, without fear. Live with purpose, give it your all, and never give up.”

“Go live a life worth living where, in the end, you’ll be able to say, “I’m glad I did,” not “I wish I had.”

“No regrets. So make sure every day you do what matters most. When you know what matters most, everything makes sense. When you don’t know what matters most, anything makes sense. The best lives aren’t led this way.’