The One Thing Book Summary – Do Less & Achieve More

The One Thing Book Summary - 5 Big Ideas

So much to do, but so little time to do it. How do we escape the feeling of being overwhelmed? In his book, The One Thing, Gary Keller implores the reader to do less! Stop worrying about the junk and to start focusing on The One Thing that is important. Gary Keller unapologetically bashes various myths that proliferate through our society.

 Multi-tasking is a sham, chaos should be welcomed, self-discipline is overrated and a balanced-life is non-existent. These are claims that would definitely raise most eyebrows – either in disapproval or curiosity. But Keller poses some thought provoking ideas that will make the reader reconsider how they approach their goals & tasks.


The Focussing Question

Ask yourself this question: “What is the one thing I can do, such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary”. The question is deceptively simple. But given enough thought, you will realize how powerful it is. This question is the essence of the Gary Keller’s book

The focussing question should be used for your Big Picture question (your vision, your dreams, your goals..) as well as you Small Picture questions (your tasks, activities, projects).

My Thoughts: The Big Picture focussing question will crystallize your vision & goals. The Small Picture focussing question will show you the small steps you need to take to get to your vision. Use the focussing questions regularly to drive your prioritization & decision making.

Multi-tasking is a sham - Don’t Buy Into The Lie

We can’t really multi-task – we fool ourselves into thinking we do. Study after study have shown the detrimental effects that multitasking can have on career & health. Yet, we still celebrate the multitasker and laud their “productivity”. In truth – it’s all a sham. A misnomer that has taken unfortunate roots into our culture.

People who “multi-task” switch between tasks rapidly. Each time you switch a task, there’s a cognitive cost – a penalty. Task-switching can lead to a productivity decrease of up to 40%. So focus on one-task at a time, with undivided attention. Take on two things and your attention gets divided. Take on a third, and something gets dropped.

My Thoughts: Don't model after your boss or manager who "pretends" to be working efficiently. Focus on one task at a time, and plough through your day. I use the pomodoro technique to get more done than most people. (I'll write a post on that soon)

Allow for Chaos – It will serve you well

We’ve groomed a culture of having “everything” under control. We divide our attention between tasks and projects equally. But not every project or task is as important as the other.

We tend to create to-do lists and feel good about ourselves as we check off items on the list. But how many of those tasks actually move the needle? In truth, only a few of the tasks on your list will account for your overall success. We need to focus our attention on those few tasks.

The Pareto Principle states that 80% of effects come from 20% of causes. As such, only 20% of tasks account for most of your productivity. For the rest of the 80%, we must allow for chaos - because we should be focussing our efforts on the 20%.

My Thoughts: This will be some solid advice for leaders and higher level execs. Dividing your attention equally will let important projects get shortchanged. Balance leads to mediocrity, greatness welcomes chaos.

  Willpower is limited - Use it Wisely

Willpower is much like that of a battery – it has a limited charge and needs to be recharged when you drain it. When you perform the most tedious & difficult tasks — your willpower drains quickly. As the day passes, cognitive fatigue begins to take its toll. We make poor decisions and it's that much harder to achieve our goals.

As such, you should use your limited willpower on the One Thing – the most important task of your day. The phrase “where there is a will, there is a way” should perhaps be modified to “When you have will, you’ll find your way”

My Thoughts: Ever wonder why the candy placed at the checkout aisle? It’s not for convenience. Studies have shown that your “will” to resist the temptation wanes after you’ve made several “buying decisions” for your groceries. Get the most important (not necessarily hardest) task out of the way first.

I've been using this notion successfully for years now. I used it to get into shape, and used it to start reading 2 books a week. Willpower is a like a jug of juice. Your sipping on it throughout the day. This is another reason why I am against long commutes to work. You often use most of your willpower to just show up!

Self-Discipline: You Don't Need That Much....

We’re often intimidated by success stories of people who seem to have extremely high levels of self-discipline. Whether it be the CEO who shows up to work at 5am or the fitness guru who doesn’t eat any junk whatsoever. “I could never be that self-disciplined my entire lives”, we tell ourselves.  

The key is to focus on developing one habit at a time. Once you develop the habit, the hard things will seem a lot easier. Small doses of discipline lead to long lasting habits.

My Thoughts: I can attest to this notion after building the habit of reading & going to the gym regularly. But I focussed on one at a time. A few months ago, the idea of reading 52 books in 52 weeks (a reddit challenge) seemed impossible! Today, I'm certain I could do twice that amount. Why? Because the habit is so ingrained that it's become one of the easiest tasks of my day.

Final Thoughts : The One Thing Book Summary

Gary Keller has written a thought provoking book. When I picked this one up, I didn’t expect to be drawn in as much as I was. And I certainly didn’t intend on writing a book summary on it. But the book pointed to several flaws in how I approach matters of delegation, task prioritization and other steps toward my personal goals.  

All in all, The One Thing was an unexpected yet insightful read. I think I may add this to the reading-list!  Do you agree with Keller? Or do you think he's wrong about his notions on multitasking, self-discipline and balance?

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I hope you enjoyed The One Thing Book Summary!  You can pick up The One Thing from Amazon in hardcover, Kindle or Audiobook format 🙂

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About the author

Shawn Dexter

Shawn Dexter is a Product Manager, Entrepreneur & Software Developer. He is passionate about innovation management & technology.