Updated: Jun 21
How many times have you said to yourself: “There’s just not enough hours in the day?”
The problem that most people have isn’t that they have too little time to do the things they need to do, but rather that they feel the need to do too many things in the time they do have.
Does this sound familiar? It’s time to find your one thing.
First point of call – who is Gary Keller and what makes him uniquely equipped to lecture you about focus, productivity and how you organise your day? Well, as it turns out, he’s been heading up one of the world’s largest real estate companies for over 30 years, and has written several New York Times best-selling books about how he achieved such success, so trust us – he knows what he’s talking about.
“The One Thing” outlines the best approach to getting what you want, relentlessly hammering home on the same point over and over, attacking it from all manner of different angles until the reader is so sick of hearing about it that they go and do it. It’s an effective approach to say the least.
The Big Question:
“What’s the one thing I can do, such that by doing it everything else will become easier or unnecessary?”
If the essence of Keller’s message could be summed up in a sentence, then this would be it. It’s the core concept that the entire book is based on, and built around.
As it turns out, not everything on your to-do list is created equal. Yeah, it may feel awesome to cross items off as they’re completed and give yourself a feeling of accomplishment, but this allows you to fall into a very well-disguised trap.
If it’s all a numbers game, and getting as many tasks ticked off as possible, human nature will naturally shift your focus towards the easier to complete items on the list. The brain is simple, it loves the feel-good hormone dopamine. When you finish a task, dopamine is released as a reward to make you feel all warm and fuzzy, overly pleased with yourself, and motivates you to get on with the next job.
The reality is that the brain is always Jonesing for a fix, so you begin to focus on the easier tasks – and not the ones that matter. You’re best off ruthlessly prioritising that list in order of what tasks relate to your one thing. 20% of your daily input will give you 80% of the results, so ask the question and find out what you need to do today to achieve what you want, and then every other decision can hinge off this simple question.
Steve Jobs said it best: “You’d think focus means saying yes, but it actually means to say no.”
This is a man who returned to apple when it had a product line-up numbering 350 individual items. First thing he did was cut it was to just 10 – saying no 340 times. But look at the amazing things that Apple did under his leadership – the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad, all extremely high-quality products born from singular focus, and saying no.
The key to learning to say no is to make yourself unnecessary. Reduce incoming requests and low-level distractions by hiring someone else to do the job for you, just so you won’t have to say no as often. Also, this will free up more time to focus on your one thing and how to achieve it.
The choice to either be a family man or a company man is archaic, old hat, and totally unrelatable to the modern world. Think of life as 5 balls you have to juggle and keep up in the air – work, family, health, friends, and integrity. Work is a rubber ball, and if it falls to the ground, it can rebound up pretty easily to be caught and juggled again. The others? Made of glass, and if you drop them – they’re either damaged and chipped, or may even shatter and break.
It’s a powerful metaphor, and one that many people fail to understand the importance of. You can always catch up on uncompleted work from yesterday tomorrow, but you can’t make up for missing a child’s birthday, or suffering a heart attack from neglecting going to the gym and eating right.
That One Thing:
So, you want to tie in work, family, health, friends and integrity into your one thing and singular focus, great. And you’ve organised your list according to what will make that one thing a reality sooner, which is also great.
The key takeaway here is that everything on your list from number 2 onwards is negotiable, and able to be put off to be done later or even not done at all. So long as you’re working on that number one thing, you’ll know that you’re always working on what’s most important for the whole time you’re working.
You’ll find that the focus, energy and attention you give that one thing more than makes up for taking a half day to see a kid’s soccer game, or choosing to not stay up late working on a proposal in lieu of getting more sleep. There is little point in achieving this one thing of yours if there is nobody around to enjoy it with you, or if you’re not around long enough to enjoy the fruits of your labour.
What It Doesn’t Tell You:
There is another really important thing that “The One Thing” doesn’t really cover however. Summing up your ambitions, time management, and what matters to you most as a function of a single question is great, but it’s an exercise to get you into that mode of thinking.
The one thing that the “one thing” book doesn’t tell you about making your day easier is that there are many great questions you can ask yourself to find out what your one thing is. Don’t be afraid to ask yourself different questions depending on where you are in life, if your priorities have shifted, or you’ve dialled in on new goals.
The one thing can change over time too. Life circumstances change due to unforeseen events that you can plan or prepare for. It’s vital to focus in on your one thing, but what may have been relevant last year, or month, or week, or even yesterday, may not be applicable in the here and now. The simple question you should be asking yourself may change over time and over the course of your career. But interestingly, what you focus on can change over the course of the day.
There’s little point in being dialled in to how you grow your budding business or improve your performance at work, when you’re eating dinner with your family. You’ll make your day easier by shifting focus to that one important thing depending on what’s happening around you.
To take a leaf out of Keller’s book, so to speak, being singularly focused on a work goal while at home with the people you love and care about is sacrificing your personal life for work in a manner of speaking. You have to make sure you’re asking the right question to get the right “one thing” answer at the right time.
Use the one thing as a focus, but don’t let it consume you and either make you blind to other things that are important around you like your family and personal life, or make you blind to the fact that the one thing is fluid, and can change. Don’t walk through life with the blinkers on, the one thing is a focus exercise to train your brain and maintain your drive.
So, to wrap it all up, there are 3 main ideas from “The One Thing” that you should absolutely be taking on board:
Figure out your long- and short-term priorities and goals as a result of asking one simple question.
Don’t be afraid to say no to doing less important things, if it means you’ll be more focused on the stuff that matters.
Never sacrifice your personal life for work, maintaining that work/life balance is key. Neglect one, and the whole house of cards falls down.
Most importantly, however, is to be aware that there may be multiple “One Thing” questions, and constantly adjust the one you ask yourself.
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