The ONE Thing

I picked up Gary Keller’s The ONE Thing on a lark after finding it for free on the Prime reading list. I had come across the title a few times in the past but never found it intriguing enough to pick it up. I (somewhat accurately) predicted I could conjure up many of the main points without reading the book.

Similar to the popular book Essentialism, Mr. Keller’s The ONE Thing presses upon readers the importance of having a singular focus at any given moment. Multi-tasking and holding many priorities in your mind at the same time decreases efficiency and makes it less likely you’ll make any progress at all. He included a quote from Steve Uzzell that I loved:

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

Three central themes stood out as I read through The ONE Thing: Success requires extraordinary commitment, segmented attention is the enemy of progress, and many times, perseverance in the face of failure ultimately leads to success.

Success requires extraordinary commitment to a single item or a set of items (as we’ll discuss shortly). Keller explains that extraordinary success is sequential, not simultaneous meaning you do the first right thing, then the second, then the third, and so on. You don’t do the first five right things all at once. They build on one another.

The mistake many people make, according to Keller (and I agree), is that we’re generally bad at discerning the actions or tasks that matter most to our success. As a result, we play the game assuming everything matters equally when in fact that’s never the case. As Pareto’s Principle illustrated long ago, it’s always the few items that result in the majority of the outcome.

Contrary to what the title suggests, I don’t believe Keller is indicating that we need only focus on one thing in life to the detriment of all others. This would fall flat in almost every real-life situation. I, for example, juggle my family, personal growth, professional career, and side business all at the same time.

Instead, Keller’s message is that we should focus on only one thing at a time and avoid segmenting our attention. You can have more than one ball in the air provided you’re giving each ball your full attention when required. If you’re at home with your family, be at home with your family. If you’re at work, dedicate all of your energy to work. He further illustrates the damage of segmented attention with this quote:

The people we live with and work with on a daily basis deserve our full attention. When we give people segmented attention, piecemeal time, switching back and forth, the switching cost is higher than just the time involved. We end up damaging relationships.

The third theme in The ONE Thing centered around perseverance. Keller indicates that endurance is a requirement for success. “Sticking with something long enough for success to show up is a fundamental requirement for achieving extra-ordinary results.”

There’s a fine line between stubbornly banging your head against the wall and pushing through adversity, but I agree with Keller’s overall point. The path to success inevitably involves peaks and valleys. Once you determine the right actions to take that will lead to success, it’s important to stick tot hem even through difficult times when others would give up. I believe far too many change their approach to the problem at the first sign of trouble when there isn’t anything wrong with their approach at all. They just fold at the first obstacle and change tactics altogether. This idea of perseverance reminded me of a quote from Julie Galef that I pulled from Tribe of Mentors:

When something goes badly, I don’t automatically assume I did something wrong. Instead I ask myself, “What policy was I following that produced this bad outcome, and do I still expect that policy to give the best results overall, occasional bad outcomes notwithstanding?” If yes, then carry on!”

Although I believe Essentialism covers many of the same lessons in a better format, The ONE Thing is a good supplemental, quick read, and if you’re a Prime member, it was free when I picked it up. It’s worth an afternoon, particularly if you feel your energy and mind wandering from project to project on a daily basis.