Friday Favorites: The ONE Thing

I just finished listening to The One Thing by Gary W. Keller and Jay Papasan, and I enjoyed it so much I’ve decided to make it my Friday Favorite! This is not a sponsored post and all opinions are 100% my own. I have included an affiliate link to the book on Amazon, so if you buy it through that link I might get compensated.

The One Thing by Gary W. Keller and Jay Papasan has been very inspiring, particularly related to my journey with blogging. The book inspired me to create a strong plan of action, focusing on my ultimate goal and working backwards to what I should be doing now. I am a new blogger and have struggled with feeling overwhelmed by the many, MANY things that go in to running a blog. Listening to this book helped me to calm down and whittle down to my ONE thing, focusing on my priority and working towards my ultimate goal with focus and purpose.

This book touches on many different pieces of productivity and ultimately business success. The primary theme, focusing on ONE thing, has been empowering for me as I struggle with feeling overwhelmed by the many pieces of running a successful blog.
If you are a new blogger, I highly recommend this book. I purchased it from Audible because I have long commutes, but I think having a physical book would be more beneficial. Regardless of which format you chose, there are resources available on their website.
As a psychology & counseling nerd, I thoroughly enjoyed the numerous psychology references and psychological studies mentioned throughout the book (those guys did some research!). As with many books with a concise message, there is a lot of repetition as you continue through. While this can feel frustrating, it is important in allowing the message to sink in. The more you hear or read it, the more likely you are to remember it.

This book covers many different pieces of being successful. The primary topics of this book are:

  • The Focusing Question
  • The Six Lies of Productivity
  • Use The 80/20 Principle (then go deeper)
  • Figure out what’s most important & give it your undivided attention
  • A small dose of discipline develops into a long-lasting habit
  • Life is a question
  • Living by priority
  • Goal setting to the now
  • Time blocking, mastery, and being accountable
  • The four thieves of productivity
  • It’s about the journey
  • No regrets


The Focusing Question

The Focusing Question is basically the foundation that this whole book is built on. The Focusing Question allows you to narrow down specifically what it is that you need to do to be the most productive and successful. The complete focus question is “What is the ONE thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” I don’t know about you, but that seems like an incredibly powerful question to me. Here’s a little breakdown of each part of the question and why this question is so powerful.
Before I break it down, let me say that the question is really focused on figuring out what the one thing you need to do right now is to make your future plans work best for you.

“What’s the ONE Thing I can do…”

This portion of the question has two purposes. The first purpose is to help you begin to narrow down your focus to the single most important thing. They discuss the word priority, focusing on how this word should always be singular. Take this idea and run with it! You should only have a single priority. Everything else is a distraction.
The second important piece of this question is the word can. Can, unlike could/should/would means taking action.

“…such that by doing it…” 

Keller & Papasan say this part of the question tells you to get specific. I interpret this portion of the question as part of the narrowing down process. I think of it more as “I know this is the one thing because…”. They also discuss how this portion of the question drives you toward purposeful action. I wholehearted agree.

“…everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

Keller & Papasan talk about leverage with this portion of the question. Again, I interpret it differently, instead focusing on the outcome of what your one thing is and following through. If you think _______ is the one thing, follow it through with the rest of the question and see where you land.
Bad Example: I think my one this is focusing on sharing my content on every social media platform out there every day.

  • One thing: sharing content on social media
  • Doing it: will take up a significant portion of my time
  • Everything else will be easier: Not so much. I’ll have less time to focus on writing quality content to share.

Good Example: I think my one thing is hiring an assistant to promote my content on social media.

  • One thing: hiring an assistant
  • Doing it: will free up more of my time
  • Everything else will be easier: because I’ll have more time to focus on writing great content for her to promote.

The Six Lies of Productivity

1. Everything Matters Equally

There always has to be a ‘most important,’ or priority. Not everything is equal. Your ONE thing is THE most important thing you should be working on at this moment.

2. Multi-tasking

You physically cannot work on two things at once. Your brain actually just rapidly switches back and forth between whatever 2+ tasks you are working on. And while it’s switching, it’s trying to remember what exactly you’re supposed to be doing with each specific task. As a result, multitasking will actually take more time overall than doing both tasks separately.

3. A Disciplined Life

Basically, just because someone is disciplined does not mean they are successful, and visa versa. You will need to be disciplined to some extent, developing positive habits of being focused and selective.

4. Willpower is Always on Will Call

Ever made plans to be super productive the next day, only to wake up and not want to do anything? This is basically the same thing: we cannot control when we have willpower and should use it to our advantage when we do it.

5. A Balanced Life

Instead of balance, they focus on counter-balance and not allowing one area of your life to be the focus for too

6. Big is Bad

It’s okay to have big dreams and big plans. If you only ever think small, all you’re ever going to get is small.

Use The 80/20 Principle (then go deeper)

If you’ve seen anything about business and productivity, you’ve probably seen this principle. It’s a very popular principle that states 80% of success comes from 20% of your work. So why is this idea important? If your ONE thing falls under that 20%, or you make that 20% your ONE thing, you’ll probably notice a substantial increase in your success.

Figure out what’s most important & give it your undivided attention

So now that we’ve looked in detail about what your ONE thing is, it’s time to talk about scheduling, focus, and making positive changes.
First, you’re going to have to schedule your time to work on your ONE thing every day. Yes, EVERY DAY. Keller & Papasan recommend scheduling 4 hours a day to focus your undivided attention on your One thing.
Second, you’re going to have to develop some increased focusing skills. The obvious things to do here are to eliminate distractions to the best of your ability. This may include discussing your schedule changes with your co-workers (or family members if you work from home), putting up blinds, turning off your phone(s), closing out your internet browsers, or even finding a new workspace. Do whatever you can to reduce and eliminate distractions.
For me, my biggest distraction is the internet so I have to shut down my computer and handwrite my blog posts if I want to finish them in a reasonable amount of time. Otherwise, a 700 word blog post will probably take me like 4-6 hours overall if I keep getting distracted.
Finally, you’ll need to make positive changes. This goes along with eliminating distractions. Keller & Papasan call these The 4 Thieves of Productivity, which are discussed in more detail later (in the chapter named after them).

A small dose of discipline develops into a long-lasting habit

Basically, they discuss how a disciplined lifestyle if kind of a myth, in the sense that eventually your behaviors will turn into habits. Keller & Papasan talk about how it take 66 days to develop a habit, and your required discipline decreases over time while you work on developing that habit. So really, to develop a habit, you’ll need a lot of discipline when you start out, and you’ll need less and less the longer you work on your habit.

Life is a question

Not to go all Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on you, but they talk about how basically you need to figure out the question of your life’s purpose (I’ll give you a hint: it’s not 42). The question is unique to all of us and there is no universal answer. This will probably take a while to figure out. And that’s okay. Keller & Papasan talk about accepting when it’s time to go a different direction. But they also talk about not quitting on your dream. It’s a fine line.

Living by priority

Once you figure out what your life’s ultimate purpose is, the next step is to look at what is important to get there. The really condensed piece from this section is that your Priority is the ONE thing you’re focusing based on your life’s purpose.

Goal setting to the now

Goal setting to the now is a pretty interesting concept. It’s not a new concept but rather a more detailed approach. Basically, goal setting to the now is working backwards from your “someday” goal, through your five year goal, your one year goal, your monthly goal, your weekly goal, and your daily goal to look at what you should be doing right now to work toward your ultimate goal.

  • Someday
  • Five Year
  • One Year
  • Monthly
  • Weekly
  • Daily
  • Now

Time Blocking, Mastery, and Being Accountable

Time blocking is scheduling periods of time to work on your ONE thing. Keller & Papasan talk about scheduling around 4 hours each day to work on your ONE thing. Mastery is continually practicing something until you’re good at, and continuing to learn. Being accountable is incredibly important with the ONE thing, because if you don’t hold yourself accountable, you’re pretty much giving yourself permission to fail.

The Four Thieves of Productivity

Inability to Say “No”

Keller & Papasan talk about how most people seek to hand off a task rather than demanding the task be completed immediately. They encourage you to ask the person if you can complete by ________. If they require it to be done immediately, be sure to schedule any missed time from your ONE thing for later in the day (“erase and replace”).

Fear of Chaos

Keller & Papasan do not use a traditional chaos definition, but rather anything really out of the ordinary (coworker conflict, angry spouse, dip in sales, etc.). Instead of freaking out, continue to protect your time blocks and get comfortable with the chaos.

Poor Health Habits

If you let your body go to crap, you’re not going to be able to do anything. Period.

Environment Doesn’t Support Your Goals

The people around you play a significant role in your life. The more time you spend with people, the more likely you are to pick up or grow towards their habits, for better or worse. Select the people you spend your time with based on being able to better each other.

It’s About the Journey

Whatever your ultimate goal is, visual your outcome. Visualizing the outcome allows you to focus on the path, and the journey. After you have the path laid out, prepare for the journey of your life.

No Regrets

Live boldly. You do not want to reflect on your life and regret, thinking “If only I had _____.” Keller & Papasan reference “The Top Five Regrets of Dying” by Bronnie Ware. I’ve included a printable of them for you to put up as a reminder to live your best life.
Click the photo to download the printable.
Five Regrets Printable by Furry Finches

Final Notes

  • The ONE Thing by Gary W. Keller & Jay Papasan is definitely worth reading or listening to.
  • This book is inspiring and makes you want to get planning and be productive.
  • We’ve been lied to a lot about how to be productive.
  • Sometimes you have to think small to think big.



What is your favorite productivity tip?

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