In The One Thing, Gary Keller and Jay Papasan explore how the Pareto principle could be applied in the accomplishment of tasks. Their main thesis is this: identify the most important thing (“the ONE THING”) in your life in general and in every specific area of your life and put your best efforts into that.

Chapter One: The One Thing

Main point: What’s the ONE THING you can do this week such that by doing it everything else would be easier or unnecessary?

Chapter Two: The Domino Effect

Main point: Extraordinary success is built sequentially, one thing at a time, not simultaneously.

Do the following every day:

  1. Every day, line up your priorities anew.
  2. Find your most important domino.
  3. Whack away at it until it falls.

Chapter Three: Success Leaves Clues

Main point: While you may have many passions and skills, what is that one passion or skill that gives you an intense emotion, that defines you, or drives you more than anything else? Focus on that.

Part 1: The Lies

6 Lies

  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

Chapter Four: Everything Matters Equally

Main point: Prioritize your most important tasks every day and every time you need to do so.

  • Instead of a To-Do List, use a Success List—a list that is purposefully created around extraordinary results.
  • Extraordinary results are disproportionately created by fewer actions than most realize.

Extreme Pareto

  1. Start with a large list.
  2. Whittle your way from there to the critical few.
  3. Do not stop until you end with the essential ONE.

Chapter Five: Multitasking

Main point: When doing your most important work, don’t multitask.

The costs of juggling:

  • It takes some time to start a new task.
  • It takes some time to restart a task you quit.
  • There’s no guarantee that you’ll ever pick up exactly where you left off.

Chapter Six: A Disciplined Life

Main point: Discipline is just a habit. Choose a habit and establish it with a little discipline until it gets easier.

How to form habits

  1. Choose one habit.
  2. Stick to it long enough to be a habit.
  3. Watch how it becomes easier.
  4. Do the most important thing and all others become easier.
  5. Build on the newly established habit or build another one.

Chapter Seven: Willpower is Always on Will-Call

Main point: Do your most important tasks at the time of the day when your willpower is high.

How to manage willpower

  • Reserve it for the things that matter most.
  • Replenish it when it’s low.
  • Eat right and regularly.

Chapter Eight: A Balanced Life

Main point: Be clear about your priority at work so you can get it done. Then be clear about your priorities in other areas of your life so you can get them done and go back to work.

  • Extraordinary results require focused attention and time. Time on one thing means time away from another.
  • Magic never happens in the middle; magic happens at the extremes.
  • Instead of balancing, use counterbalancing

How to counterbalance your work and life

  • Accept that you will have to spend more time at one to achieve extraordinary results.
  • But don’t spend too much time on one that there is nothing waiting for you on the other when you return.
  • Separate your work life and personal life into two distinct buckets. Then within each bucket, also use counterbalancing to manage various goals and responsibilities.

Chapter Nine: Big is Bad

Main point: Thinking big is good because it frees you to ask different questions, follow different paths, and try new things.

  • The only actions that become springboards to succeeding big are those informedly big thinking to begin with.
  • Think as big as you possibly can and base what you do, how you do it, and who you do it with on succeeding at that level.
  • As we approach Big, we realize that things are easier than we imagine.
  • The journey to achieving big makes you bigger.

Part Two: The Truth

  • The key to success isn’t in all the things we do but in the handful of things we do well.
  • Success comes down to this: being appropriate in the moments of your life.
  • Success is being able to say: “This is where I’m meant to be right now, doing exactly what I’m doing.”

Chapter Ten: The Focusing Question

Main point: “What’s the ONE THING I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” This is the focusing question. Use it all the time**.**

  • The first step is important, and the focusing question helps keep the first step from being a misstep.
  • The focusing question is both a map for the big picture and a compass for the smallest next move.
  • Using the focusing question, you’re setting yourself up to accomplish one task on top of another.

Chapter Eleven: The Success Habit

Main point: Use the Focusing Question as a habit when starting your day and when finding what matters most in your life areas.

  • Continue to ask the question until you can see the connection and all your dominoes are lined up.

How to use the focusing question in your life areas

  1. Arrange your life areas according to priority.
  2. Find what matters most in each area (the ONE THING) and focus on doing them. View them as the cornerstones that when done makes everything else easier.
  3. Reframe the question by inserting your area of focus.
  4. You can also include a time frame like “right now” or “this year” to give your answer the appropriate level of immediacy.
  5. You can also include a time frame like “in five years” or “someday” to find a big-picture answer that points you at outcomes to aim for.
  6. Say the category first, then state the question, add a time frame, and end by adding “such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?

Chapter Twelve: The Path to Great Answers

Main point: For extraordinary results, (1) ask a great question and (2) seek out a great answer.

How to ask a great question

  1. Ask a question that is big enough that it pushes you and stretches you.
  2. Ask a question that aims towards a specific answer.
  3. To make a big, specific question even more powerful, convert it to the focusing question. This forces you to identify what absolutely matters most and start there.

How to find a great answer

  1. Benchmark. Uncover the best research and study the highest achievers. Search for clues and role models to point you in the right direction.
  2. Trend. Use your benchmark as your minimum, a launchpad to see what might come next in the same direction as the best performers or in an entirely new direction.

Part Three: Extraordinary Results

The three elements in implementing the ONE THING

  1. Purpose
  2. Priority
  3. Productivity
  • Use your purpose as a guiding force in determining the priority that drives your actions.
  • The more productive people become the more purpose and priority push and drive them.
  • Profit, the result of productivity, is also driven by purpose and priority.

Chapter Thirteen: Live With Purpose

Main point: Who we are and where we want to go (purpose) determine what we do (priority) and what we accomplish (productivity).

  • No matter our motivations, most of what we do in life is ultimately meant to make us happy.
  • Becoming more engaged in what we do by finding ways to make our life more meaningful is the surest way of finding lasting happiness.
  • Know what matters to you then take daily doses of actions in alignment with it.
  • To find your purpose, ask: “What’s the ONE THING I can do in my life that would mean the most to me and the world, such that by doing it everything else would be easier or unnecessary?”

Chapter Fourteen: Live By Priority

Main point: Set your present priority based on your future priority.

  • Purpose without priority is powerless.
  • Priority, not priorities.
  • We have goals and plans for only one reason—to be appropriate in the moments of our lives that matter.
  • Your priority in the now determines your present now and future now.

How to do goal setting for the Now

  1. Set a future goal.
  2. Methodically drill down to what you should be doing right now.
  3. Rest your ONE THING right now to your ONE THING today.
  4. Rest your ONE THING today to your ONE THING this week.
  5. Rest your ONE THING this week to your ONE THING this month.
  6. Connect today to all your tomorrows.
  7. Write down your answers.

Chapter Fifteen: Live for Productivity

Main point: Block time for your ONE THING. Then protect that time block.

  • For onetime ONE THING, block off the appropriate hours and days.
  • For habits, block off the appropriate time every day.
  • If your ONE THING creates disproportionate results, then give it disproportionate time.
  • Put up a sheet of paper that said, “Until My ONE Thing Is Done—Everything Else Is A Distraction!”

How to time block effectively

  1. Time block your time off (vacation).
  2. Time block your ONE THING.
  3. Time block your planning time.

Time block your time off.

  • See yourself as working between vacations.
  • Manage your work time around your downtime.

Time block your ONE THING.

  • Design your days around your one thing.
  • Block 4 hours a day (minimum, if you can do more, do it).
  • Be a maker in the morning and a manager in the afternoon.

Time block your planning time.

  • Reflect on where you are and where you want to go.
  • Do this annually and weekly.

Chapter Sixteen: The Three Commitments

Main point: Commit to (1) adopting the mindset of someone seeking mastery, (2) continually seeking the very best ways of doing things, and (3) doing everything you can to achieve your ONE THING.

Adopt the mindset of someone seeking mastery.

  • Mastering the right thing will make everything else you do easier or no longer necessary.
  • Give the best you have to become the best you can be at your most important work.
  • Be a master of what you know, apprentice of what you don’t.

Continually seek the very best ways of doing things.

  • Look for new models and systems of doing things.
  • Use the Focusing Question to narrow your choices down to the next thing you should do.

Live the accountability cycle.

  • Accountability is the most important of the three commitments.
  • Look at outcomes as the information you can use to frame better actions to get better outcomes.
  • Sharing your progress towards your goals with someone regularly makes you almost twice as effective.

Chapter Seventeen: The Four Thieves

Main point: Avoid the Four Thieves.

The four thieves

  1. Inability to say NO
  2. Fear of chaos
  3. Poor health habits
  4. The environment doesn’t support your goals

Inability to say NO

  • The way to protect what you’ve said yes to and stay productive is to say no to anyone or anything that could derail you.
  • When you say yes to something, it’s imperative that you understand what you’re saying no to.
  • Practice the Three-Foot Rule: A request must be connected to my ONE Thing for me to consider it. If not, then I either say no to it or use any of the approaches I shared above to deflect it elsewhere.

Fear of chaos

  • Accept that when you focus on your ONE THING, chaos will accumulate around you. Don’t fight this.
  • Trust that your work on your ONE THING will help you manage the chaos later on.

Poor health habits

  • High achievement and extraordinary results require big energy. The trick is learning how to get it and keep it.
  • Focus on having an energized start to each day. Starting each day this way makes the rest of the day easier.

The environment doesn’t support your goals

  • Environment = who you see + what you experience every day
  • The people surrounding you and the physical environment surrounding you must support your goals.

Chapter Eighteen: The Journey

Main point: Live a life of no regrets by putting your ONE THING at the top of your mind and at the top of your schedule.

  • At any moment in time, there can be only ONE THING, and when that ONE THING is in line with your purpose and sits atop your priorities, it will be the most productive thing you can do.

How to go small to get big

  1. Survey your choices.
  2. Narrow your options.
  3. Line up your priorities.
  4. Do what matters most.
  5. Go small by finding your ONE THING.