"Extraordinary results happen only when you give the best you have to become the best you can be at your most important work."

The One Thing

by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan


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The book discusses the benefits of prioritising a single task, and it also provides examples of how to engage in those tasks with a singular focus. The book begins with a section entitled, ‘The Lies: They Mislead and Derail Us’, which analyses the ways in which multitasking has erroneously been praised as a desirable trait. The authors also challenge the concept of ‘work-life balance’, calling it idealistic, but not realistic.

This then leads to the ‘Focusing Question’, which asks “What’s the one thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” This second section of the book deals with productivity principles like habit-building and benchmarking. For instance, the book suggests that readers should engage in four hours of work on their ‘one thing’ each day. The authors cite economist Vilfredo Pareto as one of the inspirations behind this philosophy. Pareto’s principle suggested that 20% of the effort produces 80% of the results. According to the book, this means that engaging in the one most important task will be more likely to produce the desired results without any extraneous effort. The book also differentiates between the Big-Picture Question (“What’s my one thing?”) and the Small-Focus Question (“What’s my one thing right now?”). The core idea is that focusing on an excessive amount of tasks will more likely lead to discord and under-performance.

The third section of the book discusses ‘Extraordinary Results’, which details how to make the above principles actionable. One of the concepts it illustrates is ‘time blocking’, which means that one should focus on only their one thing during a given amount of time. It also suggests that readers should schedule time to reflect, plan, and even relax. Everything else during scheduled time blocks is characterised as a distraction. Each section of the book is followed up by a ‘Big Ideas’ review that gives a summary of the sections’ concepts and principles.