The ONE Thing, by real estate titan and author Gary Keller, is an excellent analysis of the simple but critical role played by focus and vision in achieving success in life. It takes a lot to stand out in the vast ocean of self-help and productivity manuals out there, and this book does.
The overarching idea of the book is the eponymous “ONE thing.” This is your vision, your million dollar idea, your life’s goal. It’s important to think big and have something truly momentous to strive for. This will obviously look different for every person, but it is critically important. When you have the ONE thing, you can orient and plan your work and focus around that.
Absent such a goal, you are liable to drift away on the doldrums of distraction and disorganization. Multitasking is the enemy here. At work, people waste a huge amount of time switching between everyday tasks and dealing with interruptions as they come up. Studies have shown that it isn’t so much the interruptions themselves that eat up time, as it is your brain having to refocus on what it was doing before.
The ONE thing mindset addresses this in two critical ways, on a micro and macro level. The microlevel is very practical: Form sequential habits to become self-disciplined, properly prioritize your to-do list. One of Keller’s key insights is that not all to-do’s are created equal. That is, you need to know what you actually want over your work and your life and prioritize your daily tasks accordingly. This does take a lot of self-discipline, but also pays dividends as increased focus turns into increased success.
On the larger scale, once you have the ONE thing that you know you want to pursue this helps other things to fall into place. Keller recommends visualizing the steps necessary to achieve that goal so that you know which tasks are important and which are not. You have to be able to say “no” to some distractions and tangents that might get in the way of the ONE thing, while also allowing a degree of disorder in your lower priority tasks. It’s okay to delegate or postpone items that take an inordinate amount of attention from the ONE thing.
One of my favorite insights from the book is Keller’s take on the ever elusive goal of work-life balance. People often wreck irreparable damage on their family or personal life in pursuit of bold professional goals. The ONE thing should not be understood in this way. Keller stresses that no amount of success is worth the sacrifice of friends and family. Work-life balance does not mean investing equally in work and life. It does mean that within the time you already dedicate to work, you should pursue the ONE thing ruthlessly and without compromise.
Overall, The ONE Thing has a lot of great individual insights, while also presenting a compelling and practical vision of success.
The ONE Thing is available for purchase here.