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Book Review: The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

"The One Thing" by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan is a must-read for anyone looking to streamline their life and focus on what truly matters. The book is a guide for individuals and organizations to clarify and simplify their goals, eliminate distractions, and achieve more by doing less.

One of the key takeaways from the book is the idea that "success is sequential, not simultaneous." The authors explain that focusing on one thing at a time, rather than trying to juggle multiple tasks and responsibilities, leads to greater success and satisfaction in both personal and professional life. This is because focusing on the one thing that truly matters eliminates the noise and distractions that can hold us back.

I recently finished reading the book and it’s left me questioning myself why I didn’t read it before!

The book is divided into 18 chapters, each of which addresses a number of strategies and techniques for identifying and prioritizing the “one thing” in your life, including setting clear goals, creating an action plan, and using techniques. It also discusses the importance of balance and the role of positive habits and mindset in achieving success.

Basically, The One Thing is intended to help readers identify and pursue their most important priorities, and achieve greater success and fulfillment in their personal and professional lives which are as follows:

01. The one thing: Identifying and prioritizing the most important task or goal that will have the greatest impact

“When you want the absolute best chance to succeed at anything you want, your approach should always be the same. Go small.”

Most people are overwhelmed with the number of tasks and responsibilities they have, which leads to a lack of focus and ultimately, poor results. Instead, the authors say that we should focus on identifying the one thing that will make the most significant impact on our goals and prioritize it above everything else.

“There can only be one most important thing. Many things may be important, but only one can be the most important.”

02. The domino effect: Achieving a small success can lead to larger achievements and accomplishments by creating a positive chain reaction of momentum and motivation

The authors explain that just like a single domino can knock over another domino that's 50% larger, a small success can lead to more significant accomplishments. By focusing on a small, achievable goal, we can build momentum and create a domino effect of positive results.

“When you see someone who has a lot of knowledge, they learned it over time. When you see someone who has a lot of skills, they developed them over time. When you see someone who has done a lot, they accomplished it over time. When you see someone who has a lot of money, they earned it over time. The key is over time. Success is built sequentially, not simultaneously. It’s one thing at a time.”

03. Success leaves clues: Successful people have certain patterns and habits that contribute to their achievements, and by identifying and replicating these patterns and habits, we can increase our chances of success

Successful people are not just lucky or naturally gifted, but rather they have habits and routines that contribute to their success. Authors suggest that by studying successful individuals and identifying their patterns and habits, we can learn from their experiences and apply these lessons to our own lives. Because no one is self-made. And no one succeeds alone. No one.

“The one thing sits at the heart of success and is the starting point for achieving extraordinary results.”

04. The focusing question: Helps us identify and prioritize our most important task or goal

Answers come from questions, and the quality of any answer is directly determined by the quality of the question. Ask the wrong question, and get the wrong answer. Ask the right question, and get the right answer. Ask the most powerful question possible, and the answer can be life-altering.

Voltaire once wrote, “Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.”

The focusing question is: “What's the one thing I can do such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” By asking this question, we can identify the task or goal that will have the most significant impact on our success and prioritize it above everything else.

The authors explain that the focusing question is not just about identifying the most important task or goal, but also about identifying the right approach or strategy to achieve it. By asking the focusing question repeatedly, we can break down our goals into smaller, more manageable tasks and identify the best approach for achieving them.

One of the most empowering moments of Keller’s life came when he realized that life is a question and how we live it is our answer.

The Focusing Question collapses all possible questions into one- “What’s the One Thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

05. The success habit: The idea that success is not a one-time event but a result of consistent habits and routines that are repeated over time and become automatic

The importance of developing good habits and eliminating bad ones, and how the repetition of these habits can lead to automatic behavior that helps us achieve our goals. By identifying keystone habits and creating a system of automatic behavior, we can increase our chances of success and create positive change in our lives.

“Give each habit enough time. Stick with the discipline long enough for it to become routine. Habits, on average, take 66 days to form. Once a habit is solidly established, you can either build on that habit or, if appropriate, build another one.”

The focus question is the foundational habit Keller uses to achieve extraordinary results and lead a big life.

The focusing question can direct you to one thing in the different areas of your life.

To give your answer the appropriate level of urgency, you can also add a specific timeframe such as "right now" or "this year", or you can include "in five years" or "someday" to identify a long-term goal to aim for.

To form the focusing question, start by mentioning the category, followed by the question itself, then add a specific timeframe, and end the question with the phrase "such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?" For instance, you may ask: "Regarding my job, what is the single most important action I can take this week to guarantee that I achieve my objectives, such that by doing it, everything else will become easier or unnecessary?"

06. The path to great answers: Asking the right questions and seeking out relevant information

The importance of asking the right questions and seeking out relevant information in order to find the best possible solutions to problems.

The authors emphasize that asking the right questions is essential to finding great answers. They suggest using the focusing question to help guide your thinking and identify the most important action to take in order to achieve your goals. They also encourage readers to ask open-ended questions that promote exploration and encourage creative thinking.

A great answer is essentially a new answer.

Answers come in three categories: doable, stretch, and possibility-

A doable answer is one that is achievable with your current resources and abilities. It is a realistic and practical answer that can be accomplished relatively easily.

A stretch answer, on the other hand, is one that requires a greater degree of effort and resources than a doable answer. It may be more challenging to achieve, but it is still within the realm of possibility.

A possibility answer is one that is not currently achievable with your current resources and abilities but is still worth considering as a long-term goal. This type of answer may require significant effort, time, and resources to achieve, but it represents a compelling vision for the future and can provide direction and motivation.

The authors suggest that it's important to consider both short-term and long-term goals and to be realistic about what is achievable in the present moment. By doing so, individuals can focus their efforts on the most important actions and make progress toward their goals over time.

07. Live with purpose: Having a clear understanding of your values, goals, and priorities, and making deliberate choices and actions that align with them

Having a clear sense of purpose provides direction and focus, and can help individuals make better decisions about how to spend their time and energy. The authors suggest reflecting on personal values, identifying goals and priorities, and thinking about what truly matters in life in order to develop a sense of purpose.

Dr. Martin Seligman, past president of the American Psychological Association, believes there are five factors that contribute to our happiness- positive emotion and pleasure, achievement, relationships, engagement, and meaning. Of these, he believes engagement and meaning are the most important. Becoming more engaged in what we do by finding ways to make our life more meaningful is the surest way to finding lasting happiness. When our daily actions fulfill a bigger purpose, the most powerful and enduring happiness can happen.

Happiness happens when you have a bigger purpose than having more fulfillment, which is why we say happiness happens on the way to fulfillment.

“Purpose is the straightest path to power and the ultimate source of personal strength- the strength of conviction and strength of persevere.”

08. Live by priority: Consciously choosing and prioritizing the most important tasks and activities that align with your goals and values, and focusing your time and energy on them

Purpose without priority is powerless.

Many people struggle with time management and feel overwhelmed by the many tasks and responsibilities in their lives. The key to managing time effectively is to prioritize tasks based on their importance and urgency and to focus one's time and energy on the most important tasks.

Here, the authors introduce the concept of the "time block", which involves setting aside a specific block of time each day to work on the most important task. By focusing on one task at a time and eliminating distractions, individuals can accomplish more and feel less overwhelmed.

Write your goals down and keep them close to you.

In 2008, Dr. Gail Matthews of the Dominican University of California recruited 267 participants from a wide range of professions and a variety of countries. Those who wrote down their goals were 39.5 percent more likely to accomplish them. Writing down your goals and your most important priority is your final step to living by priority.

Overall, by prioritizing tasks based on their importance and urgency, setting aside time blocks for focused work, and saying "no" to distractions, individuals can achieve their goals and live a more fulfilling life.

Connect today to all your tomorrows. It matters.

According to Alan Lakein, “Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.”

09. Live for productivity: Maximizing your efficiency and output by identifying and focusing on your most important tasks, minimizing distractions and time-wasting activities, and consistently working towards your goals

The authors focus on how to maximize one's productivity by identifying and prioritizing the most important tasks, minimizing distractions, and consistently working toward one's goals. Many people struggle with productivity because they are too busy with unimportant tasks or are easily distracted by things like social media, email, or phone calls. The key to productivity is to identify the most important tasks and focus one's energy on them.

To achieve extraordinary results and experience greatness, time block these three things in the following order:

  1. Allocate a block of time for your personal time off
  2. Schedule a block of time for your most important task and
  3. Allocate a block of time for planning.

Paul Graham’s 2009 essay “Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule” underscores the need for large time blocks for productivity. He divides all work into two buckets: Maker (do or create) and Manager (oversee or direct).

"Maker" time refers to the need for extended periods on the clock to engage in tasks such as coding, idea development, generating leads, recruitment, production, or project execution and planning. This time is usually seen as a half-day commitment.

"Manager time" is divided into hourly segments. During this time, one usually moves from one meeting to another. Since managers and supervisors have power and influence, they can set the tone for the team and influence their work.

In order to achieve extraordinary outcomes, focus on being a "maker" during the morning hours and a "manager" during the afternoon hours. The objective is to complete the most important task of the day in a single session. However, if one does not allocate specific time blocks each day to accomplish this task, it may remain unfinished.

Block an hour each week to review your annual and monthly goals.

There is magic in knocking down your most important domino day after day.

The best way to protect your time blocks is to adopt the mindset that they can’t be moved.

Your own need to do other things instead of your ONE Thing may be your biggest challenge to overcome.

10. The three commitments

The authors outline three commitments that individuals can make to achieve extraordinary results in their personal and professional lives.

The first commitment is to follow the path of mastery by continuously learning and improving.

The second commitment is to move from the mindset of "Entrepreneurial" (E) to "Purposeful" (P) thinking and action. If I say it broadly, don’t just settle for what comes naturally- be open to new thinking, new skills, and new relationships. If the path of mastery is a commitment to be your best, being purposeful is a commitment to adopt the best possible approach.

The third commitment is to live the accountability cycle by setting goals, tracking progress, and taking action to course correct when necessary. By making these commitments and integrating them into one's daily habits and practices, individuals can cultivate a mindset and approach that leads to greater success and fulfillment.

The path of mastering something is the combination of not only doing the best you can do but also doing it the best it can be done.

Accountable people achieve results others only dream of.

Highly successful people are clear about their role in the events of their life.

Anders Ericsson observed that “The single most important difference between these amateurs and the three groups of elite performers is that the future elite performers seek out teachers and coaches and engage in supervised training, whereas the amateurs rarely engage in similar types of practice.”

Overall, "The One Thing" is a well-written and well-researched book that is both practical and inspiring. It is filled with real-life examples, personal anecdotes, and thought-provoking insights that will challenge readers to rethink their priorities and simplify their lives. Whether you're looking to improve your personal life or your business, this book is a valuable resource that will help you achieve your goals and find greater success and fulfillment.

Ayrin Saleha Ria works at Future Startup as a full-time Research Associate. She has a background in Applied Sociology. Before joining the FS team, she worked and volunteered with a number of social organizations. As someone who comes from a social science background, she takes a deep interest in research around important social-economic challenges in our society. A voracious reader, Ayrin is passionate about working for the betterment of society, takes a deep interest in human society and behavioral science, and loves books.

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