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The Six Lies Between You and Success

"The One Thing" by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan is a bestselling book that provides a number of powerful frameworks for achieving extraordinary results in our personal and professional lives. 

The central premise of the book is the idea that by focusing on the most important task—the "one thing"—at any given time, we can maximize our productivity, achieve our goals, and lead more fulfilling lives.

In the book, the authors identify and debunk six common misconceptions or lies that often hinder our progress and prevent us from achieving our goals. These lies are based on misguided beliefs and attitudes that can lead to inefficient work habits and unfulfilling outcomes. 

By recognizing and challenging these lies, the authors guide readers toward a more focused and effective approach to achieving their objectives. These lies are: 

  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

Let’s take a deeper look into each of these items and explore how we may deal with these challenges to maximize our productivity and results. 

  1. Everything Matters Equally

When everything feels urgent and important, everything seems equal. We become active and busy, but this doesn’t actually move us any closer to success. Activity is often unrelated to productivity, and busyness rarely takes care of business.

This lie suggests that all tasks and activities are equally important. In reality, not everything has the same impact on your goals. The authors emphasize the need to prioritize and identify the tasks that have the most significant influence on your desired outcomes.

According to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” 

Let’s explore some aspects of ‘everything matters equally’ in the context of the book and why it is a problematic approach that almost always derails our progress. 

  • The paradox of choice: In our modern world, we are bombarded with an overwhelming number of choices and distractions. This can lead to a sense of scattered focus and a lack of progress in our endeavors. "Everything matters equally" highlights the misconception that all tasks, goals, or priorities are of equal importance. It challenges the idea that multitasking or trying to tackle everything at once is an effective approach.
  • Priority and productivity: The central premise of "The One Thing" is that by identifying and focusing on the one thing that matters most in a given situation, you can significantly increase your productivity and achieve better results. It encourages you to ask yourself: "What is the one thing I can do, such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?" This question helps you identify your top priority and allocate your time and energy accordingly.
  • Domino effect: The "Everything matters equally" concept is linked to the idea of the domino effect. By identifying and accomplishing your most critical task or goal, you can set off a chain reaction that makes other tasks easier to complete or even unnecessary. It's like knocking down a line of dominos with the first one, leading to the sequential fall of all the others.
  • Time management: "The One Thing" emphasizes the importance of time management and suggests that you allocate the majority of your time and energy to your one thing, rather than spreading yourself thin across various tasks. This approach can help you achieve significant progress in your chosen area of focus.

Everything matters equally suggesting that all tasks and goals are equally important, which can lead to many challenges and eat into our progress and productivity. Instead, we should focus on ‘one thing’. The authors encourage individuals to identify their top priorities and concentrate their efforts on that one thing to maximize productivity and achieve success. 

By doing so, you can set in motion a domino effect that makes other tasks more manageable or even unnecessary, ultimately leading to better results in your personal and professional life.

  1. Multitasking 

Multitasking is a lie. When you try to do two things at once, you won't do either well.

It’s not that we have too little time to do all the things we need to do, it’s that we feel the need to do too many things in the time we have.

Many people believe that juggling multiple tasks simultaneously increases efficiency. However, research shows that multitasking can decrease productivity and lead to lower-quality results. 

The authors advocate for focusing on one task at a time to achieve better concentration and higher-quality work. Here's an explanation of the book's perspective on multitasking: 

  • Multitasking is a myth: The book argues that multitasking is a myth because the human brain is not designed to effectively handle multiple tasks simultaneously. While it may seem like you're accomplishing more by juggling several tasks at once, you're actually dividing your attention and cognitive resources, which can lead to decreased overall productivity and lower-quality results.
  • Switching costs: The idea of switching costs refers to the mental effort and time it takes to shift your focus from one task to another. Every time you switch between tasks, you incur a cost in terms of lost efficiency and effectiveness. This means that multitasking not only reduces the quality of your work but also slows you down.
  • Lack of deep work: The importance of deep work is the ability to concentrate on a single task for an extended period without distraction. Multitasking prevents you from achieving a state of deep work, which is essential for producing high-quality results and making significant progress on important tasks.
  • Loss of focus on priorities: Multitasking can also lead to a lack of focus on your priorities. When you try to do multiple things at once, you dilute your attention and may neglect the one thing that truly matters and could drive your success. The book encourages readers to identify their most critical task and give it their full attention.
  • Decreased efficiency and stress: Attempting to multitask can lead to decreased efficiency because you're not fully engaged in any of the tasks. Moreover, it often results in increased stress and mental fatigue as you constantly switch your attention and try to keep up with multiple demands.

Multitasking is counterproductive. Instead, the authors recommend a different approach in the book: identify your top priority that will make the most significant impact and dedicate your full focus and energy to it. By doing so, you can achieve better results, increase productivity, and ultimately lead a more purposeful and successful life. 

  1. A Disciplined Life

Success is actually a short race—a sprint fueled by discipline just long enough for habit to kick in and take over. When you discipline yourself, you’re essentially training yourself to act in a specific way. Stay with this long enough and it becomes routine—in other words, a habit.

You can become successful with less discipline than you think, for one simple reason: success is about doing the right thing, not about doing everything right.

The trick to success is to choose the right habit and bring just enough discipline to establish it.

When you do the right thing, it can liberate you from having to monitor everything.

It takes an average of 66 days to acquire a new habit.

It takes time to develop the right habit, so don’t give up too soon. Decide what the right one is, then give yourself all the time you need and apply all the discipline you can summon to develop it.

Those with the right habits seem to do better than others. They’re doing the most important thing regularly and, as a result, everything else is easier.

  1. Willpower is Always on Will-Call

That willpower is an unlimited resource that is readily available whenever needed. However, willpower is finite and can be depleted over time. The authors encourage readers to tackle their most important tasks during their periods of peak energy and focus. Here are some explanations- 

  • Finite nature of willpower: Willpower is not an unlimited resource but rather a finite one. Just like a muscle, your willpower can become depleted with use. Every decision or act of self-control you make throughout the day depletes your reserves of willpower.
  • Strategic application: You should be strategic in how you use your willpower. Instead of relying solely on your willpower to push through tasks and make good decisions, you should conserve it for your most important priorities, which the authors refer to as your "one thing."
  • Eliminating decision fatigue: Constantly making decisions, especially trivial ones, can deplete your willpower. By simplifying your daily choices and routines, such as having a structured schedule, eliminating unnecessary decisions, and automating certain tasks. This reduces decision fatigue and preserves your willpower for essential decisions related to your "one thing."

So, if you want to get the most out of your day, do your most important work—your ONE Thing—early, before your willpower is drawn down.

  1. A Balanced Life

The idea of achieving perfect balance in all areas of life can be unrealistic and counterproductive. The authors argue that success often requires periods of imbalance, where you focus intensely on your "one thing" to make substantial progress. For example- 

  • Balanced life vs. balanced priorities: The book distinguishes between a balanced life and balanced priorities. While you may not have a balanced life in the sense of spreading your time and energy evenly across all areas of life (such as work, family, health, and hobbies), you can have balanced priorities.
  • Identifying your "One Thing" in different areas: You can apply the concept of focusing on the one thing to various aspects of your life. For instance, you can have "one thing" for your career, your personal relationships, your health and fitness, and other areas. This means identifying the most critical areas of focus within each aspect of your life.
  • Time blocking: The book introduces the idea of time blocking, where you allocate specific blocks of time to different priorities in your life. While the majority of your time and energy may be dedicated to your "one thing" at work, you can also allocate time blocks for family, personal well-being, and other important aspects of life.

Life goes through different seasons, and your priorities may shift accordingly. For example, there may be times when your career demands more attention, but you can later shift your focus to other areas like family or personal development.

  • Quality over quantity: It's more important to have high-quality, meaningful experiences in the areas that matter most to you, rather than trying to have a little bit of everything. By focusing on your priorities and your "one thing" in each area, you can derive more satisfaction and fulfillment.

No matter how hard you try, there will always be things left undone at the end of your day, week, month, year, and life. Trying to get them all done is folly. When the things that matter most get done, you’ll still be left with a sense of things being undone—a sense of imbalance. Leaving some things undone is a necessary tradeoff for extraordinary results.

  1. Big is Bad

That setting big goals is overwhelming and unattainable. However, the authors advocate for setting ambitious goals that align with your vision. They emphasize breaking these goals down into smaller, manageable steps and focusing on the immediate next action.

By focusing on smaller, more manageable goals, you increase your chances of achieving tangible results. The book argues that accomplishing smaller objectives can lead to a sense of accomplishment and build momentum, making it easier to tackle larger goals over time.

 "The One Thing" provides a roadmap for cutting through the clutter of modern life and honing in on the actions that will drive the most meaningful and impactful outcomes. Whether applied to personal goals, career aspirations, or other pursuits, the principles outlined in the book aim to help individuals optimize their efforts and reach their full potential.

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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