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The One Thing Book Review

I recently re-read The One Thing by Gary Kellar and Jay Papasan. I love the simple power in the book, and I wanted to refresh my own “one thing” practice. If you haven’t read the book, let me give you a quick summary.

The Focusing Question

All of us are familiar with the amazing displays in which thousands of dominos are carefully lined up and then knocked over by the toppling of a single lead domino. However, there is a law of physics described as the “domino effect” that tells us a single domino is able to do much more than knock down several thousand other dominos of equal size. That single domino is actually capable of knocking over a second domino 1.5x its size. That, by itself, may not seem like much. However, imagine a string of dominos set up in a line, with each successive domino 1.5x larger than the one before it. If you were to knock down the first two-inch tall domino, you would set off a chain reaction such that the 25th domino you knock over would be the size of the Eiffel Tower. The 31st domino would be taller then Mount Everest. And the 57th domino would reach almost to the moon!

The trick, then, is to figure out what your “lead domino” should be. The way you do that is with the focusing question. Ask yourself:

What is the ONE Thing I can do, such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?

Think of this as the Pareto Principle (also known as the 80/20 rule) on steroids. The Pareto Principle asserts that 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts. Therefore, you should work to identify what 20% of your efforts will produce your greatest results. However, you can reapply the principle to take the 20% of the 20%, and repeat that until you get to the one thing that trumps all others. That’s exactly what the focusing question does.

Goal Setting to the Now

You can use the focusing question in a loop to help you achieve long-term goals. Let’s take the hypothetical goal of saving for retirement. Your long-term “someday” goal may be to have $5 million dollars by the time you are 65 (remember, big thinking!). Knowing that someday goal, you then set a five-year goal that will get you on track. Then you set one-year, monthly, weekly, and daily goals that all lead to your someday goal by asking the focusing question over and over:

What is the ONE Thing I want to do someday, such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?
Based on my Someday Goal, what’s the ONE Thing I can do in the next five years, such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?
Based on my Five-Year Goal, what’s the ONE Thing I can do this year, such that by doing it…?
Based on my One-Year Goal, what’s the ONE Thing I can do this month…?
Based on my Monthly Goal, what’s the ONE Thing I can do this week…?
Based on my Weekly Goal, what’s the ONE Thing I can do today…?
Based on my Daily Goal, what’s the ONE Thing I can do right now…?

Time Blocking

Once you have identified your One Thing, you need to ruthlessly prioritize your time so that you accomplish it. So often we allow other people’s priorities dictate our day. Many people grab their phone and check email as soon as they wake up. Reading and responding to email at the start of the day is effectively allowing everyone else to set your priorities for you. And when you allow everyone else to dictate how your day is going to go, you’re only going to get a small amount of time to work on the thing that’s most important to you.

If you are to achieve the One Thing that is most important to you, then you need to make that your top priority. You can only do so by blocking out significant time in your calendar each day to focus on your One Thing, and then work everything else around that block. The authors recommend that you take four hours per day, five days per week to focus on your One Thing. That may seem like a lot. However, if your One Thing really is that thing which makes everything else easier or unnecessary, doesn’t it stand to reason it should take up the majority of your time each day?

Personal Life

The first time I read this book, I was skeptical about having only One Thing around which I was supposed to live my life—especially when that One Thing was likely going to be business related. What about the other important things in my life? What about my family? It turns out, you can have One Thing for each area of your life. You can simply add additional detail to the focusing question to apply it to different areas of your life. For example:

What is the ONE Thing I can do for my business, such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?
What is the ONE Thing I can do for my physical health, such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?
What is the ONE Thing I can do for my family, such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?
What is the ONE Thing I can do for my spiritual lifewell, you get the idea.

The authors also make it a point to clarify that your personal life is of primary importance. The following quote sums it up nicely:

“Imagine life is a game in which you are juggling five balls. The balls are called work, family, health, friends, and integrity. And you’re keeping all of them in the air. But one day you finally come to understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four balls…are made of glass. If you drop one of these, it will be irrevocably scuffed, nicked, perhaps even shattered” – James Patterson

Don’t get so wrapped up in your One Thing at work that you neglect your personal life. There will always be another phone call to make or another pitch to send. Dance recitals, soccer games, date nights… these things are limited, and once missed, they are gone forever. Don’t sacrifice time with your friends and family, and be all in while you’re with them.

Final Thoughts

There is a lot more to this book than I can cover here. Probably the best recommendation I can give is this: I don’t often re-read books. However, I’ve not only read this a second time, I am putting it on my calendar to re-read it once a year. I believe its principles can be used by everyone, regardless of where they lie on the productivity spectrum. Go check out theonething.com for resources if you’d like to learn more. You can buy the book on their site (or from your favorite bookseller), or if you’re like me and like to listen to books while you’re driving, it’s available on Audible.

I hope this summary was helpful. I would love to hear your comments. If you’ve read The One Thing, or if you have another favorite book you’d like to share, please let me know.

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Corey Liepelt

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