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Want “extraordinary results in every area of your life — work, personal, family, and spiritual?” I do. Below is where my journey took me recently.
NOTE: When I read books, I take notes. I’ve taken this a step further and aim to make those notes shareable in this medium (pun intended). Reading is learning from people (indirect mentors) through their writing. This is from Gary Keller.
It was a Thursday. I couldn’t focus. I was frazzled, scattered, and felt like I was coming unglued — again!
I’d been going strong for months on a new endeavor. Admittedly though, I was beginning to get a little cocky. Then: WHAM! Like predicted by Pressfield in Do the Work, wave upon wave of resistance started hitting.
Thankfully, I was due for an out of town getaway with my beloved the next day. As I contemplated what reading to take on our trip, I quickly realized I needed to take and read ONE book whose title alone had already profoundly influenced me. Now more than ever I needed to sit down with Gary Keller — virtually. The book?
“The ONE Thing — The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results”
Those that have read it or have enough wisdom to fill in the blanks on the title, sorta get it. Those that have read it and have applied even partially what it communicates (including many who get the principles, but have never read the book), really get it. We see them around us. Many of them have written the books we read, the works of art we admire, the companies we buy from, and the causes we give our time and resources to.
At this point on day 16,283 (read here why I count my life in days) I’m starting to get it. This post helps me cement this knowledge into understanding and, as new habits catch — WISDOM. Writing this my ONE Thing today.
TLDR (too long didn’t read?)
So, here is my summary and key take-aways from the book. This summary is:
- for me – to help me remember.
- for you — to be informed, and inspired to read the book.
- (even) for you TLDR types — you know who you are — who’ll never read it.
Seriously though, just read it.
Hopefully after this summary, you’ll realize it’s your next ONE Thing to buy the book here. Or ask me about the “faucet movement” and you may eventually get a copy.
Here is how this will work. Like the book, I’m breaking this up into sections and chapters. And in ONE Thing fashion I’m simply trying to answer the question: What can I share share below such that by doing so it will make everything else about the book easier to remember or unnecessary to read again.
Introduces several key ONE Thing principles.
These simple but profound quotes kick it off:
If you chase two rabbits… you will not catch either one.
— Russian Proverb
Be like a postage stamp — stick to one thing until you get there.
— Josh Billings
#1 The ONE Thing, the Focusing Question.
Keller tells the story of how he had to “go small” to get out of a down-spiral in his life and business. This had been brought on by hollow success built on unsustainable practices. In doing so he realized that his previous “success(es were because of) narrowed concentration to ONE Thing”.
He asked himself this question:
“What’s the ONE Thing you can do this week such that by doing it everything else would be easier or unnecessary.”
So this chapter introduces what he calls the “focusing question” and the need to go as small as possible until you are staring at one thing.
#2 The Domino Effect, but Go BIG!
Keller explains the principle of geometric progression and how a set of 18 dominoes can knock over the Learning Tower of Pisa — and it has nothing to do with the fact that it’s leaning.
Shoot for the moon, but the key to getting there is that you have to prioritize and line up the right dominoes in the right sequence every day and knock at them till they fall.
#3 Clues of Success, Proof of the ONE Thing Everywhere.
If you look around, as Keller did, every success reveals a series of one things — similar to what Michael Hyatt calls “inflection points”. ONE product or service. Apple, iPod. KFC, a chicken recipe. ONE person. Walt Disney, his brother Roy who got him into animation. Sam Walton, his father in-law who loaned him $20,000 to start his first retail business — “No one is self-made.” One passion or skill. ONE life.
We live in an age of unlimited potential, but with unlimited booby traps disguised as equally valuable options or opportunities. How do we navigate this to find the simple, clear, right, and narrow path to success? Keller says it’s by living the ONE Thing, but first by knowing and avoiding some of the lies.
Part 1: The Lies.
Uncovers common ways we’ve been mislead that have led to bad habits that stifle rather than lead to our success.
We’ve heard some of these by now, but easily fall back into them. While I prefer to focus on the real thing rather than the counterfeits, being informed and sober about the risks of falling for the lies is prudent. Here they are.
#4 Everything is of Equal Importance
I’ve known, though not always applied, the principle that the good is the enemy of the best — or as Keller puts it the enemy of the ONE Thing. With unlimited options it is clearly true that not everything is equal, yet this is a lie that we, as illustrated by our actions, believe and act on. That push notification that distracts us from the meeting we’re in or our kid’s moment in the sun. Key: Say “not now” to anything else you could do until the most important work is done. As another author puts it, ask: “What’s best next” and then do that.
Hopefully by now with all the available research the tide is turning on this one. Multitasking while possible, is not a good thing. At best it dilutes our effectiveness, mindfulness, and presence, and at worst it kills. For me personally I’ve resolved to particularly avoid any form of multi-tasking when with family, when working, or when driving. “Whatever your doing, be all there!” my dad used to say. Phone away / off. Focus on being with or on what I’m committed to in that moment.
#6 A Disciplined Life
Leo Babauta who wrote the Focus Manifesto calls self-discipline the most prevalent myth of our culture. This one has taken me some time to grasp, but once I realized that what we see as discipline is really habit kindled by just enough discipline, it makes sense. Discipline is really hard. Habits come naturally. So success is really about using discipline effectively and long enough to build the habits of doing the right things (one habit at a time).
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
Keller points to research that on average it takes 66 days to build a habit. Hard, yes, but doable? Absolutely. Just look around. Michael Phelps. Bo Jackson. Look up their routines. Observe their habits.
#7 Willpower is Always on Will-Call
Sadly, no. The older I get the more I realize this. We need to point the limited and depleting resource of our will-power early in the day at our most important work. And don’t neglect to replenish it with food and sleep. Apparently Prince, who died recently, did so after days of lack of sleep working on a recording project. It doesn’t matter how much success, fame, money, talent you have. Human beings have limited willpower and have to steward it effectively to succeed. It won’t always be there and it will run out.
#8 A Balanced Life
I’ve particularly bought into this one over the years. Balance is an action not a state as Keller explains. There will be times of great imbalance when pursuing extraordinary results and success is more about counterbalance when you inevitably become imbalanced on the journey. Keller gives an excellent practical illustration that likes life to juggling 5 things including work, family, health, integrity and likens work as a rubber ball and the others as glass tumblers. You can drop work and it will bounce back, but be very focused on counterbalancing the others which are much more fragile.
#9 Big is Bad
Society has taught us this one, but we should not fear big results or we WILL SABOTAGE them. Thinking big makes sense because we don’t know our limits. Who is to say how far we can / should go. It reminds me of my elementary school teacher who set me on a path that essentially said “you’ll never go to college”. I’m glad my parents laughed that off and made it possible for me to attend one of the greatest Universities in the world.
Take a leap of possibility — Think BIG! (Some years ago, I wrote this in big letters on my whiteboard at work and left it there as an inspiration. Little did I now what big things we would achieve. I resolved by that act not to limit my thinking.
Keller alluded to a big thing — a business revolution. Why not? Think of bold ideas that threaten your comfort zones, but reflect your greatest opportunities. Believing in big frees us to ask different and better questions. To follow different and better paths that the answers lead us to.
Success is directly related to thinking big. Big thinking leads to big actions which lead to big outcomes. And just like relative to a huge mountain off in the distance, you grow bigger relative to the challenge. When you get to the top, it’s much more natural and less intimidating than when you see it way off in the distance — in spite of the inevitable failures along the way.
Part 2: The Truths.
The simple path to productivity, to success, as Keller shows, is a path for “being appropriate with the moments of your life”. It takes the “Focusing question”, the success habit, and the path to great answers.
Simple, but not easy.
#10 The Focusing Question
This is the greatest question I’ve encountered for productivity with great “power-up” attachments / accessories you can use. It helps with big picture and small focus clarity. From broad purpose and vision to what’s best next. It reminds me of Steven K. Scott’s definition vision not as some vague thing out there but a defined destination with a schedule and steps:
“A vision is a precise, clearly defined goal with a detailed plan and timetable for achieving that goal.” and I like to add including the very next step in this next moment to get there.
Here is the focusing question:
What is the one thing I can do…
such that by doing it
everything else will be easier or unnecessary?
The beauty of this question as alluded to above is that it helps you with the big picture: “what’s my one thing?” and small focus: “what’s my one thing right now”.
Think about it.
#11 The Success Habit
This comes down to reframing the focusing question to the key areas of your life for the big picture and the small focus with a timeframe and making this a habit.
#12 The Path to Great Answers
… is about asking big and specific questions. Embed them in the focusing question like this:
Then seek great answers to those questions in the realm of possibility (how might we vs. how can we, i.e. not in the realm of do-ability or even “stretch-goal” territory. This goes so much against conventional wisdom! So many don’t even bother with stretch goals and limit themselves forever in the sea of complacency or mediocrity by doing so.
“The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.”
— William Arthur Ward
Benchmark yourself by those you study who have gotten the best at something and then trend upwards. Look for the next thing you might to do go farther and higher.
WARNING: Thinking this big and specific in this realm is up in the upper reaches of the atmosphere where the air is really thin, but like those who ultimately climb Everest, it takes one step at a time and not limiting yourself. Based on our own humbler experience we can all agree that looking back what seemed insurmountable to us ended up being just that way. Lets do it!
Part 3: Extraordinary Results.
This is what happens when purpose, priority, and productivity/profit are bound together and applied to ONE Thing (big and small).
Your big ONE Thing is your purpose and your small ONE Thing is the priority you take action on to do it.
#13 Live with Purpose
This is the straight and narrow path to true happiness which is really found along the way of fulfillment. If our clarity is off, we need look no further than our purpose. If we don’t have one or know what our purpose is, set a general direction and recalibrate along the way. It will be easier to find our purpose if we are in motion. Our purpose is our big WHY that sets our our priority which determines the product / outcome that our actions produce (our way of changing the world).
#14 Live by Priority
This comes down to what Keller calls “goal setting to the now” which helps you live your priorities that are aligned with your purpose from your someday -> 5 year -> 1 year -> quarterly -> monthly -> weekly -> daily -> right now actions/goals. Steven K. Scott (Richest Man) and others call this vision mapping.
The key to this is to write it down!
#15 Live for Productivity
This part is about action. “Productive action transforms lives.” and “Living for productivity produces extraordinary results.” Now, I’ve found that this can be problematic. Probably a topic for over coffee, but it’s important to not tie your peace of mind to your productivity. As I said, topic for another time.
So from purpose to priority to actually acting / just doing it, is accomplished through productive time-blocking. Keller advocates starting by blocking out your vacations. Not because you only live for vacations, but because rest and rejuvenation are going to be vital to you once you’ve been working hard on your ONE Thing for periods of time. Next, block out time for your ONE Thing — ideally 4–6 hours per day and in the mornings. Finally block time for your planning, weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly. Then…
Protect this time! The book even includes a detachable door-hanger you can use. I had to tape mine to the sliding door between our kitchen and my office area.
The key here is creating a chain of daily executing your ONE Thing. By 66 days on average it will be habit! Hopefully sooner for me.
#16 The Three Commitments
Here are the 3 commitments you need to make when pursuing the ONE Thing approach:
1. The path to mastery — don’t strive to be good, but be the best it can be done by standing on the shoulders of others.
2. Follow Purposeful Process — meaning not just be entrepreneurial in your process, but be purposeful. Being entrepreneurial here means that you figure it out enthusiastically w/in your natural capabilities. But the purposeful approach pushes through the ceiling of our natural capabilities and leads to breakthroughs. Keller refers to this as doing what comes unnaturally to break through the natural ceiling of achievement.
3. Ownership / Accountability — this might ultimately require a coach or mentor, but the key here is that you take responsibility for your results and when you get derailed: find and acknowledge reality, own it, find a solution, and get on with it.
The path to mastery + purposeful process + ownership = extraordinary results.
#17 The Four Thieves
Watch out for these hinderances to productivity, to your ONE Thing, to being extra-ordinary.
Armed with the lies, they’re deadly to your effectiveness. But with the right knowledge and habits you can sidestep them.
1. Inability to Say No. Just say no. I like to think of this as making my yeses expensive and my no’s cheap, but also like Keller’s concept of saying no with a way of still helping people with their goals — perhaps even their ONE Thing.
2. Fearing and Avoiding Chaos. This comes with the territory. I like what Robin Sharma says about change: really hard at first, messy in the middle. This will get messy when you commit to doing your one thing. For example, it’s 6:04 on a Friday evening and I’m still trying to wrap my one thing for the day.
3. Poor Health Habits — Primarily about not managing your energy. Figure out how to get “big energy” and keep it. Good nutrition, exercise and sleep are the keys here.
4. Environment that does not support you goals. You need to own your environment and align it such that it supports your ONE Thing.
#18 The Journey
This last chapter emphasizes the need to strive for no regrets at the end and tells you where and how the journey starts.
The journey starts with a single step and it starts with you and your first domino. He tells a simple story where a boy realized that the simple way to put together a complex puzzle was to look at it from a different perspective. This phrase from that story illustrates this point: “put the man together and the world falls into place”.
So, here is the call to action: Let’s pull ourselves together people!
Applying the ONE Thing Today
The book ends with practical applications on the areas of your life where using the focusing question can help bring clarity on the right next step. If you’ve never done it, it may be time to identify the various “estates” of your life as the Protestant reformer Martin Luther put it (personal/spiritual, home/family, work, church/community, society) and think about the ONE Thing you can do next in each area such that by doing it everything else becomes easier or unnecessary.
Time to do the work! Time to do my next ONE Thing.
P.S. I was also struck by the section “On the Research” which points to all the resources they used in researching and writing the book — which was a 4 year process. And by the the sheer number of people it took to work on this project. It illustrates well that team and processes it takes for writing a book is very similar to starting and running a company and delivering a product — alluded to by Patrick McGinnis in this podcast (which incidentally is very applicable to the “faucet movement” — curious yet?).
So you made it to the end. The question now is: what ONE Thing will you do next?
Author: Nathan A. Cunningham
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