Home » Career » Book Recap Series: The ONE Thing by Gary Keller, Jay Papasan

Book Recap Series: The ONE Thing by Gary Keller, Jay Papasan

Spread the love

These book recap series posts are simply my way of jotting down important takeaways from the book.

The books I have decided to focus on are topics that are of interest to me including personal finance, wealth building, business management, leadership, investing, and real estate. If you have business book recommendations, reach out to me on Twitter or Instagram @omgmymoney or contact me.

You can see the list of the book recap series at the bottom of this post. Check the business book recommendations section for a list of all the books.

The One Thing

  • The secret of success: the one thing is the best approach to getting what you want.
  • What’s the one thing you can do this week such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary.
  • When you want the absolute best chance to succeed at anything you want, your approach should always be the same, go small.
  • Going small is ignoring all the things you could do and doing what you should do. It’s recognizing not all things matter equally and finding the things that matter most. It’s realizing that extraordinary results are directly determined by how narrow you can make your focus.
  • The way to get the most out of your work and your life is to go as small as possible. [OMG My Money commentary] breaking down big goals into small actionable steps has made one of my weaknesses of not handling ambiguous projects well into now one of my strengths.
  • You want your achievements to add up, but that actually takes subtraction not addition. You need to be doing fewer things for more effect instead of doing more things with side effects. [OMG My Money commentary] this took a while for me to understand because I would keep a checklist of things to do that never seemed to end. When I started to take things off the checklist that were not critical to the project or deliverable, I became more focused and more motivated because I actually felt I was making progress.
  • The problem with trying to do too much is that even if it works, adding more to your work and; your life without cutting anything brings a lot of bad with it (missed deadlines, disappointing results, high stress, long hours, loss sleep, poor diet, no exercise, and missed moments with family and friends.
  • When you go as small as possible, you’ll be starting at one thing and that’s the point. [OMG My Money commentary] as soon as I wake up, I ask myself what is the one thing I want to accomplish today that will get me to where I want to be (whether it is a financial goal, job goal, side hustle goal). It is a habit I started forming sometime in 2021 when I started to get overwhelmed by everything (work, side hustles, personal).

The Domino Effect

  • When one thing, the right thing, is set in motion, it can topple many things and larger things.
  • When you think about success, shoot for the moon. The moon is reachable if you prioritize everything and put all of your energy into accomplishing the most important thing.
  • Getting extraordinary results is all about creating a domino effect in your life. [OMG My Money commentary] consistent action is what I have learned is the most important to achieve those results, but unfortunately consistency is the toughest thing for most including me.
  • Extraordinary success is sequential not simultaneous. You do the right thing and then you do the next right thing. [OMG My Money commentary] simple concept, but so incredibly hard to follow.
  • The key is “over time”. Success is built sequentially. It’s one thing at a time.

Success Leaves Clues

  • Extraordinarily successful companies always have one product or service they’re most known for or makes them the most money. [OMG My Money commentary] think about Apple (phone), Walmart (price), Amazon (customer service, returns, shipping, ease), Zappos (customer service, shipping), Nike (basketball shoes), and on and on.
  • When you get the one thing, you begin to see the business world differently
  • No one is self made. Everyone has one person who either means the most to them or was the first to influence, train, or manage them. No one succeeds alone
  • Passion for something leads to disproportionate time practicing or working at it. That time spent eventually translates to skill. When skill improves, results improve. Better results generally lead to more enjoyment and more passion and more time is invested. [OMG My Money commentary] any side hustle I start takes me an extraordinary time upfront with little to no income coming in for a while before I start to get income momentum. I think this applies to anything really including skills you want to learn whether it is learning to play tennis or learning to play the piano.
  • The one thing sits at the heart of success and is the starting point for achieving extraordinary results.

Part 1

Everything Matters Equally

  • While to-dos serve as a useful collection of our best intentions, they also tyrannize us with trivial, unimportant stuff we feel obligated to get done because it’s on our list. [OMG My Money commentary] this book served as a great reminder that a to do list does not mean you accomplished meaningful tasks to achieve your goal. My to do list evolved to ensure that what is on my list is impactful and meaningful. This resulted in my list being much shorter.
  • The things which are most important don’t always scream the loudest.
  • Achievers do sooner what others plan to do later. Achievers always work from a clear sense of priority.
  • To do lists inherently lack the intent of success. In fact, most to do lists are actually just survival lists…not making each day a stepping stone for the next.
  • Instead of a to do list, you need a success list, a list that is purposely created around extraordinary results.
  • Go small, don’t focus on being busy, focus on being productive, allow what matters most to drive your day until there’s only one thing left. That core activity goes to the top of your success list. Don’t get trapped in the check off game. We can’t fall prey to the notion that everything has to be done. [OMG My Money commentary] we have all fallen into the trap of checking off to do lists and feeling accomplished. This book is a constant reminder of what to do lists should really be about and using the term success list makes it more literal for me and that helps.


  • High multitaskers are suckers for irrelevancy.
  • Multitasking is a lie because nearly everyone accepts it as an effective thing to do.
  • Multitasking is neither efficient nor effective. In the world of results, it will fail you every time. [OMG My Money commentary] when I listen to podcasts, I am always doing something else while listening, always. I have caught myself rewinding podcast episodes when I feel like I missed something important so in certain cases, I am being inefficient. That said there are just mundane tasks in which multitasking helps save time…or at least that is what I tell myself.
  • When you try to do two things at once, you either can’t or won’t do either well. [OMG My Money commentary] I am an expert in washing the dishes (I do not use a dishwasher) and listening to podcasts.
  • It always takes some time to start a new task and restart the one you quit and there’s no guarantee.
  • Multitasking doesn’t save time but rather wastes time.
  • You can do two things at once, but you can’t focus effectively on two things at once.
  • There is so much brain capability at any one time, divide it up as much as you want, but you’ll pay a price in time and effectiveness. [OMG My Money commentary] apart from what I call mundane, everyday tasks, any work or side hustle I do, I have minimized and almost eliminated multitasking. I have caught myself reworking or losing concentration or missing details when I have multitasked such as joining a work meeting and working on a PowerPoint deck. In the end I end up spending twice as long had I not multitasked.
  • The more time you spend switched to another task, the less likely you are to get back to your original task. This is how loose ends pile up.
  • Bounce between one activity and another and you lose time as your brain reorients to the new task. [OMG My Money commentary] this is one of the reasons I feel like it takes twice as long to refocus. I feel as though I have to take a couple steps back to understand exactly what I did while multitasking.
  • Multitasking takes a toll. When you try to do too much at once, you can end up doing nothing well. [OMG My Money commentary] I stopped using multitasking as one of my strengths long, long ago in interviews. Rather I focus on the ability to prioritize.
  • Though multitasking is sometimes possible, it’s never possible to do it effectively.

A Disciplined Life

  • We need the habit of doing it, we need just enough discipline to build the habit.
  • When you discipline yourself, you are essentially training yourself to act in a specific way. Stay with this long enough and it becomes routine, in other words, a habit.
  • The right discipline goes a long way and habits are hard only in the beginning. Over time the habit you’re after becomes easier and easier to sustain.
  • How long does it take to establish a new habit? It takes on average 66 days to acquire a new habit. [OMG My Money commentary] I have never put this to the test and I never believed in the 10,000 hour rule, but I do believe that consistency for at least 30 days straight is critical from personal experience.
  • Don’t be a disciplined person, be a person of powerful habits and use selected discipline to develop them.
  • Build one habit at a time. Success is sequential not simultaneous. No one actually has the discipline to acquire more than one powerful new habit at a time.
  • One at a time over time.

Willpower Is Always on Will-Call

  • Willpower or the ability to delay gratification was a huge indicator of future success. [OMG My Money commentary] delaying gratification is one of the most important “skills” you need to have in order to be financially independent. Satisfying that gratification was by far the toughest for me in my 20s leasing luxury cars and buying designer name brands. Although those materialistic things are still of interest to me, I am now much more mature financially to realize that I have bigger and more satisfying desire to fulfill. The times in my late 30s I have asked myself, “will this purchase actually help me” is in the thousands whereas in my 20s, I had never asked myself that question.
  • When our willpower runs out, we all revert to our default settings, so what are your default settings? Default will define your level of achievement. Average is often the result.
  • The list of things that can tax your willpower: implementing new behaviors, filtering distractions, resisting temptation, suppressing emotion, restraining aggression, suppressing impulses, taking tests, trying to impress others, coping with fear, doing something you don’t enjoy, selecting long term over short term rewards.
  • Don’t spread your willpower too thin. On any given day, you have a limited supply of willpower so decide what matters most and reserve your willpower for it. Never let what matters most be compromised. Time your task, do what matters most first each day when your willpower is strongest.
  • Don’t fight your willpower, build your days around how it works and let it do its part to build your life. When you use willpower first on what matters most, you can always count on it.

A Balanced Life

  • Extraordinary results require focused attention and time. Time on one thing means time away from another. This makes balance impossible. [OMG My Money commentary] “work life balance”. Not a real thing in my opinion. I play along with this notion when colleagues say you seem to have a good work life balance, whatever they mean by that, but in reality behind the scenes, I am making sacrifices that no one else knows about nor do they need to know about.
  • Time waits for no one. Push something to an extreme and postponement can become permanent.
  • When you gamble with your time, you may be placing a bet you can’t cover. Even if you’re sure you can win, be careful you can live with what you lose.
  • The idea of counterbalancing is that you never go so far that you can’t find your way back or stay so long that there is nothing waiting for you when you return.
  • Think about two balancing buckets, separate your work life and personal life into two distinct buckets just for counterbalancing.
  • Start leading a counterbalanced life. Let the right things take precedence when they should and get to the rest when you can. An extraordinary life is a counterbalancing act.

Big Is Bad

  • If you fear big success, you’ll either avoid it or sabotage your efforts to achieve it.
  • When we connect big with bad, we trigger shrinking thinking, lowering our trajectory feels safe, staying where we are feels prudent, but the opposite is true. When big is believed to be bad, small thinking rules the day and big never sees the light of it.
  • Success requires action and action requires thought, but here’s the catch. The only actions that become springboards to succeeding big are those informed by big thinking to begin with. [OMG My Money commentary] this is why having a vision and a goal are your starting points then comes strategy then comes tactics and actions to take.
  • Big stands for greatness meaning extraordinary results. To live great, you have to think big. Achievement and abundance show up because they are the natural outcomes of doing the right things with no limits attached.
  • Don’t fear big. Fear mediocrity, fear waste, fear the lack of living to your fullest. When we fear big, we either consciously or subconsciously work against it.
  • Think big. Avoid incremental thinking that simply asks what do I do next. Ask bigger questions. Act bold. Big thoughts. Don’t fear failure. Adopt a growth mindset.
  • We fail our way to success. When we fail, we stop. We ask what we need to do to succeed. We learn from our mistakes and we grow. Don’t be afraid to fail, see it as part of your learning process.
  • Don’t let small thinking cut your life down to size, think big, aim high, act bold.

Part 2

The Focusing Question

  • The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret to getting started is breaking your complex, overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks and then starting on the first one. [OMG My Money commentary] one of my biggest weaknesses (or opportunities) at work was being uncomfortable with ambiguous tasks. This means if I am given a large project with no set roadmap or deadline, I struggle to put the necessary steps in place to come up with a self imposed deadline. What I have successfully done to turn ambiguous projects into more of a strength and a great turnaround story to tell is exactly what this chapter recommends. When overwhelmed with a given assignment, start small, start with one thing, and use that momentum to achieve your milestones.
  • What’s the one thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary.
  • The big picture question: what’s my one thing. Use it to develop a vision for your life and the direction for your career or company.
  • The small focus question: what’s my one thing right now. Use this when you first wake up and throughout the day. It keeps you focused on your most important work and whenever you need it.
  • Extraordinary results come from asking the focusing question. It is the ultimate success habit for your life.

The Success Habit

  • The focusing question is a way of life to find the most leveraged priority, make the most out of my time, and get the biggest bang for my buck.
  • Whenever the outcome absolutely matters, ask the focusing question.
  • What’s the one thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary.
  • Start each day by asking what’s the one thing I can do today. [OMG My Money commentary] I began to end my days and start my mornings with asking myself what is the one thing I need to accomplish today for my (financial, side hustle, work) goal. If I do not complete that one thing, I consider that day to be a waste and I become full of regret. I learned to detest that feeling of regret or disappointing myself. Do not know if this is a healthy mentality to have, but so far it has worked.

The Path to Great Answers

  • Ask a great question. The focusing question helps you ask a great question. Think big and specific.
  • Find a great answer. Answers come in three categories: doable, stretch, and possibility.
  • Setting a goal you intend to achieve is like asking a question. It’s a simple step from, I’d like to do that, to, how do I achieve that.
  • The best goal is big and specific. Big because you’re after extraordinary results. Specific to give you something to aim at and to leave no wiggle room about whether you hit the mark.

Part 3

Live with Purpose

  • Live with purpose, live with priority, and live for productivity. Purpose is a combination of where we’re going and what’s important to us. Priority is what we place the greatest importance on. Productivity comes from the actions we take. Our purpose sets our priority and our priority determines the productivity our actions produce.
  • How do we find enduring happiness? Happiness happens on the way to fulfillment. [OMG My Money commentary] to me this simply means enjoy the journey. As I was on my journey to becoming debt free, I read and listened to many stories of individuals becoming debt free, but not knowing what to do after and not celebrating the major debt free milestone. I told myself that as I work so incredibly hard to become debt free, I am going to create milestones along the way to ensure that I celebrate the little wins. This led to extra motivation to become debt free well ahead of the date goal I had set.
  • Five factors that contribute to our happiness: positive emotion and pleasure, achievement, relationships, engagement, and meaning. Of these 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 find lasting happiness.
  • Financially wealthy people are those who have enough money coming in without having to work to finance their purpose in life. [OMG My Money commentary] this is it.
  • Happiness happens when you have a bigger purpose than having more money fulfills, which is why we say happiness happens on the way to fulfillment.

Live by Priority

  • Live with purpose and you know where you want to go. Live by priority and you’ll know what to do to get there.
  • Purpose without priority is powerless. To be precise the word is priority, not priorities.
  • Your most important priority is the one thing you can do right now that will help you achieve what matters most to you. You may have many priorities, but dig deep and you’ll discover there’s always one thing that matters most. [OMG My Money commentary] this one has not hit me the way other statements have hit me.
  • Pull your purpose through to a single priority built by goal setting to the now and that priority will show you the way to extraordinary results.

Live for Productivity

  • Productive people get more done, achieve better results, and earn far more in their hours than rest. They do so because they devout maximum time being productive on their top priority.
  • Time blocking is a very results oriented way of viewing and using time. It’s a way of making sure that what has to be done gets done.
  • Time blocking harnesses your energy and centers it on your most important work. It’s productivity’s greatest power tool. [OMG My Money commentary] it was during the COVID lockdown when everyone had to work from home that I had to time block. Meetings were starting to drain on me and were starting to become overwhelming. I started by time blocking the lunch hour. I then started to time block the mornings and later afternoons. Eventually I added a 25 minute time block usually between 2-3pm because this is the time that I would either walk around the house, work out, or just….think to myself and breath. These consistent time blocks not only alleviated the burn out and stress I was feeling, but it helped clear my mind and focus on me.
  • To achieve extraordinary results and experience greatness, time block these three things in the following order: time block your time off, time block your one thing, time block your planning time.
  • Resting is as important as working. [OMG My Money commentary] everyone who works out or trains absolutely understands the importance of resting. Work should be the same way, but with all the devices that make it so easy for us to connect at work, disconnecting and resting are tougher than one may think.
  • Your most important thing comes second because you can’t happily sustain success in your professional life if you neglect your personal recreation time.
  • The most important appointment each day is with yourself.
  • The key to making this work to block time as early in your day as you possibly can. Give yourself 30 minutes to an hour to take care of morning priorities, then move to your one thing.
  • Recommendation is to block four hours a day. That’s the minimum. [OMG My Money commentary] a bit excessive. This is very hard to do especially if you have a typical 9-5. Rather do what I did and start small. Start with blocking 30 min to 1 hour during lunch. Even if you do not eat lunch like I did not, it was still a time block I used for myself. Once I got used to this time block, I started to expand the time blocks to mornings and late afternoons.
  • Planning time is when you reflect on where you are and where you want to go.
  • For time blocks to actually block time.
  • Your own need to do other things instead of your one thing may be your biggest challenge to overcome.
  • Four proven ways to battle distractions and keep your eye on the one thing
    • Build a bunker – find somewhere to work that takes you out of the path of disruption and interruption
    • Store provisions – avoid leaving your bunker
    • Sweep for mines – turn off your phone, shut down your email, and exit your internet browser
    • Enlist support
  • Time block your one thing. The best way to make your one thing happen is to make regular appointments with yourself, Block time early in the day and block big chunks of it, no less than four hours. Protect your time block at all costs. Your time block is your most important meeting of the day.
  • The people who achieve extraordinary results don’t achieve them by working more hours, they achieve them by getting more done in the hours they work.

The Three Commitments

  • Achieving extraordinary results through time blocking requires three commitments: adopt the mindset of someone seeking mastery, you must continually seek the very best ways of doing things, you must be willing to be held accountable to doing everything you can to achieve your one thing.
  • Commitment one is follow the path of mastery – most assume mastery is an end result, but at its core mastery is a way of thinking, a way of acting, and a journey you experience.
  • Mastery means you’re a master of what you know and an apprentice of what you don’t. We become masters of what is behind us and apprentices for what is ahead. This is why mastery is a journey.
  • Time on a task over time eventually beats talent every time.
  • Commitment two moving from E (entrepreneurial) to P (purposeful) – continually improving how you do something is critical to getting the most from time blocking.
  • Entrepreneurial is our natural approach. It’s seeing something we want to do or that needs to be done and racing off to do it with enthusiasm, energy, and our natural abilities.
  • The purposeful approach says I’m still committed to growing so what are my options. You then use the focusing question to narrow those choices down to the next thing you should do.
  • Commitment three live the accountability cycle – actions determine outcomes and outcomes inform actions. Taking complete ownership of your outcomes by holding no one but yourself responsible for them is the most powerful thing you can do to drive your success.
  • Accountability is most likely the most important of the three commitments. Without it your journey down the path of mastery will be cut short the moment you encounter a challenge.
  • Accountable people are results oriented. [OMG My Money commentary] as I have managed teams, this is very true. I hold myself and my team (and peers) accountable and this inevitably leads to results.
  • If the path of mastery is a commitment to be your best, being purposeful is a commitment to adopt the best possible approach. Take ownership of your outcomes. Change occurs only when you’re accountable.

The Four Thieves

  • The inability to say no – the way to protect what you said yes to and stay productive is to say no to anyone or anything that could derail you. [OMG My Money commentary] the further you move up in your business, the more you realize how important it is to say no. When I was starting out in my Marketing career, I said yes to everything. I soon experienced the balance needed between saying yes and no. As a senior executive, there are now more times I just have to say no.
  • When you say yes to something, it’s imperative you understand what you’re saying no to. One half of knowing what you want is knowing what you must give up before you get it.
  • If you can’t say no a lot, you’ll never truly be able to say yes to achieving your one thing.
  • The fear of chaos – when you strive for greatness, chaos is guaranteed to show up. It’s important for you to accept this instead of fighting it.
  • Poor health habits – meditate and pray for spiritual energy, eat right and exercise and sleep sufficiently for physical energy, hug, kiss, and laugh with loved ones for emotional energy, set goals, plan, and calendar for mental energy, time block your one thing for business energy.
  • An environment that doesn’t support your goals – who you see and what you experience every day. Being with success minded people will create a positive spiral of success where they lift you up and send you on your way.
  • Start saying no. When you say yes to something, you’re saying no to everything else. It’s the essence of keeping a commitment. Accept chaos. Manage your energy. Don’t sacrifice your healthy by trying to take on too much. Make sure the people around you support your goals.
  • Purpose of life is to be useful, to be responsible, to be compassionate. It is above all to matter, to count, to stand for something, to have made some difference that you live at all. Live with purpose, live by priority, and live for productivity.

The Journey

  • Extraordinary results require you to go small. Getting your focus as small as possible simplifies your thinking and crystallizes what you must do.
  • Live your life to minimize the regret you might have at the end.
  • When you bring purpose to your life, know your priorities, and achieve high productivity on the priority that matters most every day, your life makes sense and extraordinary becomes possible.

Putting the ONE Thing to Work

  • Your personal life – let the one thing bring clarity to the key areas of your life.
  • Your family – use the one thing with family for fun and rewarding experiences.
  • Time block with yourself to make sure the things that matter get done and the activities that matter get mastered.
  • Your job – put the one thing to work taking your professional life to the next level
  • Your work team – pull the one thing into your work with others.
  • The secret to extraordinary results is to ask a very big and specific question that leads you to one very small and tightly focused answer. If you try to do everything, you can wind up with nothing. If you try to do just one thing, the right one thing, you can wind up with everything you ever wanted.

You can check out the entire business book recap series below:

  1. The Richest Man in Babylon book recap – George S. Clason
  2. How to Win Friends and Influence People book recap – Dale Carnegie
  3. Think and Grow Rich book recap – Napoleon Hill
  4. The Tipping Point book recap – Malcolm Gladwell
  5. The ONE Thing book recap – Gary Keller, Jay Papasan

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *