Review: Gary Keller’s The One Thing: The Surprising Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results

The One ThingThis review first ran in the Oct. 28th edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The One Thing: The Surprising Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results

By Gary Keller

Bard Press


You’re putting in long hours at the office, stealing time from your family and packing on the pounds thanks to lousy eating habits and zero exercise.

Your plate’s overloaded with projects and special assignments.

You’re on every team, committee and working group imaginable at work and in the community.

And you’re quick to pitch in and lend a hand to anyone and everyone who asks for help.

Maybe you’re doing all this because you genuinely enjoy being helpful and aspire to sainthood.

But if you’re overloaded and overwhelmed because you’re dreaming of a big pay day, you might be in for an even bigger disappointment.

Author Gary Keller has spent a lot of time in the company of successful people. And he’s found the most successful are also the most productive.

“Productive people get more done, achieve better results and earn for more in their hours than the rest,” says Keller.   Yes, they work hard. But they also have time for family and friends, vacations, hobbies and exercise.

All us start every morning with same 24 hours in our day. Highly successful people spend their time differently than the rest of us.

They start each day by asking a variation on the same million dollar question, says Keller.

What’s the one thing I can do such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?

It’s not what are the 20, 10 or even 5 things that I should try doing at once,  might get around to doing sometime in the future or drop at a moment’s notice?

To be great, we need a singular focus on the one thing – our most important priority — that must be done without delay and that sets us up for success.  To borrow a line from legendary coach Vince Lombardi, “success demands singleness of purpose.”

We need to make one and done our mantra.

“You want your achievements to add up but that actually takes subtraction, not addition,” says Keller. “You need to be doing fewer things for more effect instead of doing more things with side effects. If disproportionate results come from one activity, then you must give that one activity disproportionate time.

“At any moment in time there can be only one thing and when that one thing is in line with your purpose and sits atop your priorities, it will be the most productive thing you can do to launch you toward the best you can be.”

So how do you actually get around to doing your one thing when you’re bombarded with requests and distractions?  Keller recommends blocking at least four uninterrupted hours at a stretch in your day. “This isn’t a typo. Honestly, that’s the minimum. If you can do more, then do it.”

This block of time ideally falls at the front end of your day, when you’ve yet to draw down or completely deplete your daily dose of willpower.

For this to work, you need to start declining meeting requests and saying no and maybe later to colleagues looking for help and advice. Quit looking at every email that lands in your inbox.  You also need to get comfortable with loose ends and some chaos. “There will always be unfinished work and loose ends lying around to snare your focus. When you strive for greatness, chaos is guaranteed to show up.”

Let the people around you know when you’re available and when you shouldn’t be disturbed.  Learn how to redirect colleagues in need of assistance. And don’t be above begging and bartering with colleagues and family for blocks of time.

“It’s your job to protect your time blocks from all those who don’t know what matters most to you, and from yourself when you forget. When you say yes to something, it’s imperative that you understand what you’re saying no to. Saying yes to everyone is the same as saying yes to nothing.”

And don’t fool yourself into thinking you can multi-task, doing your one thing while knocking off a laundry list of other priorities. “If doing the most important thing is the most important thing, why would you try to do anything else at the same time? When you try to do two things at once, you either can’t or won’t do either well. It’s an effective way to get less done.”

So if you’re overworked and overwhelmed with an overloaded to-do list, heed Keller’s advice.

“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.”

And tit starts with figuring out the one thing you need to get doing and done first.

Published by

Jay Robb

I've reviewed more than 500 business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and worked in public relations since 1993.

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