Review: The ONE Thing by Gary Keller

February 21, 2021

Who is Gary Keller?

Gary Keller is a best-selling author and entrepreneur. As the co-founder of Keller Williams Realty, he is also one of the most influential people in Real Estate. Keller Williams ranks as the largest real estate company in the world in agent count, closed sales volume, and units sold.

As the author of The One Thing, The Millionaire Real Estate Agent, and The Millionaire Real Estate Investor, Keller has taught millions of students the lessons he’s learned as a titan in the industry. He uses his experience as an entrepreneur and executive to produce online content, teach and train his employees, and as a public speaker. You can learn more about Keller and Keller Williams Realty here.

Jay Papasan has served as a co-author of all three books mentioned above. He shares his expertise as a public speaker and as Vice President of training and learning at Keller Williams. You can learn more about Papasan here.

What will you learn in The One Thing?

Keller begins the book by addressing some myths about success and productivity that exist in today’s society. These include myths about multitasking, our own willpower, and others.

Multitasking

With regards to multitasking, Keller, like many other high achievers I’ve studied, considers it one of the most ineffective ways to approach your work. In The One Thing, Keller references the origins of the phrase “multitasking” and how it has developed a different meaning since then.

The phrase was originally used in the context of computers and multiple tasks alternately sharing one resource (the CPU). Over time, however, it has become known to mean multiple tasks done simultaneously by one resource (a person).

Essentially, when we multitask, we are just dividing our focus between tasks. Since we cannot focus on more than one thing at once, we just alternate back and forth between these tasks. This means that we need time to A) conscientiously make the decision to switch and B) regain the focus and “rules” of this new task that we have assumed. Multitasking then, costs us in time and effectiveness.

“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.”

Keller, pg. 46

What should you focus on then? Well your ONE Thing of course!

“In order to be able to put the principle of The ONE Thing to work, you can’t buy into the lie that trying to do two things at once is a good idea. Though multitasking is sometimes possible, it’s never possible to do it effectively.”

Keller, pg. 53

Our ability to summon willpower

In the book, Keller references how we treat our own willpower or mental energy at work and in our personal lives. Society tells us that we can summon our willpower at any given point or how Keller puts it, that it’s “on-call”. For instance, when we work on a tough task for hours without a break, or when we attend 5 straight meetings, we’re assuming that our ability to make good decisions and focus is always at our disposal. According to Keller, however, this is a lie. 

Keller says that we should instead treat our willpower like a phone battery. Meaning, as a limited but renewable resource that we can use in doses but will eventually need to plug in or charge. This rest or downtime where we don’t use it will ensure that it’s available to us the next time we need it. 

This definition of willpower has major implications for how we spend our time and make decisions. First, since it’s a limited resource, any willpower or mind power we use now, won’t be available to us later. This means that our 7th, 8th, and 9th decisions of the day won’t be as effective as our 1st. A more personal example would be if you’re dieting. If you succeed in resisting unhealthy food all day, you may be unable to resist a treat at night. 

Second, it means that our supply of willpower is available for peak performance at the beginning of the day. Since you haven’t begun making major decisions, the mornings are the perfect time to work on your ONE Thing. This 2nd point aligns with the habits of other high achievers I have studied!

Therefore, as with any limited resource, Keller says you must learn how to manage your mental energy. This means incorporating appropriate amounts of rest and breaks in between tasks and getting the most important things done first. So, when you reserve time for your ONE Thing, make sure it’s in the morning so that your willpower has a full charge.

“Don’t fight your willpower. Build your days around how it works and let it do its part to build your life. Willpower may not be on will-call, but when you use it first on what matters most, you can always count on it.”

Keller, pg. 71

The Focusing Question

The central theme of this book is that we can increase our effectiveness and reach extraordinary results if we simply focused on our ONE Thing.

“Anyone who dreams of an uncommon life eventually discovers there is no choice but to seek an uncommon approach to living it. The Focusing Question is that uncommon approach. In a world of no instructions, it becomes the simple formula for finding exceptional answers that lead to extraordinary results.”

Keller, pg. 106

According to Keller, the focusing question is as follows:

  • What’s the ONE THING I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?

You can use this question to develop a vision and direction for your life. It can assist you in creating long-term and short-term goals. Moreover, you can use this question to find what you should be doing today and right now. Keller references The Domino Effect throughout the book. The focusing question will grant us the answer on how to knock over the first domino.

“The Focusing Question is a great question designed to find a great answer.”

Keller, pg. 110

Purpose, Priority, and Productivity

Keller describes the formula for extraordinary results as successfully combining purpose, priority, and productivity. You need to live on purpose, by priority, for productivity. 

Luckily, you can use the Focusing Question to find the answers for each of these things at any given time. You can use it to find a vision and direction for your life (purpose). Then, ask yourself the Focusing Question to decide what task you should complete or focus on next (priority). Finally, you can use it to reserve the time necessary for what matters most, or your ONE Thing (productivity).

“There can only be ONE. 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 is always one that matters most, your top priority – your ONE thing.”

Keller, pg. 154

Time Blocking

To ensure that you’re productive with whatever time you spend on your ONE Thing, Keller includes what I think is one of the most powerful planning methods I’ve studied. Keller has been fortunate enough to work for and spend time with highly successful people throughout his career. A pattern that he noticed amongst them was how intentional and protective they were, of the time they set aside for their ONE Thing.

Specifically, Keller references a method he uses called Time Blocking. This is where you reserve a block of time in your day to focus on your single most important task – your ONE Thing. During this time, you forget everything else and focus squarely on this ONE task. Once this block of time is complete/you have completed your ONE Thing, you can devote the rest of the day to anything else that needs your attention.

According to Keller, there are 3 things you want to time block for. These are 1) your time off (vacation time), 2) your ONE Thing, and 3) your planning time (where you do more time blocking). Since rest is so important to reaching your full potential and you know you’ll need it, that is first on your list of things to time block for. Next, you create a time block for your ONE Thing. A task that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary (see the Focusing Question above). Specifically, for your ONE Thing, Keller recommends this time block to be 4hrs long, at a minimum.

Lastly, you want to reserve the time for planning and blocking out these times in your calendar. Time blocking your planning time ensures a) you spend an adequate amount of time thinking about your upcoming commitments and b) that it gets done!

Important Note: Once you successfully time block, equally as important is to protect your time blocks. Successful people protect their time and commitments and don’t let distractions stop them from achieving extraordinary results!

“If disproportionate results come from one activity, then you must give that one activity disproportionate time.”

Keller, pg. 161

The Four Thieves

In The One Thing, Keller describes what he calls The Four Thieves. These are things in our lives that rob us of our productivity and keep us from reaching our full potential. They are:

1. Our inability to say “no”

We must remember that every time we say “yes” to a request, or agree to a new commitment, we are simultaneously saying “no” to something else. Protect your time blocks (see above) by saying no to everything until your ONE thing is complete. 

Those who are requesting your help or time will understand as long as you communicate! If they don’t, see the 4th thief below.

2. Fear of Chaos

When we focus on what’s important and spend a disproportionate amount of time on our ONE Thing, other things will begin to pile up. Do not be afraid of chaos and of loose ends appearing in other areas of your life. This is inevitable! Expect them to appear and manage them accordingly, without compromising your ONE Thing.

“Recognize that pursuing your ONE Thing moves other things to the back burner…This kind of chaos is unavoidable. Make peace with it. Learn to deal with it.”

Keller, pg. 206

3. Poor Health Habits

This point is self-explanatory but it bears repeating because so many of us feel that we can compromise our physical health and body for future results. Keller actually put your health habits ahead of your ONE Thing in the book. 

He, like so many others, acknowledged that without sleep and rest, energy, etc. one cannot expect to produce their best work. Therefore, the only thing more important than your ONE Thing is your health.

“Your body is an amazing machine, but it doesn’t come with a warranty, you can’t trade it in, and repairs can be costly. It’s important to manage your energy so you can do what you must do, achieve what you want to achieve, and live the life you want to live.”

Keller, pg. 207

4. An unsupportive environment

Your environment affects you and your performance more than you think. Whether it’s the attitudes of co-workers or family members, their negativity, or lack of fulfillment, this will affect your productivity.

Aside from our performance habits, the people who we hang out with the most also influence our health habits (see the 3rd thief above). The implications of this can be life-altering! 
Whether it’s endless partying or drinking, unhealthy eating and obesity, or even our earnings, the habits we adopt from our friends will determine our future.

Countless studies have shown that we become more like our friends over time. Therefore, make sure you surround yourself with individuals that will encourage you, hold you accountable, and motivate you to reach your full potential. Inevitably, this also means that you must show those that don’t the door.

“Take ownership of your environment. Make sure that the people around you and your physical surroundings support your goals.”

Keller, pg. 207

Final Verdict: 9.75/10

In a world filled with distractions, meaningless tasks, and other stimuli, The One Thing is as important as ever. A guide on how to find, develop, and focus on your ONE Thing can be the wake-up call that so many of us need. What Keller and Papasan describe in this book can change the course of your life.

By limiting multitasking and the societal clutter of our lives, you can focus on the development of your ONE Thing and reach your true potential. Since focus and time are needed to reach mastery in any skill, you will need to narrow your focus to choose and develop your ONE Thing. Start by asking yourself the Focusing Question and figuring out what you can do today to knock over your first domino.

I highly recommend this book to all aspiring high-achievers, entrepreneurs, and anyone who feels like they have too many commitments stealing their time. If you want to achieve extraordinary results, focus on your ONE Thing.

If you enjoyed this book review, you’ll love my review of Grit by Angela Duckworth!

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