29 Lessons from The ONE Thing by Gary Keller {Book Review}

I’ve recently started to take proper notes when reading non-fiction books, because (1) my memory sucks and (2) I am obsessed with Derek Sivers’ book notes, and wanted there to be more out there.

So, rather than put all the responsibility on Mr Sivers, I’m doing my bit for the cause.

What I learnt from Gary Keller's 'The One Thing'

I also figured it might be helpful for anyone here who hasn’t read the full book, but want some solid takeaways.

Of course, I still recommend reading the whole book: and you might already know I’m a fan of this one because of the amount of times I’ve recommended it on the blog already.

These notes were taken from a 2nd reading of the book, and while I picked out more flaws this time round (see my criticism at the end) I also found some golden nuggets I missed on the first read.

Anyway, hopefully you’ll find my takeaways as useful and as applicable to your life as I did.

29 Lessons from The ONE Thing by Gary Keller

1) The ONE thing that you should be focussing on isn’t always clear.

Keller gives the example of the Star Wars franchise. What makes most money: the merchandise or the movies? Well the answer is the merch.

Revenue from toys recently totaled over $10 billion, while combined worldwide box office revenue for the six main films totaled less than half that, $4.3 billion.

But does that make Star Wars merchandise the only thing the creators need to focus on? Nope.

From where I sit, movies are the ONE Thing because they make the toys and products possible.

2) Busyness is BS!

Activity is often unrelated to productivity, and busyness rarely takes care of business.

The One Thing-08

3) To-do lists should NOT be confused with brain dumps

In fact, most to-do lists are actually just survival lists—getting you through your day and your life, but not making each day a stepping-stone for the next so that you sequentially build a successful life.

4) The 80/20 Principle is REAL!

Pareto’s Principle, it turns out, is as real as the law of gravity, and yet most people fail to see the gravity of it. It’s not just a theory—it is a provable, predictable certainty of nature and one of the greatest productivity truths ever discovered.

5) Even computers don’t multitask

When they “multitask,” they switch back and forth, alternating their attention until both tasks are done. The speed with which computers tackle multiple tasks feeds the illusion that everything happens at the same time, so comparing computers to humans can be confusing.

… and that’s where the word came from!

6) Most work environments are NOT conducive to productivity

Researchers estimate that workers are interrupted every 11 minutes and then spend almost a third of their day recovering from these distractions.

Takeaway: create some kind of system where you are left undisturbed to focus on a task for a solid chunk of time each day.

7) Some hope for us perfection-seekers

Success is about doing the right thing, not about doing everything right.

The One Thing-04

8) When it comes to forming habits, slow and steady wins the race

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.

9) Things that use up 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

10) Honour your willpower

Don’t fight your willpower. Build your days around how it works and let it do its part to build your life.

11) Honour your time

Time waits for no one. Push something to an extreme and postponement can become permanent.

12) Balancing our work and our life

“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—family, health, friends, integrity—are made of glass. If you drop one of these, it will be irrevocably scuffed, nicked, perhaps even shattered.”

Suzanne’s Diary for Nicholas, James Patterson

13) True focus is…

When you’re supposed to be working, work, and when you’re supposed to be playing, play.

The One Thing-01

14) How far or high or deep we go is up to US

No one knows their ultimate ceiling for achievement, so worrying about it is a waste of time. What if someone told you that you could never achieve above a certain level? That you were required to pick an upper limit which you could never exceed? What would you pick? A low one or a high one? I think we know the answer. Put in this situation, we would all do the same thing—go big. Why? Because you wouldn’t want to limit yourself.

15) Use mile-markers to keep you going

“The rung of a ladder was never meant to rest upon, but only to hold a man’s foot long enough to enable him to put the other somewhat higher.” — Thomas Henry Huxley

The One Thing-06

16) Double-down

If your goal is ten, ask the question: “How can I reach 20?” Set a goal so far above what you want that you’ll be building a plan that practically guarantees your original goal.

17) The importance of asking yourself (and others) the right questions

Ask the wrong question, get the wrong answer. Ask the right question, get the right answer.

“… any wage I had asked of Life, Life would have willingly paid.” One of the most empowering moments of my life came when I realized that life is a question and how we live it is our answer. How we phrase the questions we ask ourselves determines the answers that eventually become our life.

18) The importance of gratitude to cultivate happiness

Once we get what we want, our happiness sooner or later wanes because we quickly become accustomed to what we acquire. This happens to everyone and eventually leaves us bored, seeking something new to get or do. Worse, we may not even stop or slow down to enjoy what we’ve got because we automatically get up and go for something else

19) Quit saying ‘priorities’!

To be precise, the word is priority —not priorities—and it originated in the 14th century from the Latin prior, meaning “first.” If something mattered the most it was a “priority.”

20) Be patient, young grasshopper

Even though people prefer big rewards over small ones, they have an even stronger preference for present rewards over future ones—even when the future rewards are MUCH BIGGER

21) Take rest days… seriously

Resting is as important as working. There are a few examples of successful people who violate this, but they are not our role models. They succeed in spite of how they rest and renew—not because of it.

22) You decide whether you’re a victim or not

No one is a born victim; it’s simply an attitude or an approach. But if allowed to persist, the cycle becomes a habit. The opposite is also true. Anyone can be accountable at any time—and the more you choose the cycle of accountability, the more likely it is to become your automatic answer to any adversity.

That’s one of my favourite quotes from the whole book, and reinforces how empowering Keller’s message is.

The One Thing-07

23) Get help from others

One of the fastest ways to bring accountability to your life is to find an accountability partner. Accountability can come from a mentor, a peer or, in its highest form, a coach.

(Hence why all my Leaguers get the option to benefit from an accountability buddy…)

24) The Four Thieves of Productivity:

  • Inability to Say “No”
  • Fear of Chaos
  • Poor Health Habits
  • Environment Doesn’t Support Your Goals

25) If it’s not a “Hell YES” it’s a…

When you say yes to something, it’s imperative that you understand what you’re saying no to .

26) Surround yourself with the right people

Every day, throughout your day, you come in contact with others and are influenced by them. Unquestionably, these individuals impact your attitude, your health—and ultimately, your performance. The people around you may be more important than you think

27) How to check your environment for distractions:

Walk through the path you’ll take each day, and eradicate all the sight and sound thieves that you find. For me, at home it’s simple things like e-mail, the morning paper, the morning TV news shows, the neighbors out walking their dogs

28) Set yourself ‘stretch goals’

Write down your current income. Then multiply it by a number: 2, 4, 10, 20—it doesn’t matter. Just pick one, multiply your income by it, and write down the new number. Looking at it and ignoring whether you’re frightened or excited, ask yourself, “Will my current actions get me to this number in the next five years?” If they will, then keep doubling the number until they won’t.

29) The most common regret of the dying:

I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself not the life others expected of me


My criticism of The ONE Thing:

  1. No action steps for entire first half of the book. Yes, there are some general ‘tips’ in the second half, but it wouldn’t be hard for Keller to have created some exercises following each chapter to really get the reader to put these principles and theories into action that same day. I might have to do this myself…
  2. It does get a bit repetitive. I know this is how ideas are meant to ‘hit home’: we learn through repetition. But it really is a simple concept: and if we’re trying to be productive, may be the book could have been condensed a little.
  3. Lack of advice on working out our ONE thing. Heck, I’m not an expert, but even I could work out a way to figure out the one thing you should focus on using this simple, measurable exercise.
  4. Lack of advice on dealing with fear. The real difficulty on choosing to focus on just one thing, in my opinion, isn’t in staying on track, or staying motivated or balancing your work and your life. It’s dealing with the fear that comes from putting all your eggs in one basket. I couldn’t find any practical tips on this.
  5. No mention of skilful practise. Often the ‘10,000 hour’ as a rule-of-thumb to mastering any skill is misused, and Keller does it too. He forgets the importance of deliberate, skilful practise. Just doing something badly for 10,000 hours won’t make you a master of that thing.

Have you read The ONE Thing?

If so, let me know how you rate it, and if you took anything else away with you from reading it – leave a comment below or hit me up on Twitter @creativeintro