Dissecting “The One Thing” by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan



  1. The ONE Thing ☝️
  2. The Domino Effect
  3. Success Leaves Clues

Part 1: “The Lies” – They mislead and derail us

  1. Everything Matters Equally 🙅‍♂️
  2. Multitasking 🤣
  3. A Disciplined Life 🤯
  4. Will Power Is Always on Will-Call ❌
  5. A Balanced Life 😳
  6. Big Is Bad 🚫

Part 2: “The Simple Truth” – The Simple Path to Productivity

  1. The Focusing Question
  2. The Success Habit
  3. The Path to Great Answers

Part 3: “Extraordinary Results” – Unlocking the Possibilities Within You

  1. Live With Purpose
  2. Live By Priority
  3. Live For Productivity
  4. The Three Commitments
  5. The Four Thieves
  6. The Journey


  • Putting The ONE Thing to Work
  • On The Research



Chapter 1: “The One Thing”

“Finally, out of desperation, I went as small as I could possibly go and asked: ‘What’s the ONE thing you can do this week such by doing it everything else would be easier or unnecessary?’ And the most awesome thing happened.”

Gary Keller with Jay Papasan | The One Thing, Page 9

Gary tells a story of a time his life-coach helped him realize that if he were to just focus on ONE thing, instead of trying to gain control of many things at once, then he would be able to turn things around in his company. He then gave his employees only ONE objective per week rather than trying accomplishing several tasks and results skyrocketed. “Going small” and “getting to the heart of things…” will help make sure you are focusing on what matters most. When directing all of your attention to your one thing, you yield an extraordinary result, NOT several OK results. The next chapter explains why…

“Where I had huge success, I had narrowed my concentration to one thing, and where my success varied, my focus had too.”

Gary Keller with Jay Papasan | The One Thing, Page 9

Chapter 2: “The Domino Effect”

“In 1983, Lorne Whitehead wrote in the American Journal of Physics…

…how a single domino is capable of bringing down another domino that is actually 50 percent larger.”

Gary Keller with Jay Papasan | The One Thing, Page 13

“The Domino Effect” goes on to describe that if you start with a single domino fall, you would be able to topple a domino the size of the Leaning Tower of Pisa by the 23rd fall, and a domino that almost reaches to the moon by the 57th fall. This approach should be applied when thinking about our major goals. Don’t be scared by huge “dominos” you will have to overcome. With each ONE major thing you accomplish, you gain more power and strength to overtake an even bigger hurdle. Just OK results don’t have enough power to “topple bigger dominos”, which is why one great result is better than several OK results.

Chapter 3: “Success Leaves Clues”

“Proof of the ONE Thing is everywhere. Look closely and you’ll always find it.”

Gary Keller with Jay Papasan | The One Thing, Page 17

This chapter gives examples and talks about how the concept of direct focus on ONE major thing is a recurring theme in successful businesses and people. Some examples include: Google with search, Colonel Sanders with a single fried chicken recipe, and Michael Phelps with swimming. There isn’t too much “meat” in this chapter, it just shows that the concept does have merit. 🆗☑️👨‍🔬

“There can only be one most important thing. Many things may be important, but only ONE can be the most important.”

Ross Garber | The One Thing, Page 19

Part One
The Lies: They Mislead and Derail Us

“The six lies are beliefs that get into our heads and become operational principles driving us the wrong way.”

Gary Keller with Jay Papasan | The One Thing, Page 19

Part One is divided into 6 chapters which are the the “Six Lies Between You And Success”. It addresses six commonly accepted notions by which a lot of us live our lives by, or have at least made major decisions based upon. According to this chapter, these “6 lies” are to be put to rest if we’re to have any chance at sustainable success.

The Six Lies Between You And Success

  1. Everything Matters Equally
  2. Multitasking
  3. A Disciplined Life
  4. Willpower Is Always On Will-Call
  5. A Balanced Life
  6. Big Is Bad

Chapter 4: “Everything Matters Equally”

“The 80/20 Principle asserts that a minority of the causes, inputs, or effort usually leads a majority of the results, outputs, or rewards.”

Richard Koch | The 80/20 Principle

The 80/20 Principle is a fundamental occurrence that happens in nature and most parts of your life. It says that some things/actions have more weight than others, and it’s important to figure out exactly which actions are affecting which outcomes, so you can then make an intelligent decision on which to keep and which you can afford to cut. You’ll find you can eliminate a big portion of your actions while still keeping a big portion of your positive outcomes. Learn to say “no” or “later” to irrelevant or unimportant tasks and distractions. Doing more is not necessarily being productive.

One part that resonates a lot with myself as a musician is when the author talks about how he wanted to learn to play the guitar but could only set aside 20 minutes per day for practice. He knew this was not a lot of time, so he asked his friend and Blues guitar icon, Eric Johnson, for advise. Eric said that if he could only do ONE thing, then he should practice his scales. He was soon able to play many of the famous guitar solos from blues and rock legends by spending all his practice time learning ONE scale: the minor blues scale.

“The things which are most important don’t always scream the loudest.”

Bob Hawke | The One Thing, Page 34

Chapter 5: “Multitasking”

“To do two things at once is to do neither.”

Publilius Syrus | The One Thing, Page 43

This chapter goes into detail and explains how multitasking is not actually effective, or for that matter, even humanly possible. What people are actually doing when they multitask is “task-switching”. The human brain can do more than two things at once, like walking and talking, but we can only focus on one thing at a time. This is why if we are walking and talking and get into a heated discussion we tend to stop walking if the conversation gets heated/intensified, and visa-versa.

Not only is effective multitasking impossible, it severely and negatively affects quality AND production for anyone who tries “multi-tasking” (AKA “task-switching”). First of all, when you switch between tasks there is a lot of time lost because your brain has to do two things: 1.) make the decision to switch, and 2.) remember where you left off and redirect your focus to the new set of “rules” for the next task. It basically says starting and finishing one task at a time is scientifically proven to be more efficient and productive.

“When you try to do too much at once, you end up doing nothing well. Figure out what matters most in the moment and give it your undivided attention.”

Gary Keller with Jay Papasan | The One Thing, Page 53

Chapter 6: “A Disciplined Life”

“Super-successful people aren’t super-human at all; they’ve just used selected discipline to develop a few significant habits. One at a time. Over time.

Gary Keller with Jay Papasan | The One Thing, Page 59

When you see or think about people who seem to have crazy amounts of self-discipline, they actually have no more discipline than you or I. They used just enough self-discipline to train a specific action (or way of thinking) into their life until the action turned into a habit. This means the level of will-power needed for them to continue that action diminished from “high will-power” (lots of self-discipline) to virtually zero. One at a time, turning disciplined actions into good habits is how people transform their lives.

  • Each time you build a significant habit, it gets easier to form another.
  • How long does it take to build a habit?
    • “The full range was 18 – 254 days, but the 66 days represented a sweet spot…” (Page 59)

“…achievement isn’t an action you take, but a habit you forge into your life.”

Gary Keller with Jay Papasan | The One Thing, Page 60

“Habits are only hard in the beginning.”

Gary Keller with Jay Papasan | The One Thing, Page 57

Chapter 7: “Willpower Is Always On Will-Call”

“Everyday, without realizing it, we engage in all manner of activities that diminish our willpower…

…So like any other limited but vital resource, willpower must be managed.”

Gary Keller with Jay Papasan | The One Thing, Page 70

Most people never stop to think about how their willpower seems to come and go as if it has a mind of its own. Willpower is to be thought of as a “battery” or a “gas tank”. Everyday you start with a full tank (assuming you ate and rested well) and as you use your willpower throughout the day you use up it’s “battery life” or “gas”. Every time you resist even small urges, choose long-term over short-term happiness, or focus on something important, your willpower depletes.

That being said, your willpower is a resource you should put importance on managing, much like food or sleep. When you take into consideration you only have so much will power per day, which depletes quickly, it becomes apparent that your most important tasks should be completed as early in the day as possible. This again, goes back to only focusing on ONE thing at a time.


  • Implementing new behaviors
  • Filtering distractions
  • Resisting temptation
  • Suppressing emotion
  • Coping with fear
  • Doing something you dont enjoy
  • Restraining aggression
  • Suppressing impulses
  • Taking tests
  • Trying to impress others
  • Selecting long-term over short-term rewards


  • 7-8 hours of sleep

  • Proper nutrition
  • Sugars (too much can be bad)

It’s also important to note that, according to a research study in the late 60’s – early 70’s called the “Marshmallow Test” (by Walter Mischel), children who exhibited willpower early in life grew up to have higher feelings of self-worth, better stress management, and on average scored 210 points higher on SAT scores. When you run out, though, you tend to revert to your “default settings”. An example a book lists is another research study that shows judges deciding on parole requests and ultimately deciding if a prisoner should be let free or not. In the beginning of the day prisoners who see the parole judges have up to a 65% chance of being released, where as at the end of the day the chances for being released plunges to almost zero. The parole judges at the end of the day, with all their willpower used up, revert to their default setting, “No.”

“Good decisions depend on more than just wisdom and common sense.”

Gary Keller with Jay Papasan | The One Thing, Page 69

“…if you want to get the most out of your day, do you most important work – your ONE Thing – early, before your willpower is drawn down.”

Gary Keller with Jay Papasan | The One Thing, Page 71

Chapter 8: “A Balanced Life”

“The reason we shouldn’t pursue balance is that the magic never happens in the middle; magic happens at the extremes.”

Gary Keller with Jay Papasan | The One Thing, Page 76

This chapter proposes that “work-life balance” is not something we should be striving for. Assuming balance is the “middle”, out of balance (away from the middle) is what should should be aiming for. The reason we shouldn’t strive for balance, or the middle, is because “In your effort to attend to all things, everything gets shortchanged.” It’s to keep in mind, though, that when you give all of your time and attention to one thing, something will always be underserved. The key then, is “counterbalance”.

“The problem with living in the middle is that it prevents you from making extraordinary time commitments to anything.”

Gary Keller with Jay Papasan | The One Thing, Page 75

“Leaving some things undone is a necessary tradeoff for extraordinary results.”

Gary Keller with Jay Papasan | The One Thing, Page 80

Counterbalance is “making minute adjustments…” as to not go too far into the extremes to where “you can’t find your way back or to stay so long that there is nothing waiting for you when you return.” The way I personally like to think of counterbalance is what “counter-steering” is to drifting around corners in the Nintendo 64 racing game, “Mario-Karts”. In the game drifting around corners is by far the fastest way around them, BUT its critical that you steer in the opposite direction for just a fraction of a second and at just the right moments so as not to drift too far into the turn that you run off the track and “spin-out”.

“Let the right things take precedence when they should and get to the rest when you can.”

Gary Keller with Jay Papasan | The One Thing, Page 83

“You must never go too long or too far without counterbalancing…”

Gary Keller with Jay Papasan | The One Thing, Page 83

Chapter 9: “Big is Bad”

“Success requires action, and action requires thought… And since what you do is determined by what you think, how big you think becomes the paunching pad for how high you achieve.”

Gary Keller with Jay Papasan | The One Thing, Page 87

Just thinking about big results and huge success can feel “overwhelming and intimidating”. It sounds “difficult to get there and complex once you do”. This chapter goes into detail on how this is one of the worst lies many of us tell ourselves, “for if you fear big success, you’ll either avoid it or sabotage your efforts to achieve it.” (consciously, or unconsciously).

What a lot of us fail to take into account is that “…on the journey to achieving big, you get bigger”. You grow from your experiences, especially when they “threaten your comfort zones”. What may be uncomfortable now, becomes comfortable and sometimes even enjoyable the more you challenge those irrational fears.

Before this chapter, I too, used to worry about how stressful, overwhelming, and intimidating life would be like once I do reach the extraordinary level of success I dream of. ‘All of that success is going to be so hard to manage and keep control of, not to mention all of the uncomfortable situations I KNOW I’m going to have to face again and again!😰’, is something that used to play in my head a lot. But, now I can relax knowing that on the journey there, all of those uncomfortable situations I imagine will soon become trivial one at a time because of how much I will grow overtime.

“We are kept from our goal, not by obstacles, but by a clear path to a lesser goal.”

Robert Brault

“What you build today will either empower or restrict you tomorrow.”

Gary Keller with Jay Papasan | The One Thing, Page 89

Another important topic that this chapter brings up is the work of Stanford psychologist, Carol S. Dweck. Her findings tell us that there are two types of mindsets people tend to adopt from infancy – a “growth” mindset in which people believe they have the ability to always grow and get smarter, and a “fixed” mindset in which people believe they are stuck with the cards they are dealt and if they are bad at something or don’t feel smart that they will always be bad at that thing or never get much smarter, because thats what their biology says about them. People act on what they believe, so (according to her studies) students with a growth mindset “employ better learning strategies, experience less helplessness, exhibit more positive effort, and achieve [significantly] more in the classroom than their fixed minded peers.”

It’s crucial to note, however, that “…mindsets can and DO change. Like any other habit, you set your mind to it until the right mindset becomes routine.” Thinking big is essential to growth, and growth is essential to success. Thinking big and taking bold action can be scary. You inevitably wonder, ‘but what if I fail?‘. That’s ok, though, because failure forces us to learn from our mistakes and makes us grow. Never let the fear of failure paralyze your efforts because the old saying, “…we fail our way to success” couldn’t be more true.

“Don’t fear big. Fear mediocrity. Fear waste. Fear the lack of living to your fullest.”

Gary Keller with Jay Papasan | The One Thing, Page 92

“What seems like an insurmountable mountain from a distance is just a small hill when you arrive – at least in proportion to the person you’ve become.”

Gary Keller with Jay Papasan | The One Thing, Page 91

Part Two
The Truth: The Simple Path To Productivity

“I was truly beginning to think that the secret to success was to get as tightly wound up as possible each morning, set myself on fire, and then open the door and flying through the day, unwinding on the world until I literally burnt out.”

Gary Keller with Jay Papasan | The One Thing, Page 100

“And last, I started doing less. Yes, less. Intentionally, purposefully less.”

Gary Keller with Jay Papasan | The One Thing, Page 100

“…the key to success isn’t in all the things we do, but in the handful of things we do well.”

Gary Keller with Jay Papasan | The One Thing, Page 100

You don’t need to be tightly wound and in “GO, GO, GO! WORK, WORK, WORK! -mode” all of the time to be successful. It might get you there, but it is unnecessary and you will quickly burn out mentally, or even physically. It’s much simpler than that. Again, when you focus on ONE thing at time, and are certain it is the RIGHT thing, then the rest of the dominoes tend to fall almost effortlessly and the rest is just noise.

I think what he’s really getting at here is that some things seem urgent, but aren’t necessarily important. There is a great book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” that dives deeper into this thought. While at first glance,”Quadrant 1: Urgent and Important” sounds like where you should be spending your time, it is important to spend as much time as possible in “Quadrant 2: Not Urgent, but Important” of the picture below:

“…we usually succeed in spite of what we do, not because of it.”

Gary Keller with Jay Papasan | The One Thing, Page 100

“Be careful how you interpret the world; it is like that.”

Erich Heller

Chapter 10: “The Focusing Question”

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

Gary Keller with Jay Papasan | The One Thing, Page 106

The “focusing question” is merely a formula to get you started on reaching an important goal. The reason it works is that it takes into account the big picture (what’s my ONE thing?) and directs you to a smaller focused question: “Whats my ONE thing right NOW”.

“Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers”


“The quality of any answer is directly determined by the quality of the question”

Gary Keller with Jay Papasan | The One Thing, Page 104

“Most people struggle to comprehend how many things don’t need to be done…”

Gary Keller with Jay Papasan | The One Thing, Page 109

“Anyone who dreams of an uncommon life eventually discovers there is no choice but to seek an uncommon approach to living it”

Gary Keller with Jay Papasan | The One Thing, Page 106

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