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The One Thing by Gary Keller

July 4, 2020


Chapter 1: The ONE Thing


Chapter 2: The Domino Effect


Chapter 3: Success Leaves Clues


Part 1: The Lies

  • “The problem is we tend to act on what we believe even when what we believe isn’t anything we should. As a result, buying into The ONE Thing becomes difficult because we’ve unfortunately bought into too many others – and more often than not those ‘other things’ muddle our thinking, misguide our actions, and sidetrack our success.”


Chapter 4: Everything Matters Equally

  • “Equality is a lie.”
  • “Achievers do sooner what others plan to do later and defer, perhaps indefinitely, what others do sooner. The difference isn’t in intent, but in right of way. Achievers always work from a clear sense of priority.”
  • “Instead of a to-do list, you need a success list – a list that is purposefully created around extraordinary results.”
  • “‘The 80/20 Principle asserts that a minority of causes, inputs, or effort usually lead to a majority of the results, outputs, or rewards.’ In other words, in the world of success, things aren’t equal. A small amount of causes creates most of the results. Just the right input creates most of the output. Selected effort creates almost all of the rewards.”
  • “…the majority of what you want will come from the minority of what you do.”
  • “…go even smaller by finding the vital few of the vital few.”
  • “…doing the most important thing is always the most important thing.”


Chapter 5: Multitasking

  • Multitasking is a lie.”
  • “When you try to do two things at once, you either can’t or won’t do either well. If you think multitasking is an effective way to get more done, you’ve got it backward. It’s an effective way to get less done.”
  • ‘Multitasking is merely an opportunity to screw up more than one thing at a time.’
  • “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.”
  • “Researchers estimate that workers are interrupted every 11 minutes and then spend almost a third of their day recovering from these distractions.”
  • “Task switching exacts a cost”
  • “Researchers estimate we lose 28 percent of an average workday to multitasking ineffectiveness.”
  • “Why would we ever tolerate multitasking when we’re doing our most important work?”


Chapter 6: A Disciplined Life

  • “Success is actually a short race – a sprint fueled by discipline just long enough for habit to kick in and take over.”
  • “When we know something that needs to be done but isn’t currently getting done, we often say, ‘I just need more discipline.’ Actually, we need the habit of doing it. And we need just enough discipline to build the habit.”
  • “…you can become successful with less discipline than you think, for one simple reason: success is about doing the right thing, not about doing everything right.”
  • “The trick to success is to choose the right habit and bring just enough discipline to establish.”
  • “When you do the right thing, it can liberate you from having to monitor everything.”
  • “Habits require much less energy and effort to maintain than to begin.”
  • “…it takes an average of 66 days to acquire a new habit. The full range was 18 to 254 days, but the 66 days represented a sweet spot – with easier behaviors taking fewer days on average and tough ones taking longer.”
  • “…those with the right habits seem to do better than others. They’re doing the most important thing regularly and, as a result, everything else is easier.”


Chapter 7: Willpower is Always on Will-Call

  • “Willpower is always on will-call is a lie.”
  • “Willpower has a limited battery life”
  • “The more we use our mind, the less minding power we have.”
  • “When our willpower runs out, we all revert to our default settings.”
  • “When we don’t think of resolve as a resource that gets used up, when we fail to reserve it for the things that matter most, when we don’t replenish it when it’s low, we are probably setting ourselves up for the toughest possible path to success.”
  • “You make doing what matters most a priority when your willpower is its highest.”
  • “When it comes to willpower, timing is everything. You will need your willpower at full strength to ensure that when you’re doing the right thing, you don’t let anything distract you or steer you away from it. Then you need enough willpower the rest of the day to either support or avoid sabotaging what you’ve done.”
  • “So, if you want to get the most out of your day, do your most important work – your ONE Thing – early, before your willpower is drawn down.”


Chapter 8: A Balanced Life

  • “Viewed wistfully as a noun, balance is lived practically as a verb. Seen as something we ultimately attain, balance is actually something we constantly do.”
  • “A balanced life is a lie.”
  • “The act of living a full life by giving time to what matters is a balancing act. Extraordinary results require focused attention and time. Time on one thing means time away from another. This makes balance impossible.”
  • “…to attend to all things, everything gets shortchanged.”
  • “Magic happens at the extremes.”
  • “When you gamble with your time, you may be placing a bet you can’t cover.”
  • “Replace the word ‘balance’ with ‘counterbalance’ and what you experience makes sense.”
  • “Leaving some things undone is a necessary tradeoff for extraordinary results.”
  • “To achieve an extraordinary result, you must choose what matters most and give it all the time it demands. This requires getting extremely out of balance in relation to all other work issues.”
  • “The question of balance is really a question of priority.”
  • “When you act on your priority, you’ll automatically go out of balance, giving more time to one thing over another.”
  • “View work as involving a skill or knowledge that must be mastered.”
  • “Your work life is divided into two distinct areas – what matters most and everything else.”
  • “Acknowledge that your life actually has multiple areas and that each requires a minimum of attention for you to feel that you ‘have a life.’”
  • “You must never go too long or too far without counterbalancing them so that they are all active areas of your life.”


Chapter 9: Big is Bad

  • “Big is bad is a lie.”
  • “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.”
  • No one knows their ultimate ceiling for achievement, so worrying about it is a waste of time.”
  • “Believing in big frees you to ask different questions, follow different paths, and try new things. This opens the doors to possibilities that until now only lived inside you.”
  • Thinking big is essential to extraordinary results.”
  • “…the only actions that become springboards to succeeding big are those informed by big thinking to begin with.”
  • “…since what you do is determined by what you think, how big you think becomes the launching pad for how high you achieve.”
  • “Think as big as you possibly can and base what you do, how you do it, and who you do it with on succeeding at that level.”
  • “What you build today will either empower or restrict you tomorrow.”
  • “Don’t fear big. Fear mediocrity. Fear waste. Fear the lack of living to your fullest.”
  • “Only living big will let you experience your true life and work potential.”
  • “Avoid incremental thinking that simply asks, ‘What do I do next?’”
  • “When we fail, we stop, ask what we need to do to succeed, learn from our mistakes, and grow. Don’t be afraid to fail. See it as part of your learning process and keep striving for your true potential.”



Part 2: The Truth

  • “We overthink, overplan, and overanalyze our careers, our businesses, and our lives; that long hours are neither virtuous nor healthy; and that we usually succeed in spite of most of what we do, not because of it. I discovered that we can’t manage time, and that the key to success isn’t in all the things we do but in the handful of things we do well.”
  • “…success comes down to this: being appropriate in the moments of your life.”


Chapter 10: The Focusing Question

  • “The concerns which fail are those which have scattered their capital, which means that they have scattered their brains also.”
  • “… the quality of any answer is directly determined by the quality of the question.”
  • “How we phrase the questions we ask ourselves determines the answers that eventually become our life.”
  • “Most things we want don’t come with a road map or a set of instructions, so it can be difficult to frame the right question. Clarity must come from us.”
  • “To get the answers we seek, we have to invent the right questions”
  • “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 can lead you to answer not only ‘big picture’ questions (Where am I going? What target should I aim for?) but also ‘small focus’ ones as well (What must I do right now to be on the path to getting the big picture? Where’s the bulls-eye?)”
  • “Extraordinary results are rarely happenstance. They come from the choices we make and the actions we take.”
  • Most people struggle to comprehend how many things don’t need to be done; if they would just start by doing the right thing.”


Chapter 11: The Success Habit

  • “Start with the big stuff and see where it takes you.”
  • “I apply it to the important areas of my life: my spiritual life, physical health, personal life, key relationships, job, business, and financial life. And I address them in that order – each one is a foundation for the next.”
  • “Set up ways to remind yourself to use the Focusing Question. One of the best ways to do this is to put up a sign at work that says, ‘Until my ONE Thing is done – everything else is a distraction.’”
  • “Research shows that those around you can influence you tremendously. Starting a success support group with some of your work colleagues can help inspire all of you to practice the Success Habit every day.”


Chapter 12: The Path to Great Answers

  • Great questions, like great goals, are big and specific. They push you, stretch you, and aim you at big, specific answers.”
  • “Answers come in three categories: doable, stretch, and possibility.”
  • “High achievers understand these first two routes but reject them. Unwilling to settle for ordinary when extraordinary is possible, they’ve asked a Great Question and want the very best answer.”
  • “Extraordinary results require a Great Answer.”
  • “Highly successful people choose to live at the outer limits of achievement.”
  • “A Great Answer is essentially a new answer.”
  • “…your first ONE Thing is to search for clues and role models to point you in the right direction. The first thing to do is ask, ‘Has anyone else studied or accomplished this or something like it?’ The answer is almost always yes, so your investigation begins by finding out what others have learned.”
  • “The research and experience of others is the best place to start when looking for your answer. Armed with this knowledge, you can establish a benchmark, the current high-water mark for all that is known and being done.”
  • “You’re looking for the next thing you can do in the same direction that the best performers are heading or, if necessary, in an entirely new direction.”
  • “A new answer usually requires new behavior.”
  • “Benchmark and trend to find the extraordinary answer you need for extraordinary results.”


Part 3: Extraordinary Results

  • “There is a natural rhythm to our lives that becomes a simple formula for implementing the ONE Thing and achieving extraordinary results: purpose, priority, and productivity.”
  • “The most productive people start with purpose and use it like a compass.”
  • “The more productive people are, the more purpose and priority are pushing and driving them.”
  • “Great businesses are built one productive person at a time.”


Chapter 13: Live with Purpose

  • “…our purpose sets our priority and our priority determines the productivity our actions produce.”
  • “Who we are and where we want to go determines what we do and what we accomplish.”
  • “One of our biggest challenges is making sure our life’s purpose doesn’t become a beggar’s bowl, a bottomless pit of desire continually searching for the next thing that will make us happy.”
  • “How circumstances affect us depends on how we interpret them as they relate to our life. If we lack a ‘big picture’ view, we can easily fall into serial success seeking. Why? Once we get what we want, our happiness sooner or later wanes because we quickly become accustomed to what we acquire.”
  • “Happiness happens on the way to fulfillment.”
  • “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.”
  • “…financially wealthy people are those who have enough money coming in without having to work to finance their purpose in life.”
  • “It isn’t that having more money won’t make you happy. To a point, it certainly can. But then it stops. For more money to continue to motivate you will depend on why you want more.”
  • Wanting more money just for the sake of getting it won’t bring the happiness you seek from it.”
  • “Purpose is the straightest path to power and the ultimate source of personal strength – the strength of conviction and strength to preserve.”
  • “When you have a definite purpose for your life, clarity comes faster, which leads to more conviction in your direction, which usually leads to faster decisions. When you make faster decisions, you’ll often be the one who makes the first decisions and winds up with the best choices. And when you have the best choices, you have the opportunity for the best experiences.”
  • “Knowing why you’re doing something provides the inspiration and motivation to give the extra perspiration needed to persevere when things go south.”
  • “’ Purpose’ may sound heavy, but it doesn’t have to be. Think of it as simply the ONE Thing you want your life to be about more than any other.”


Chapter 14: 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.”
  • “When each day begins, we each have a choice. We can ask, ‘What shall I do?’ or ‘What should I do?’ Without direction, without purpose, whatever you ‘shall do’ will always get you somewhere. But when you’re going somewhere on purpose, there will always be something you ‘should do’ that will get you where you must
  • “Purpose has the power to shape our lives only in direct proportion to the power of the priority we connect it to. Purpose without priority is powerless.”
  • “…we have goals and plans for only one reason – to be appropriate in the moments of our lives that matter. While we may pull from the past and forecast the future, our only reality is the present moment.”
  • “The truth about success is that our ability to achieve extraordinary results in the future lies in stringing together powerful moments, one after the other.”
  • “Economists have long known that 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. It’s an ordinary occurrence, oddly named hyperbolic discounting – the farther away a reward is in the future, the smaller the immediate motivation to achieve it.”
  • “…you’re training your mind how to think, how to connect one goal with the next over time until you know the most important thing you must do right NOW. “
  • “…students who visualized the process performed better across the board”
  • “People tend to be overly optimistic about what they can accomplish, and therefore most don’t think things all the way through. Researchers call this the ‘planning fallacy.’ Visualizing the process – breaking a big goal down into the steps needed to achieve it – helps engage the strategic thinking you need to plan for and achieve extraordinary results.”
  • “Writing down your goals and your most important priority is your final step to living by priority.”


Chapter 15: Live for Productivity

  • “Productive actions transform lives.”
  • “…putting together a life of extraordinary results simply comes down to getting the most out of what you do, when what you do matters.”
  • “…it’s how we use our time that determines the money we make”
  • “…the most successful people are the most productive people.”
  • “Productive people get more done, achieve better results, and earn far more in their hours than the rest. They do so because they devote maximum time to being productive on their top priority, their ONE Thing.”
  • “[time blocking is] a way of making sure that what has to be done gets
  • “…go to your calendar and block off all the time you need to accomplish your ONE Thing. If it’s a one-time ONE Thing, block off the appropriate hours and days. IF it’s a regular thing, block off the appropriate time every day so it becomes a habit. Everything else – other projects, paperwork, e-mail, calls, correspondence, meetings, and all the other stuff – must wait.”
  • “If disproportionate results come from one activity, then you must give that one activity disproportionate time.”
  • “Great success shows up when time is devoted every day to becoming great.”
  • “Extraordinarily successful people launch their year by taking time out to plan their time off. Why? They know they’ll need it and they know they’ll be able to afford it.”
  • “Resting is as important as working.”
  • “…block time as early in your day as you possibly can.”
  • “…block four hours a day.”
  • “…normal business culture gets in the way of the very productivity it seeks because of the way people traditionally schedule their time.”
  • “…be a maker in the morning and a manager in the afternoon.”
  • “Block an hour each week to review your annual and monthly goals. First, ask what needs to happen that month for you to be on target for your annual goals. Then ask what must happen that week to be on course for your monthly goals.”
  • “There is magic in knocking down your most important domino day after day. All you have to do is avoid breaking the chain, one day at a time, until you generate a powerful new habit in your life – the time-blocking habit.”
  • “…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 I first began to time block, the most effective thing I did was to put up a sheet of paper that said, ‘Until My ONE Thing Is Done – Everything Else Is A Distraction!”
  • ‘…your own need to do other things instead of your ONE Thing may be your biggest challenge to overcome.”


Chapter 16: The Three Commitments

  • “Achieving extraordinary results through time blocking requires three commitments. First, you must adopt the mindset of someone seeking mastery.”
  • Second, you must continually seek the very best ways of doing things.”
  • And last, you must be willing to be held accountable for doing everything you can to achieve your one thing.”
  • … “when you can see mastery as a path you go down instead of a destination you arrive at, it starts to feel accessible and attainable.”
  • “…mastery actually means you’re a master of what you know and an apprentice of what you don’t.”
  • “…research identified a common pattern of regular and deliberate practice over the course of years in elite performers that made them what they are – elite.”
  • “Many elite performers complete their journey in about ten years.”
  • “More than anything else, expertise tracks with hours invested.”
  • “The pursuit of mastery bears gifts.”
  • “The path of mastering something is the combination of not only doing the best you can do at it, but also doing it the best it can be done.”
  • “…If the outcome of your efforts is acceptable at whatever level of achievement you reach, then you high-five and move on. But when you’re going about your ONE Thing, any ceiling of achievement must be challenged, and this requires a different approach – a Purposeful approach.”
  • “Too many people reach a level where their performance is ‘good enough’ and then stop working on getting better.”
  • “When you’re in search of extraordinary results, accepting an OK plateau or any other ceiling of achievement isn’t okay when it applies to your ONE Thing.”
  • “Being Purposeful is often about doing what comes ‘unnaturally,’ but when you’re committed to achieving extraordinary results, you simply do whatever it takes anyway.”
  • “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.”
  • “Accountable people achieve results others only dream of.”
  • “The accountable manager looks for solutions. More important, she assumes she’s a part of the solution: ‘What can I do?’ The moment she finds the right tactic, she acts.”
  • “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 a time – and the more you choose to cycle of accountability, the more likely it is to become your automatic answer to any adversity.”
  • “Highly successful people are clear about their role in the events of their life. They don’t fear reality. They seek it, acknowledge it, and own it.”
  • “One of the fastest ways to bring accountability to your life is to find an accountability partner.”
  • “An accountability partner provides frank, objective feedback on your performance, creates an ongoing expectation for productive progress, and can provide critical brainstorming or even expertise when needed.”
  • “Individuals who wrote their goals and sent progress reports to friends were 76.7 percent more likely to achieve them.”
  • “…the single most important difference between these amateurs and the three groups of elite performers is that the future elite performers seek out teachers and coaches and engage in supervised training, whereas the amateurs rarely engage in similar types of practice.’


Chapter 17: The Four Thieves

  • “The way to protect what you’ve said yes to and stay productive is to say no to anyone or anything that could derail you.”
  • “When you say yes to something, it’s imperative that 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.”
  • “…you can’t please everyone, so don’t try.”
  • You can say no with respect, you can say no promptly, and you can say no with a lead to someone who might say yes. But just saying yes because you can’t bear the short-term pain of saying no is not going to help you do the work.’
  • “A request must be connected to my ONE Thing for me to consider it.”
  • “If you don’t make your life about what you say yes to, then it will almost certainly become what you intended to say no to.”
  • “Messes are inevitable when you focus on just one thing.”
  • “Focusing on ONE Thing has a guaranteed consequence: other things don’t get done.”
  • “When you strive for greatness, chaos is guaranteed to show up.”
  • “Depending on your situation, your time block might initially look different from others’. Each of our situations is unique.”
  • “If you have to beg, then beg. If you have to barter, then barter. If you have to be creative, then be creative. Just don’t be a victim of your circumstances. Don’t sacrifice your time block on the altar of ‘I just can’t make it work.’”
  • “Personal energy mismanagement is a silent thief of productivity.”
  • High achievement and extraordinary results require big energy. The trick is learning how to get it and keep it.”
  • “…when you spend the early hours energizing yourself, you get pulled through the rest of the day with little additional effort. You’re not focused on having a perfect day all day, but on having an energized start to each day. If you can have a highly productive day until noon, the rest of the day falls easily into place.”
  • “Your environment must support your goals.”
  • “Anyone and anything at any time can become a thief, diverting your attention away from your most important work and stealing your productivity right from under your nose. For you to achieve extraordinary results, the people surrounding you and your physical surroundings must support your goals.”
  • “Attitude is contagious; it spreads easily. As strong as you think you are, no one is strong enough to avoid the influence of negativity forever. So, surrounding yourself with the right people is the right thing to do.”
  • “Who you hang out with also has serious implications for your health habits.”
  • “In time, you begin to think, act, and even look a little like those you hang out with. But not only do their attitudes and health habits influence you, their relative success does to.”
  • No one succeeds alone, and no one fails alone. Pay attention to the people around you.”
  • “When your physical environment isn’t in step with your goals, it can also keep you from ever getting started on them in the first place.”
  • “What is around you will either aim you towards your time block or pull you away.”
  • “Walk through the path you’ll take each day and eradicate all the sight and sound thieves that you find.”
  • “When you clear the path to success, that is when you consistently get there.”
  • “Screenwriter Leo Rosten pulled everything together for us when he said, ‘I cannot believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. I think the 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 lived at all.’”


Chapter 18: The Journey

  • “Whatever you can see, you have the capacity to move toward. And when what you go for is as vast as you can possibly envision, you’ll be living the biggest life you can possibly live.”
  • “When you lift the limits of your thinking, you expand the limits of your life. It’s only when you can imagine a bigger life than you can ever hope to have one.”
  • “No matter how big you can think, when you know where you’re going and work backward to what you need to do to get there, you’ll always discover it begins with going small.”
  • “Think small and your life’s likely to stay small. Think big and your life has a chance to grow big.”
  • “…at any moment in time, there can only be ONE Thing.”
  • Actions build on action. Habits build on habit. Success builds on success.”
  • “One evening an elder Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside all people. He said, ‘My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us. One is Fear. It carries anxiety, concern, uncertainty, hesitancy, indecision, and inaction. The other is Faith. It brings calm, conviction, confidence, enthusiasm, decisiveness, excitement, and action.’ The grandson thought about it for a moment and then meekly asked his grandfather: ‘Which wolf wins?’ The old Cherokee replied, ‘the one you feed’”
  • “Go live a life worth living where, in the end, you’ll be able to say, ‘I’m glad I did,’ not ‘I wish I had.’”
  • “A life worth living might be measured in many ways, but the one way that stands above all others is living a life of no regrets.”