Book Review: The ONE Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

Note: This “review” is not intended to replace the book. All quotes and concepts are credited to the authors and publisher.

The ONE Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan was definitely the best book I happened to read last year. Its title, introduction, design, and style all promised a great book after reading the very first pages on my early morning commute to the office. What I didn’t know that time was that this book will have such a profound impact on my life. Why?

This blog, dear reader, wouldn’t be here if it weren’t the ONE Thing book. If I hadn’t allocated the time to my ONE Thing, my blog would have remained a dream.

The book promises that it will reveal the “surprisingly simple truth behind extraordinary results.” My blog is far from extraordinary, but it was hardly attainable to me at that time. With this post―which is rather a quick snapshot of the main concepts than a detailed book summary―I want to give a salute to the authors and to encourage you to digest the book.

Let’s begin with the basics…

The foundation

The book is heavily based on Pareto’s Principle (the 80/20 Principle) which says that “a minority of causes, inputs, or effort usually lead to a majority of the results, outputs, or rewards.”

In other words, 80% of your results will come from 20% of your efforts. And this is when the ONE Thing comes to the scene: when allocating the right time to your ONE Thing on a consistent basis, you’ll get extraordinary results.

A to-do list becomes a success list when you apply Pareto’s Principle to it.

Your ONE Thing is something that is central to your happiness, success, or whatever you mean under fulfilment. The book doesn’t implicate that you could have only one goal. What it proposes is that 

Extraordinary results demand that you set a priority and act on it.

The authors propose that there’re 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

I can’t cover the underlying reasoning, but the authors have made a very good job at this point.

At the heart of the ONE Thing concept, there’s a powerful question…

The focusing question

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

This focusing question is central to the ONE Thing concept, and it can be phrased in a number of different ways. This is the question that you should address each and every day and apply to various areas of your life.

For example, if your health goal is to exercise regularly, you could phrase your focusing question like this: What’s the ONE Thing I can do to ensure that I exercise regularly? Maybe you could find an accountability partner, hire a coach, or try something new…

Obviously, you have to build some good habits to fully embrace the ONE Thing concept. The authors do offer some really good advice as to how to establish your goals. And this leads us from theory to implementation.

The implementation

In order to ensure that your ONE Thing gets done, the authors suggest that you

  1. Time block your time off.
  2. Time block your ONE Thing.
  3. Time block your planning time.

The authors propose that you time block your ONE Thing as early in the day as possible. And here comes the most uncomfortable piece of advice: you need to allocate four hours a day to your ONE Thing. (For me, one or two hours of uninterrupted time worked well.)

The next thing is that you protect your time. I borrowed the term below from the authors to ensure that I find time to my ONE Thing:

Until my ONE thing is done—everything else is a distraction!

I’ve put that statement on top of my affirmations, and I read it every single day as a reminder.

What are hindering your progress? According to the authors, there’re four thieves of productivity:

  1. Inability to say no
  2. Fear of chaos
  3. Poor health habits
  4. Environment doesn’t support your goals

No explanation needed here…

Final thoughts

If you can read only ONE book this month, this quarter, or this year, I seriously think that you begin with the ONE Thing. It’s my sincere hope that this book will initiate a domino effect in your life.

At the end of this post, I want to tell you a secret: the ONE Thing book inspired me to end all of my blog posts with a single takeaway.

Finally, I want to share some really good stuff with you:

  • You can find a great interview with Jay Papasan, co-author of the book, on the 5 AM Miracle Podcast hosted by Jeff Sanders. (I’ve listened to this episode at least two times; it’s so powerful.)
  • The ONE Thing page delivers the finest bonus materials complementing the book.
  • The ONE Thing Team host a blog built around the ONE Thing concept.

Don’t forget to share this post!


Your one takeaway: knock your first domino and read the ONE Thing book by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan.

References: Keller, Gary, and Jay Papasan. The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results.Bard Press, 2013.

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Csaba Vadadi-Fulop

Csaba Vadadi-Fulop

Csaba is the founder of Productivity95. He is on the mission to share his passion for productivity and personal development and to help people find their own development path. Want to supercharge your productivity? Get the guide you need to make it happen (it’s free).