News & Opinion

KnowledgeBlocks Giveaway: The One Thing

Sally Haldorson

May 21, 2013


If I were to ask my husband to make a "to-do" list of the things he wants to get done over the weekend, the list would top out at around 20 items. On it would be anything from cleaning out the garage and going to the bank. .


If I were to ask my husband to make a "to-do" list of the things he wants to get done over the weekend, the list would top out at around 20 items. On it would be anything from cleaning out the garage and going to the moving our garden to the east side of the yard and building a new set of stairs. Over the 16 years we've been married, I've been a witness to his inability to whittle that list down to something manageable many times, and the inevitable result that he gets none of those 20 things done because he is overwhelmed and distracted. He wants to get it all done, and is unsatisfied by anything less. I doubt my husband's method is rare. In fact, it's likely pretty common. We all buy into the myth that we must be uber-productive and any inability to multi-task is a glitch in our character.

But trying to do too much is a hard habit to break. Thank goodness we (and my husband) have The One Thing by Gary Keller with Jay Papasan. Not only will the authors help you establish a practice of whittling down that menacing "to-do" list to increase productivity, but he will also help you understand yourself better, making it easier to find and stick to your personal ONE Thing.

Keller and Papasan open the book with a Russian proverb: "If You Chase Two Rabbits You Will Not Catch Either One." And that is a fitting synopsis of the book's premise. But really, the book is populated with similar easy-to-remember catch-phrases that you can carry with you as you apply the ONE Thing process. Another is to "go small."

"Going small" is ignoring all the things you could do and doing what you should do. It's recognizing that not all things matter equally and finding the things that matter most. It's a tighter way to connect what you do with what you want. It's realizing that extraordinary results are directly determined by how narrow you can make your focus.

Pretty antithetical to the message we usually receive about productivity, isn't it? But the authors back up their theory with a little physics. The chapter titled, "The Domino Effect," describes how the momentum of one small domino can not only knock over many dominoes, but also knock much larger dominoes. Why does this work? "Because extraordinary success is sequential, not simultaneous." Not only can small accomplishments add up to big results, a series of small results can actually add up to much more progress than if you were doing two tasks at once. "Every time we try to do two or more things at once, we're simply dividing up our focus and dumbing down all of the outcomes in the process."

I think nearly all of us have a friend or colleague whom we regard as being admirably focused. We long to be as disciplined, and we treat that person with a sort of reverence. The One Thing offers us relief from this envy: discipline and willpower are over-rated. "When you do the right thing, it can liberate you from having to monitor everything." Concentrate on establishing a habit, rather than trying to change your character.

Returning to my husband's inclination to overload his to-do list, even if he buys the argument that multi-tasking is bun, and he needs to concentrate on that first domino, how does he deduce what his ONE Thing is? The second half of The One Thing focuses on solving that conundrum, and it's this section of the book that is truly revelatory. The authors start by encouraging us to ask one "focusing" question:

What's the one thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?

Parse out that question, and you'll begin to see that the ONE Thing process is, well, two-fold. First, you must determine your "big picture" ONE Thing. Then, you will ask yourself: "What's my ONE Thing right now?" The answer to that question becomes your first domino. Is this a bit of a cheat? Doesn't the premise of the book become "The Two Things?" No, the authors explain: "Your big ONE Thing is your purpose and your small ONE Thing is the priority you take action on to achieve it." The third section of the book steps you through the process of finding that ONE Thing you dream of, that thing that sometimes seems too big to achieve. The formula the authors present consists of Productivity, Priority, and Purpose. The section concludes with a chapter on how to implement the ONE Thing process in every area of your life. And the authors' enthusiasm is contagious:

So be prepared to live a new life! And remember that the secret to extraordinary results is to ask a very big and specific question that leads you to one very small and tightly focused answer.

To help you practice the ONE Thing approach, in addition to providing winners with a copy of the book, The One Thing, we will also send you a door hanger that will remind you and your coworkers/family that you are working the ONE Thing philosophy, as well as a mousepad/notepad on which you can practice the process.

Sign up today to win the gift of greater productivity! Then visit us in the forums to discuss what you've learned and how you've applied the concepts to your own work.

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