Having recently found an interest in extraordinary successes and results I decided to pick up The One Thing, by Gary Keller with Jay Papasan, as my next book review. Gary Keller is an American entrepreneur and best-selling author, he is most known for his work as the founder of Keller Williams which is the largest real estate company in the world, with over 180000 agents, and franchises in North America, South Africa, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Turkey, the UK, and Dubai. He has co-authored two previous books, The Millionaire Real Estate Agent and The Millionaire Real Estate Investor, the latter becoming a New York Times best-seller. So, it’s fair to say that Keller knows a bit about extraordinary success.
A Russian proverb starts the book, “If you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one.” This sets up the book which holds the view that as Humans we can only focus on one thing at a time if we want that one thing to be successful. He backs this up with a passage from the movie City Slickers, where the following conversations take place between two characters:
Curly: “Do you know what the secret of life is?”
Mitch: “No. What?”
Curly: “This.” [He holds up one finger]
Mitch: “Your Finger?”
Curly: “One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and everything else don’t mean shit.”
Mitch: “That’s great, but what’s the “one thing”?”
Curly: “That’s what you’ve got to figure out.”
Keller goes on to say that at the time he didn’t realize the importance of this conversation. His company had run into some problems, after almost a decade of successfully building it from the ground up they had hit a wall. After going to a coach who helped him through his predicament they had come to the conclusion that Keller needed to fill 14 positions that needed new faces. Keller seeing that the most important thing to keep the business going was to find the people to fill those roles, he fired himself as the CEO. He made it his mission to focus on his one thing. Once the roles started being filled, the company grew year on year by an average of 40 percent for almost a decade. After looking back on his successes and failures he noticed a pattern, one that he would base this book on.
Keller goes on to reference the Domino Effect, whereby a single domino can set in motion a series of dominoes, not only that, but a domino can bring down another domino that is 50 percent larger. This can be used in the same way for goals and actions. For instance, what single action will set up another action that will ultimately end in achieving a goal. Keller notes that highly successful people find the lead domino every day and keep setting things in motion until they reach their goal or target. Keller has already underlined things of importance for readers, one being the following sentence:
“The key is over time. Success is built sequentially. It’s one thing at a time.”
I used to struggle with this concept, I would want that instant gratification and success. This is something I learned through starting Jiu-jitsu, and I have to thank my instructor Robbie for drilling it into my head for the past couple of months. I know that a lot of people think that success happens overnight, but having read books and really delved deep into how success occurs I have come to the realization that this is far from the truth. Constant work at a skill, on a task, or on a project in a big part determines its success.
Moving on to part one, where Keller breaks down the lies of success that mislead us and derail our efforts. Keller notes that there are six lies that society deems are true in creating success:
- Everything matters equally
- A disciplined life
- Willpower is always on will-call
- A balanced life
- Big is bad
Now a few of these I already knew to be lies of success, such as multitasking, where you try to get multiple things done and you seem like you complete them both but ultimately you actually waste time in hopping between the two. Your mind has to adjust to the new task each time. That’s why you notice that your productivity goes down when a co-worker asks you to do something, as you then have to turn your mind to the new task to receive information, then go back to the one you were just working on. However, I would have thought that discipline would be a key of success. But how Keller puts it changed my mind, how you can use discipline to create habits that lead to success. So, in the sense where self-discipline breaks down after a while unless the habit is made.
Never really thinking about if everything mattered equally I just assumed that everything was equal. Keller though would say that nothing is equal, in a contest one team is always going to be better, no matter how fair the official is, a person will always be more talented in one skill over another. Keller notes that when it comes to decision making, on what task to complete first we tend to trade the best decision for any decision. When everything seems important, then everything seems equal, we then try to complete everything at once, or value something that is not as important over something else as it seems more urgent. Making us busy and active, even though it doesn’t correlate with producing any results.
I am a sucker for to-do lists, I always make them and try to tick off the tasks on the list. Keller explains how they can become a trap of time wasting, as everything on the list seems important, even if it is a trivial task, it still sits on the same list as something more important. Keller referencing Australian prime minister Bob Hawke: “The things which are most important don’t always scream the loudest.” How to combat this lack of purpose in a to-do list, make a success list using the 80/20 principle, otherwise known as the Pareto principle. Take 20% of the list that would give you 80% of the productivity, and make a new list with that new 20%. Keller says to go even further, make a list that ultimately gives you only one thing to focus on.
Throughout the book there are many quotes by famous thinkers, writers and successful people from all walks of life, each giving a little bit of insight on the topic of the chapter. Not only has Keller underlined and included quotes, he has also summarized each chapter in a “Big Ideas” section at the end, meaning that instead of re-reading the book, you can just go back over each summary. The book is littered with figures and diagrams that help the reader visualize the concepts that Keller talks about.
Part two of The One thing starts with Keller telling his story of how got tired of “playing success” and ditched the lies of success that he talked about in the previous part and embraced the simple tactics that produce results. Starting with asking the hard question on what to focus on, what task are you going to focus on that will help you the most in working towards your goals, be it business, be it personal life, relationships whatever it is. Asking what Keller calls the focusing questions will allow you to break the task into smaller, more easily completed tasks. “The quality of any answer is directly determined by the quality of the question.” Keller includes a poem by J.B. Rittenhouse called My Wage that I will share with you below:
I bargained with Life for a penny,
And Life would pay no more,
However I begged at evening when
I counted my scanty store.
For Life is a just employer,
He gives you what you ask,
But once you have set the wages,
Why you must bear the task.
I worked for a menial’s hire,
Only to learn dismayed,
That any wage I had asked of Life,
Life would have willingly paid.
Noting especially the last two lines. When you ask for it, life will give it. However, you must take on the task of achieving it.
As covered in my review of Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl, Life is about searching and giving it meaning. Keller agrees and states that Life is a question, that is up to the individual to answer with their actions. Everyone will be different. Another benefit of asking the focusing question is that when you add on to that question “what is the one thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” meaning that you can still have a big picture view of your current situation yet still focus on the one thing at that time and place that would make the next domino fall with less effort.
Keller talks about creating habits of success, habits that keep you asking the main question that he pushes: “What’s the one thing I can do today for______ such that by doing it everything else will be easier or even unnecessary?” and you use discipline for the habit to stick. Keller notes that research says that for a person to form a habit it takes 66 days. To help you in establishing this habit, it is imperative that you give yourself reminders to ask the question. Part of the ritual of asking questions is to break the question down, into small, big, broad and specific. So, you might ask yourself “what is something I can do to double my sales?”, this would be a big and broad question, too broad, and it doesn’t have any urgency to it. “What can I do to increase sales by 5% this year?”, this is a small and specific question, gives a goal date, but the sales increase is achievable. This is where you would have to ask a big and specific question to maximize your results. The question might look more like this: “What can I do to double sales in six months?” making it a habit to ask the questions in this way, gives you a large and challenging goal that you will have to work harder to achieve, while giving you a strict timeline whereby it creates a sense of urgency to complete it.
Moving onto part three, where Keller sums up how to get extraordinary results, where your productivity can be derived from the priority you give yourself at any given time, that works towards completing your purpose. “Live with Purpose”, how do you find your purpose? Well, you have to take on a task that you choose, it might be that you want to create a business, or that you want to grow your own produce and help reduce your pollution, whatever the case maybe it is up to you to decide on a purpose. As Keller puts it, “Who we are and where we want to go determine what we do and what we accomplish.” However, I will state that if you are struggling with a purpose and you are not sure were to aim. My advice, pick a direction and shoot, as long as you learn something from it, even if it is that you learn you don’t want to do it, then there is no harm done by it. Just don’t get discouraged and pick another thing to aim at.
With many repeating concepts such as goal setting, such that it gives you a clear big-picture direction that you can focus down on to what to do right at that moment of your day, where that action tips the next domino. Blocking time, not only time dedicated to your one thing, or big project but more importantly, a time where you can relax and time where you plan for the next week or month. The idea of making yourself accountable, where you actively seek and acknowledge reality and therefore find a solution to the problem you are faced with. Keller has written a great book, where most, if not all, of the concepts of The One Thing can be applied across all aspects of life. And Keller recognizes this, including a chapter all about putting The One Thing to work, including personal, family, job and a few others, all with examples of questions that you could ask of yourself.
The One Thing is another book to recommend to all of you, as I have only covered a fraction of the material. Keller and Papasan have written a great book, with a lot of new and old ideas that are actionable and backed by studies and research that was compiled over the four years before the book’s release. I buy most of the books I get through booktopia.com, I like the hard copy feel. However, if it is easier for you to get a PDF and chuck it on your Kindle or listen to an audiobook then I can highly recommend that you do so. What’s your One Thing? The thing you want to complete today, next month, next year? Let us know below.
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See you on the mats.