A review of “The One Thing” by Gary Keller.
A book designed to “achieve better results in less time” which looks at “the simple truth behind extraordinary results”. The analogy of a domino run is explained early on whereupon one domino can topple another 50% larger, which produces a geometric progression (a 23rd domino in a progression would be taller than the Eiffel Tower). “Getting extraordinary results is all about creating a domino effect in your life” concentrating on one thing or task at a time.
Keller highlights most people have several distractions of emails, social media and busy work lives that often produce inferior results. No-one can efficiently do two things at once; for example, you may be able to walk along the road and talk on your phone, but you are only truly focusing on one of those things.
There’s an early chapter which discusses and dispels the “lies of success” – Discipline (concentrating on forming one habit at a time), Balance (things don’t matter equally), Multitasking (we can only pursue one task effectively at a time), Willpower (which is a finite resource for everyone during a day) and the lie of “Big is bad” (thinking big results are time consuming, produce feelings of difficulty, are risky etc.).
He talks about forming habits (66 days on average to form one) which requires a person to have self-discipline for this time. Once a habit is formed, less discipline is required. Often we admire those with pools of discipline, but in reality these people have formed habits so the tasks are easy for them. How easy is it for you to drive a car as an adult compared to when you were learning? As an experienced driver you can perform the multiple tasks required with no effort or thought.
Moving on the book introduces the “habit” of success which centres on asking questions specific to the task or problem at hand – “the quality of any answer is determined by the quality of the question”. A framework of an effective question is introduced that can be adapted to a specific situation and timeframe whether that is as short as a day or as long as your lifetime. The habit is developed by asking yourself this question every day with a task in mind.
In order to achieve extraordinary results, it’s necessary to use a simple formula of purpose, priority and productivity. Keller illustrates this concept through the story of “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. Scrooge’s original purpose, priority and productivity in his life are greatly transformed after his visits by the Ghosts of past, present and future. “Live with Purpose. Live by priority. Live for productivity.”
Finally you require three commitments to achieve results – the mind-set of someone seeking mastery, seeking the best ways of doing things and be willing to be held accountable. However, there will be “4 thieves” that could hinder your progress – your inability to say no, the fear of chaos, poor health habits and an environment that doesn’t support your goals.
I’ve just finished my third read of this book and again found new things that I missed and reinforced the basic principles. It’s a book that I will go back to, as it presents a simple framework for achieving results – whether they be extraordinary or not. The concepts in this book are simple, but don’t let that undermine their power. To achieve success, a system is essential. The tools presented in this book are invaluable.
However, while Keller presents a sound argument that multitasking is a lie, if you went to a job interview in an office and said the same, you probably wouldn’t get the job. Time blocking one task at a time is also effective, but again, when I’m at work, I’m always interrupted between tasks – a symptom of the modern workplace.
Does the book deliver? It does provide great techniques, information, tools and a system, but the reader has a responsibility to follow through with the work. It is well written and provides good examples and anecdotes.
There is no better book that I’ve read that can help achieve results – whether they are extraordinary, is down to the individual.