The ONE Thing Book Summary

One Paragraph Book Summary Learn how to find the number one priority in your life and how to work towards it by protecting your limited resources like willpower and time.

The ONE Thing Book Summary

The One Thing—The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary
A book by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

If you do not know what to do with your life, the book by Keller and Papasan will help you to find your thing. Should you be in the lucky situation to know your desired destination, the book is still a valuable read because it will help you to reach your goal more easily.

  These are the things I learned by reading the Blinks:

  • The Need To Find Your ONE Thing
  • Use Your Limited Willpower To Build Habits
  • Protect Your Time Ruthlessly

This post is based on the Blinks I listened to while walking to work. I learn from Blinkist's content each and every day. So if you enjoy this post, you will like their content even more.

Key Ideas In The ONE Thing Book

The authors label the top priority in life as the ONE thing.

Don’t let small thinking cut your life down to size. Think big, aim high, act boldly. And see just how big you can blow up your life.

The authors recommend to always think big. Most of us don't do this because it intimidates us. If you do not strive for the greatest, it will limit your results. Be bold.

How do you keep track of the things you want to accomplish? Most of us will probably have a list of todos. If you have one, you need to be aware that not all bullet points on that list deserve your equal attention. Some items are more important than others. But how do you know which is which?

The answer is to use the Pareto Principle to your advantage. Pareto’s studies showed that 20% of the people in Italy owned 80% of the land. Other people noticed that a similar distribution can be applied to other things as well. Like 20% of your effort produces 80% of your results.

Apply the Pareto Principle to your todo list and you will find items on the list which are more important than others.

What is the ONE thing I can do, such that by doing it everything else will become easier or unnecessary?

The above question is what the authors call the focusing question. You can use this question to find out what your desired outcome is and what you need to address first to get there.

We consider people at the top to be very disciplined. Studies show however that we all have limited resources of discipline. The secret is to apply the amount of control you have to form new habits for yourself.

Usually, we perceive our willpower as a constant resource. But your willpower is rather comparable to a fuel tank. This tank will empty throughout the day for various reasons. For example, giving a task your full concentration, or making important decisions, will all drain your willpower.

Therefore, make your most important decision early in the morning when your willpower tank is full.

You can use discipline to form new habits, like writing each day, or exercising regularly.

Once you installed a new habit for yourself, you can use your discipline to build yet another one. Your habits do not consume any of your willpower; that’s why it is so useful to have them.

When you try to work on multiple tasks at the same time, you have to switch back and forth between the tasks. Every time you give your attention to something else, you lose valuable time, because to get back into the context you are switching to comes with a time penalty.

On average office workers lose one-third of their daily work time because they get distracted and need to refocus.

Give your task at hand your entire attention; do not multitask.

To be able to focus on your most important thing is not easy. There are family members, friends, and co-workers who will approach you with various requests. Even strangers demand your time and attention.

Giving your full care and focus on the number one thing will require you to say no more often. Learn to say no.

Saying no is hard for the most of us. Therefore, prepare yourself to say no. Try to be kind by offering a solution which does not take your time away; in the end, be decisive and protect your primary goal.

It is important that you have a clear goal in mind. You also should know why you chose this goal. Having a clear vision of your goal and knowing why you do something will give you clarity in your actions and decisions.

Do not be shy to write down your vision. Imagine you have reached your goal. What do you see? What do you feel? A vivid vision will give you energy and motivation when you need it.

It is not that we have too little time to do all the things we need to do, it is that we feel the need to do too many things in the time we have.

Schedule time slots to work on your major goal. Then make sure you will not allow anybody to interrupt those slots. To get the most of your work sessions, make sure that the environment you work in is supportive. That means no potential interruptions.

You can learn more about how important the environment is for your results by reading my notes on the book Triggers by Marshall Goldsmith.

The problem is that, even if you have identified your top priority in life, there will be obstacles you need to overcome. As you focus on your most pressing matter, other things will fall off the table. So what should you do? Well, your priority is your priority, accept that you need to delegate things from your to-do list or drop them altogether. Focus on your priority.

Be mindful of your ONE thing.

My First Learning: The Need To Find Your One Thing

You need to be doing fewer things for more effect instead of doing more things with side effects.

Finding the thing you want to make your priority is probably the hardest and the most useful thing you can do.

I might serve as an example, whenever there is a new technology, I have to try it. Whenever I attend a conference I hear so many great ideas; I want to go straight to my hotel room and start working on a similar idea.

Asking the focusing question can help to find your aspiration: __What is the ONE thing I can do, such that by doing it everything else will become easier or unnecessary?

My Second Learning: Use Your Limited Willpower To Build Habits

Success is a short race—a sprint fueled by discipline just long enough for habit to kick in and take over.

I read a lot of books about building habits. And I already brought a lot of new habits into my life. But I never considered building habits to protect my limited willpower. Though I am not sure, this is working. For example, I built the habit of practicing Yoga every day for 30 minutes, and still I have to use some willpower.

On the other hand, I only have one pair of shoes. Wearing the same shoes every day saves me some brain cycles because I do not have to make a decision which pair to pick. Though I am not sure whether it is making a difference on my productivity (grin).

My Third Learning: Protect Your Time Ruthlessly

  I started with protecting my time ruthlessly ten weeks ago before I read the Blinks for this book. Keller's view on this topic is giving me some consolation. The transition to protect your time is not easy.

For example, I started ignoring some people calling me. I never called back. A thing I had not done in the past. Doing this still feels rude, but I see it as a necessity. I only have 90 minutes each day to work on my side business.

There are more awkward things I do to protect my time: I uninstalled Telegram (a chat app), meet friends only on Wednesdays, and stopped drinking alcohol (which is not so awkward) to be able to get up early in the morning.


Do you know what you want to do with your life? Have you found the thing you want to be or achieve? This book can help you to find your most important thing in life.

If you do not know where you want to go, where are you going? You will probably do what everybody else around you is doing; this must not be bad, but it will not be a self-determined life.

When you have found your calling, give it priority over anything else. The book outlines useful tactics to make sure you do just this. Topics covered are willpower, habits, multitasking, saying no, and many more. The ONE Thing book is well worth a read.

Gary Keller has also written the book The Millionaire Real Estate Agent. You can learn more about the book on his website.

Here is another summary you might like: Switch by Chip and Dan Heath.


  • Follow your calling and give it your full attention.
  • Apply the Pareto Principle.
  • Make important decisions in the morning.
  • Do not multitask.
  • Say no, as soon as you know what your prime concern is.
  • Have a vision.
  • Protect your time, ruthlessly.

The One Thing Book Summary—related resources

  Read more about Garry Keller on his website.

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Posted on CuteMachine in business and productivity.

Jo's Profile ImageWritten by Jo who lives and works in Frankfurt building digital doodah. Stalk him on Twitter.

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