The One Thing By Gary Keller — Why You Should Read

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

- Gary Keller

Gary Keller once believed that in order to achieve what he wanted in life, he had to do everything that self-help and motivational books said: wake up at 4 a.m., be the first one in the office everyday, and dress for success.

Over time, he realized this sort of lifestyle wasn’t sustainable and he wasn’t making any sort of progress. He stopped aiming to be an overachiever and started to be more aware about the important things in life like his health and spending more time with his family.

The funny thing was, by doing less and allowing himself room to breathe, he became more successful than ever before.

“I learned,” he says, “that success comes down to this: being appropriate in the moments of your life.”

Success arrives when you finally say to yourself that this moment is exactly where I need to be right now in my life, I’m meant to be doing exactly what I’m doing right at this moment. If you can accept that then you will have all the success you desire.

The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth About Extraordinary Results is subtle and the book is easily dismissed as being too simple. In fact, the main idea of the book is simplicity, it also points out many things that are far from obvious and debunks myths that might be holding you back from success.

This book isn’t so much a “how I did it” autobiographical success story, it’s more about one man’s compelling idea of success that is also reinforced by academic research.

Developing Focus

Everything seemed to be going great for Keller in the 90’s, his real estate business was going steady for 10 years but now there were roadblocks for him in his business and in his life.

After hiring a business coach, it was suggested that he hire the right people in 14 key positions. Although Keller doubted this advice, he did it anyway and it was the turning point for the company’s success over the next 10 years.

In the early days of the firm’s restructuring, Keller saw that even though people were clear on what needed to be done, they didn’t get the most important things done first.

After this realization, Keller started to ask his managers, “What’s the ONE thing you can do this week such that by doing it everything else would become easier or unnecessary?”

Much to his surprise, this new focus on the one, most important thing did wonders for the company. Keller then started looking inward to his personal life and reflected: “Every time I had been successful, I narrowed my focus down to one thing, and where my success varied, my focus had too.”

In order to achieve big things, you have to go small, that is to say that you must focus on the most important things and narrow down your focus like a laser beam. There will always be one thing that has a bigger effect than everything else and that will be what moves you towards greater success and achievement.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that success involves doing many things at one time. It is the opposite that is true.

“If you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one.”

- Russian Proverb

The Domino Effect

Dominoes have the ability to increase in strength as their toppling moves along, and each domino can knock down one that is 50 percent larger in size.

In 7 domino falls, you can go from a two inch domino to a 3 foot domino.

By the 23rd domino, the chain of increasingly sized dominoes will have enough power to knock over the Eiffel tower.

By the 31st, an object the size of Mount Everest.

By the 57th, we are talking about knocking down something the size of the distance between the earth and moon.

The point of all this, is that you too can create this domino effect on your life. If you can keep pushing the right dominoes, then successes will build upon other successes.

It’s not luck that builds successful people, it’s getting the next thing right.

“When you see someone who has a lot of knowledge, they learned it over time. When you see someone who has a lot of skills, they developed them over time. When you see someone who has done a lot, they accomplished it over time. When you see someone who has a lot of money, they earned it over time. The key is over time. Success is built sequentially. It’s one thing at a time.”

- Gary Keller

What One Thing Can Turn Into

Most extremely successful companies have built their foundations upon one thing, be it a single product or service.

  • Kentucky Fried Chicken was made successful when Colonel Sanders marketed one delicious recipe for fried chicken.
  • Coors sold one type of beer from one single brewery from 1947 to 1967 and exploded in size.
  • McDonald’s started with a small menu of food that people enjoyed.
  • Star Wars began with the first film that changed an industry.

Keller reminds us that even though a company’s success starts with one thing, they always move on to the next one as culture, technology, and competition changes. Apple shifted it’s focus from Macs to iMacs to iTunes to iPods then finally to iPhones.

Apple didn’t put out a bunch of different products every year either, they made one product and tried to make it the best it could be for their users.

Success Myths

In the book, Gary Keller fills us in on quite a few myths that are repeated through books or motivational speakers, believing in these might be the thing keeping success away from you. Here are three of them.

Myth # 1: Everything Matters Equally

Vilfredo Pareto was an Italian economist who first pointed out the 80/20 principle which describes how the relationship between inputs and outputs are very uneven.

80 percent of the work you do amounts to nothing but busy work and maintenance, 20 percent of the work you do is what brings in the results.

That’s the problem with simple to-do lists, Keller states, they give all tasks the same importance when some things matter much more than others. When everything feels equally important and there are a lot of things to do, it is easy to get overwhelmed.

We should instead have “success lists” that start with your most important priorities. Make sure you devote four hours of your day to your One Thing everyday, this is the greatest tool of productivity there is.

If you spend all your time focused on the thing that matters most, then you will find that everything else falls into place.

Myth #2: You Need To Be Highly Disciplined To Succeed

The word discipline implys that we must be able to force ourselves to do things every day whether we like it or not. Of course the ability to do this matters but only in the beginning, after a time spent consistently doing something, it becomes second nature to us.

People who look like they are highly disciplined, are not. In reality, their habits have become so ingrained that they no longer have an opinion about whether they should be productive or not, it’s just they way they live their life.

Developing a habit is only tough at the beginning, it is because in order to develop that habit, we must make room for it by erasing an old one.

Because habits are like train tracks our mind forms, our mind does not want to make the effort to demolish the old track and build a new one. Our sense of who we are is also tied to our old habits and it can feel like we are destroying part of ourselves.

While that is true, we are simply getting rid of a part of ourselves that doesn’t serve our greater needs.

“People do not decide their futures, they decide their habits and their habits decide their future.”

- F. M. Alexander

Myth #3: The Need For Work/Life Balance

The problem with the idea of work/life balance is that when you try to balance both things all the time, then both of them end up getting short changed.

What Keller suggests, is that we develop a sense of counter-balance, there are times when work will be a priority, maybe it’s crunch time and there is an important deadline that requires 100% of our attention.

It is the same thing with our personal lives, maybe someone in our family is reaching an important milestone or a much need vacation has to happen.

It’s not so much a balance as it is being completely attentive to the needs that arise either in life or in work.

Swing between things that you have identified as very important to you and give each thing it’s proper due.

The Focusing Question

Andrew Carnegie gave a famous talk in 1885 about success in business. Carnegie told the audience that the “prime condition of success, the great secret” is concentration of energy, thought and capital.

Resolve to know everything about the business you are in, have the best machinery and build the best plants possible. When a business fails it is because your attention and capital are scattered.

“Put all your eggs in one basket, and then watch that basket.”

- Andrew Carnegie

So how do you know which basket to put all your eggs in? This is the burning question of Keller’s book, his “focusing question”:

“What’s the ONE thing I can do, such that by doing it everything else will become easier or unnecessary.”

When there is a long term goal, you have to work backwards and find out what you need to accomplish this year, this month, this week, and this day to get the ball rolling.

Keller had his team do a brainstorm and figure out what were somethings that could get his company industry recognition. They thought of 100 ideas, then after that they narrowed them down to 10, the next day they settled on one idea: Keller would write a book on how to succeed in real estate.

The book was a breakout success and it sold one million copies, raising the company’s profile higher than anything else could.

In Conclusion

“We are kept from our goals not by obstacles but by a clear path to a lesser goal.”

- Robert Brault

This quote on one of the pages to the book sums up Keller’s problem with most people’s way of thinking when it comes to success, we tend to move away from big grand plans for our future towards smaller, safer ones.

However, big things are often easier to achieve than we think, we just need to pour all our thought and energy into finding out whats the ONE thing in our work that would bring us the highest return for our efforts.

Keller warns us that we will feel like we aren’t giving enough attention certain things and they will have to be put on the back burner. Saying no to people is tough as well but we must learn to live without pleasing everyone.

Though, when you start to feel the success achieved through committing to your ONE thing, it will put all the smaller worries into perspective.

Related Articles

Originally published at on June 13, 2019.



We offer a variety of finance related content: personal finance, investing, economics, and how to make money online! Be sure to visit!

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Forge Financial Freedom

We offer a variety of finance related content: personal finance, investing, economics, and how to make money online! Be sure to visit!