The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results

The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results
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Published: 4/1/2013
The One Thing explains the success habit to overcome the six lies that block our success, beat the seven thieves that steal time, and leverage the laws of purpose, priority, and productivity.

The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller

Ever had one of those days where you promised yourself you’d do something, but you continue to put it off instead? Maybe you promised you’d go to the gym, but you skip the workout and head home instead. Or maybe you’ve been trying to get a passion project off the ground, but you can’t seem to find the time to work on it.

The key to following through with your goals might be simpler than you think. In fact, simplicity is the aim of The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results. This book helps you narrow your focus to one primary thing at which you can excel. Then, it guides you through developing the tools to successfully get the one thing you’re most passionate about getting.

Ready for some extraordinary results? First, you’ve got to dream big.

Dream Big

Think of your biggest, wildest dream. For this exercise, the bigger the better.

Now that you have that dream in mind, what if I asked you to go ahead and achieve it?

Most people would argue that attempting to reach that dream is useless because the dream feels impossible to achieve. It's too big. You might wonder why anyone bothers to have big dreams at all since the likelihood of achieving them might feel smaller and smaller with each passing day.

However, failing to dream big leads to, well… smaller things. Which can be ok, but why strive for that?

JK Rowling, when she first wrote Harry Potter, wasn’t thinking to herself that she would just write a single book. Even as she was writing the very first book, she knew there would be seven. Arthur Guinness, when purchasing his first brewery, got a lease for 9,000 years. Neither of them failed to dream big, and it paid off BIG time.

Thinking big is scary. Having dreams is scary. Especially if you’ve experienced failure. However, if it weren’t for thinking big, much of our scientific expansion wouldn’t have happened. A man on the moon seemed impossible at one point, but because of expansive thinking, it became possible.

Let yourself dream big, or you risk missing possibilities and opportunities.

Dream big, and determine what you would like to accomplish. This is ONE thing on which you want to focus all of your energy.

Got it? Good! Let's step into action!

Know how to prioritize your to-do list

Every item on your to-do list is not equally important.

When Joseph M. Juran was working for General Motors, he noticed most of the errors made in the manufacturing of cars were from only a few specific production flaws. A few flaws created a lot of mistakes. Juran called this finding the “Pareto Principle” After Pareto, an economist, who had shown that 80% of the land was owned by 20% of the people. His findings were echoed when Juran realized that 20% of the errors had caused 80% of the flaws. He speculated that the 80/20 principle could be a universal law.

This principle has been found replicated in many things, from nature to sales records (20% of the clients produce 80% of the sales). If 20% of your work influences 80% of your outcomes, you need to get clear on what exactly that 20% is. Then, make it your priority.

In order to achieve what you desire to achieve, it is absolutely essential that you focus your energy on high priority items. However, establishing what even goes on the list in the first place can be a complex process. Here’s how:

Ask the “Focusing Question”

Now that you have an idea or a goal, bringing it down to workable parts is challenging. The way to begin the process is by asking yourself, “What’s the one thing I can do, such that by doing it everything else will become easier or unnecessary?”

There are two levels on which you can ask this question:

Macro-level: What’s the one thing that I want to do? Simplify the goal. What do you want at the highest level? An example of this would be: “I want to graduate college”. “I want to purchase a large African bird”. Creating clarity in your overall goal is the key here.

Micro-level: Now, what is one thing you can do right now that will put you closer to achieving this goal? Say your goal was “I want to graduate college”. One thing you could do in the next moment is research schools you would like to attend. If you want the bird, your next step might be to do some research on the legality surrounding the ownership of large, foreign birds.

The first level will help you to clarify where you’re going, the second level will uncover the most important steps to get there. Continuously ask yourself the second question as you clarify the steps you must take to achieve your goals, and you’ll have that bird in no time.

Here, the challenge shifts to continuing the effort needed to get the thing you desire. You can do this by forming new habits.

The secret to creating discipline is selectively forming new helpful habits

Michael Phelps is a well-known athlete and awarded Olympian. He also struggles with ADHD, which makes it hard for him to focus. One thing Olympians are credited with is exhaustive levels of discipline, which it seems someone with ADHD would find challenging. Phelps overcame his struggle with ADHD through consistent habit-forming. His habit was swimming. And for roughly a decade, starting as a 14-year-old in the pool, and continuing as an Olympian at the Beijing Olympics, he swam every day.

Habits are a powerful thing. Harnessing them can mean the difference between success and failure. The key to managing them is to slowly introduce new habits once the previous habit has been mastered. It is easier to continue an old habit than to start a new one: so once things get started, it might be easier to keep them going than you might think initially.

For instance, you can begin by starting a new habit of waking up ten minutes earlier than you usually do. After continuing this habit for a while, you may begin going for walks in the morning, too.

By slowly introducing better habits, you will be able to change your behavior and become more disciplined. On the topic of discipline, here’s how you can also increase efficiency.

Don’t multitask, give whatever you’re working on your complete attention

We can’t do two things at once, so we switch between two different tasks whenever we’re trying to multitask. This comes at a cost to both the amount of time it will take you to complete your task and your ability to do it well. The time cost can be less when a person is switching between easier tasks but can be substantial when the two tasks are difficult or complex. Say you’re giving a complex demonstration, and someone asks a question. Since you’re now switching your attention between the person and the task at hand, you’re losing focus. Every time you look back at your complex demonstration, you have to remember your place and start again.

This is not ideal. Especially since studies indicate that the average office worker is distracted every 11 minutes, and spends up to ⅓ of their day recovering from the distractions. That’s a lot of time lost. The solution? Figure out what you want to accomplish, and give your undivided attention. But how can you focus on something for a long period of time? One element is willpower.

Use willpower wisely: it can run out

Willpower is not a constant force. You may have noticed this when it became harder to resist a delicious candy bar after a stressful day at work. That lag in your willpower might because willpower is a resource: and it can run out.

Once you use your willpower to focus your attention, suppress your emotions, or change your behavior so you can achieve a goal, it gets depleted. Once it's drained, it becomes harder to use it when you need to.

Unfortunately, depletion of willpower can have huge repercussions. Israeli Parole Judges were more likely to make favorable judgments at the beginning of the day, or after meals and snacks, because judges started to default to “no parole” as it was easier when they were depleted.

Take care of your willpower. Skipping a meal to get some work done or staying late at the office might mean short term satisfaction, but the repercussions of overstretching your willpower can be harmful to your goals. Conversely, if you find that you are having a hard time harnessing your willpower, examine where it might be getting depleted and if determine if there’s a solution: or risk running out when you need it most. Here’s a great way to conserve your willpower: say NO!

Don't be afraid to say NO

Steve Jobs was a huge fan of this one. After he came back to Apple in 1997, he shrank their product count from 350 to 10. He explained, “When you think about focusing, you think ‘Well, focusing is about saying yes.’ No! Focusing is about saying `no’!”

Though it seems like saying “no” was easy for Steve Jobs, it can be difficult in real life. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be. You can say “no” and still be kind and thoughtful by offering helpful suggestions or another person who can help.

Your time is valuable, and so are your resources. Saying “no” means you can focus them on your plans and goals, instead of being depleted by everyone else’s agenda. Saying “no” will allow you to focus on your most important tasks. Which will be defined when you define the steps to achieving your goal.

Defining the steps to achieve your goal and living with purpose can lead you to an extraordinary outcome

Without any goals, dreams or ambitions, life can feel pointless. Why continue? What’s the point? Where’s the meaning? You might ask yourself. Imagine being faced with a challenge, or needing to weather a difficult storm in this condition. It's hard to face the storms in life when you don’t feel like you have anything to fight for.

Creating a meaningful goal can allow you to live with more purpose and can give your life meaning beyond survival.

Once you’ve created a meaningful goal, visualizing the steps to accomplish it can actually lead you to a better outcome. In a study, it was found that students who were taking a test performed better if they visualized the outcome of taking the test beforehand. Students who did the visualization reported increased motivation, which leads to better performance. Visualization is key! Understanding what your goal is, knowing the underlying meaning behind it, and then visualizing the steps to achieve it can lead to extraordinary results.

Now that you have a goal that you’re obsessed about, balancing personal and work time well is essential!

Don't compromise your personal life for your work life: instead, be ruthless in how you prioritize your work

James Patterson said, “Imagine life is a game in which you are juggling five balls. The balls are called work, family, health, friends, and integrity. And you're keeping all of them in the air. But one day you finally come to understand that work is a rubber ball - if you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four balls are made of glass”.

Certain things can be compromised, other things can’t. The damage we do when we prioritize work over our personal lives can, much like the shattered glass ball, be impossible to repair.

The way to avoid dropping one of the glass balls is to find ways to manage things at work. Ruthlessly.

To do this, determine what you cannot reasonably do. Find ways to get those tasks done by other means, or is possible, do them later. Determine what your most important tasks are (sound familiar?) and focus on those. Speaking of creating priorities:

Focus on one thing means chaos in other things: utilize time management strategies

Just because your energy is focused on a major goal doesn’t mean life stops showing up. In fact, sometimes it seems like things get extra chaotic in your personal life when another area needs extra focus. The only way to resolve this is to let the chaos pile up while you focus on your big goal. Delegate smaller tasks that need to be addressed to others and use other strategies to knock things out, but accepting that chaos will emerge is essential. Trust that by focusing on your main goal, the issues that generated the chaos will likely be resolved, and you will simplify other areas of your life.

Make the most of your time. Find a workspace that doesn’t contain many distractions, consider working away from your office. Most importantly, defend the time you choose to spend working on your main goal like it's the most important appointment you’ve ever made.

You will need to give your primary goal the unwavering attention it needs, which means chaos will grow and challenges will arise. Address this by avoiding distractions, cutting chunks of time out of your schedule to work, and defending this time so you can give it the attention it requires.

Now that you’ve got the tools to simplify your life, the only thing left is to get out there and get some extraordinary results!

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