The ONE Thing

🔖How would I describe this book in 1 sentence?

The #1 book for everyone who strives to become better and achieve more.

🗺️What was the role of this book in my journey?

This book practically changed my life. This is what people call an overnight change. And those surrounding myself noticed it, too.

I managed to read 50% of it during one of the flights. I walked up on a plane one man and went off-board as another.

My attitude to things changed, I started to dedicate myself to what's essential and stopped paying attention to seemingly important clutter.

I embraced the power of good habits, comprehended the impact of prioritization, understood what was draining my energy and what things inspired me. After reading it I became obsessed with productivity and even developed own Timelean productivity framework. This book was the main driving force that made me to get up early and write articles every day for a month straight.

By persistently applying principles from this book I turned them into good habits that serve me up to date, even while I'm writing this summary.

Thanks to Vadym for this recommendation.

💡Key Insights

  1. The Domino Effect. Getting extraordinary results is all about creating a domino effect in your life. The key is over time. Success is built sequentially. It’s one thing at a time.
  2. A wealthy person doesn’t become wealthy in a day; a champion athlete doesn’t start winning on day one. Money, skills, expertise, and accomplishments are built over time. Success builds on success, sequentially, as you move from One Thing to another until you reach the highest level possible.
  3. When everything feels urgent and important, everything seems equal. We become active and busy, but this doesn’t actually move us any closer to success. Activity is often unrelated to productivity, and busyness rarely takes care of business.
  4. Most to-do lists are survival lists—getting you through your day and your life, but not making each day a stepping-stone for the next so that you sequentially build a successful life. Instead of a to-do list, focus on a success list—a list that is purposefully created around extraordinary results. If your to-do list contains everything, then it’s probably taking you everywhere but where you really want to go. Achievers always work from a clear sense of priority.
  5. The majority of what you want will come from the minority of what you do. Extraordinary results are disproportionately created by fewer actions than most realize.
  6. No matter the task, mission, or goal. Big or small. Start with as large a list as you want, but develop the mindset that you will whittle your way from there to the critical few and not stop until you end with the essential ONE. There will always be just a few things that matter more than the rest, and out of those, one will matter most. Doing the most important thing is always the most important thing.
  7. Multitasking is a lie. When you try to do two things at once, you either can’t or won’t do either well. Researchers estimate that workers are interrupted every 11 minutes and then spend almost a third of their day recovering from these distractions. You can do two things at once, but you can’t focus effectively on two things at once. Depending on the complexity of the task, switching can add 25% to 100% more time to completing it. You won’t succeed in your work or life unless you figure out what matters most at the moment and give it your undivided attention.
  8. Success isn’t a result of ongoing discipline. It results from applying discipline long enough for a new habit to stick and become automatic. It takes an average of 66 days to acquire a new habit. It takes time to develop the right habit, so don’t give up too soon. Decide what the right one is, then give yourself all the time you need and apply all the discipline you can summon to develop it.
  9. Success is about doing the right thing, not about doing everything right. The trick to success is to choose the right habit and bring just enough discipline to establish it.
  10. When you do the right thing, it can liberate you from having to monitor everything.
  11. Willpower is like the battery power of your phone. As you draw on the available power, the supply diminishes. You make difficult challenges harder when you don’t reserve enough willpower to help you with them. Things that sap willpower include: resisting temptation, doing a task you dislike, and suppressing emotions. You make doing what matters most a priority when your willpower is its highest. So, if you want to get the most out of your day, do your most important work—your ONE Thing—early, before your willpower is drawn down.
  12. A balanced life in which no area is neglected—for instance work, health, or relationships—is a myth. Trying to maintain balance will keep you from achieving extraordinary success because success requires allowing some things to remain unaddressed, at least temporarily, so you can focus on what’s most important. The key is counterbalancing the way a ballerina does—by making constant adjustments with her toes and ankles
  13. No matter how hard you try, there will always be things left undone at the end of your day, week, month, year, and life. Trying to get them all done is folly. When the things that matter most get done, you’ll still be left with a sense of things being undone—a sense of imbalance. Leaving some things undone is a necessary tradeoff for extraordinary results.
  14. To achieve an extraordinary result you must choose what matters most and give it all the time it demands. This requires getting extremely out of balance in relation to all other work issues, with only infrequent counterbalancing to address them.
  15. When big is believed to be bad, small thinking rules the day and big never sees the light of it. When you allow yourself to accept that big is about who you can become, you look at it differently. Believing in big frees you to ask different questions, follow different paths, and try new things.
  16. No one knows their ultimate ceiling for achievement, so worrying about it is a waste of time.
  17. We overthink, overplan, and over-analyze our careers, our businesses, and our lives; that long hours are neither virtuous nor healthy; and that we usually succeed in spite of most of what we do, not because of it. We can’t manage time. The key to success isn’t in all the things we do but in the handful of things we do well.
  18. Answers come from questions, and the quality of any answer is directly determined by the quality of the question. Ask the wrong question, get the wrong answer. Ask the right question, get the right answer. Ask the most powerful question possible, and the answer can be life-altering.
  19. Life is a question and how we live it is our answer. How we phrase the questions we ask ourselves determines the answers that eventually become our life. Anyone who dreams of an uncommon life eventually discovers there is no choice but to seek an uncommon approach to living it.
  20. The Focusing Question collapses all possible questions into one: “What’s the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” The focusing question takes two forms—a big-picture and a small-focus question: 1) “What’s my One Thing?” and 2) “What’s my One Thing right now.” You ask the first to determine your purpose and the second to determine the most important immediate action toward attaining it.
  21. The Focusing Question can direct you to your ONE Thing in the different areas of your life. Say the category first, then state the question, add a time frame, and end by adding “such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” For example: “For my job, what’s the ONE Thing I can do to ensure I hit my goals this week such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
  22. If you want the most from your answer, you must realize that it lives outside your comfort zone.
  23. When moving toward a goal, the first thing to do is ask, “Has anyone else studied or accomplished this or something like it?” The research and experience of others is the best place to start when looking for your answer.
  24. There is a natural rhythm to our lives that becomes a simple formula for implementing the ONE Thing and achieving extraordinary results: purpose, priority, and productivity. Your big ONE Thing is your purpose and your small ONE Thing is the priority you take action on to achieve it.
  25. Purpose, priority, and productivity are like three parts of an iceberg. Productivity is the tip or part you see, priority is directly under the surface, and purpose is deeper. Your purpose determines your priority, and both purpose and priority drive productivity. How well you connect your purpose, priority, and productivity determines your personal level of success.
  26. Our purpose sets our priority and our priority determines the productivity our actions produce.
  27. Once we get what we want, our happiness sooner or later wanes because we quickly become accustomed to what we acquire. Happiness happens on the way to fulfillment. Happiness happens when you have a bigger purpose than having more fulfills
  28. Purpose without priority is powerless. The truth about success is that our ability to achieve extraordinary results in the future lies in stringing together powerful moments, one after the other.
  29. Visualizing the process—breaking a big goal down into the steps needed to achieve it—helps engage the strategic thinking you need to plan for and achieve extraordinary results.
  30. Productive action transforms lives. Putting together a life of extraordinary results simply comes down to getting the most out of what you do, when what you do matters.
  31. If disproportionate results come from one activity, then you must give that one activity disproportionate time.
  32. To achieve extraordinary results and experience greatness, time block these three things in the following order:
    1. Time block your time off
    2. Time block your ONE Thing
    3. Time block your planning time
  33. Resting is as important as working.
  34. Block an hour each week to review your annual and monthly goals. There is magic in knocking down your most important domino day after day.
  35. The best way to protect your time blocks is to adopt the mindset that they can’t be moved.
  36. Achieving extraordinary results through time blocking requires three commitments. First, you must adopt the mindset of someone seeking mastery. Second, you must continually seek the very best ways of doing things. And last, you must be willing to be held accountable for doing everything you can to achieve your ONE Thing.
  37. The path of mastering something is the combination of not only doing the best you can do, but also doing it the best it can be done.
  38. Anders Ericsson observed that “the single most important difference between these amateurs and the three groups of elite performers is that the future elite performers seek out teachers and coaches and engage in supervised training, whereas the amateurs rarely engage in similar types of practice.”
  39. The way to protect what you’ve said yes to and stay productive is to say no to anyone or anything that could derail you.
  40. When you say yes to something, it’s imperative that you understand what you’re saying no to. Saying yes to everyone is the same as saying yes to nothing.
  41. When you strive for greatness, chaos is guaranteed to show up.
  42. Personal energy mismanagement is a silent thief of productivity.
  43. When you spend the early hours energizing yourself, you get pulled through the rest of the day with little additional effort.
  44. No one succeeds alone and no one fails alone. Pay attention to the people around you. For you to achieve extraordinary results, the people surrounding you and your physical surroundings must support your goals.
  45. When you clear the path to success—that’s when you consistently get there.
  46. At any moment in time there can be only ONE Thing, and when that ONE Thing is in line with your purpose and sits atop your priorities, it will be the most productive thing you can do to launch you toward the best you can be
  47. A life worth living might be measured in many ways, but the one way that stands above all others is living a life of no regrets.
  48. When you know what matters most, everything makes sense. When you don’t know what matters most, anything makes sense.

🦅Key Principles

  1. Do things of the highest impact first. Start the domino effect - focus on doing things that will trigger other things and bring compound results
  2. When developing a habit, apply a discipline to practice it for 66 days
  3. Plan activities that require the most energy and focus in the first half of the day
  4. Every day define the one thing you can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary and do it
  5. Time block your important tasks in advance
  6. Block 4 hours a day in doing your ONE Thing
  7. Don't make important decisions when your willpower is low
  8. Accept that some life aspects may fall by the wayside when you are focused on the most important thing with a clear sense of purpose
  9. Accept that some things will be left undone. Don't focus on trying to do everything, focus on doing things that matter most. When you strive for greatness, chaos is guaranteed to show up.
  10. Think big - set big and ambitious goals outside your current capacity, expertise, and comfort zone.
  11. Always seek the right question.
  12. When moving toward a goal, the first thing to do is ask, “Has anyone else studied or accomplished this or something like it?”
  13. Live with purpose.
  14. Live with priority.
  15. Enjoy the process, not the result.
  16. Write your goals.
  17. Visualize the process required to achieving a big goal.
  18. Schedule your time off for a year ahead.
  19. Dedicate 1 hour every week to planning.
  20. Adopt the mindset of someone seeking mastery
  21. Seek the very best ways of doing things
  22. Be willing to be held accountable for doing everything you can to achieve your goals
  23. Don't be afraid to say "No"
  24. Spend early morning hours on activities that boost up personal energy.
  25. Surround yourself with people supporting your goals and distance yourself from people not sharing your goals.
  26. Order off the menu. Instead of choosing from the available options, imagine new options.
  27. Act boldly and don’t be afraid to fail.


The Six Lies Between You and Success   

  1. Everything Matters Equally
  2. Multitasking
  3. A Disciplined Life
  4. Willpower Is Always on Will-Call
  5. A Balanced Life
  6. Big Is Bad

4 Steps To Time Blocking

  1. Block off your vacation time for the year.
  2. Time block your One Thing (block off at least four consecutive hours of uninterrupted time to focus on it each day).
  3. Block an hour each week for planning time.
  4. Protect your blocked time.

The Four Thieves of Productivity

  1. Inability to Say “No”
  2. Fear of Chaos
  3. Poor Health Habits
  4. Environment Doesn’t Support Your Goals

The Highly Productive Person’s Daily Energy Plan

  1. Meditate and pray for spiritual energy
  2. Eat right, exercise, and sleep sufficiently for physical energy
  3. Hug, kiss, and laugh with loved ones for emotional energy
  4. Set goals, plan, and calendar for mental energy
  5. Time block your ONE Thing for business energy

The Five Big Ideas

  1. Not everything matters equally.
  2. Multitasking is a lie.
  3. Discipline is a result of habit.
  4. Willpower is a finite resource.
  5. Big is bad.

Maker and Manager Time

Normal business culture gets in the way of the very productivity it seeks because of the way people traditionally schedule their time

Paul Graham, from Y Combinator, divides all work into two buckets: maker (do or create) and manager (oversee or direct).

“Maker” time requires large blocks of the clock to write code, develop ideas, generate leads, recruit people, produce products, or execute on projects and plans. This time tends to be viewed in half-day increments.

“Manager time,” on the other hand, gets divided into hours. This time typically has one moving from meeting to meeting, and because those who oversee or direct tend to have power and authority, “they are in a position to make everyone resonate at their frequency.”

To experience extraordinary results, be a maker in the morning and a manager in the afternoon.

The Domino Effect

When you prioritize so you’re focusing on the right thing at the moment, everything after that subsequently falls into place like a progression of dominoes.

Physicist Lorne Whitehead determined in 1983 that a single domino can bring down another domino that’s 50% bigger. Another physicist tested and confirmed this in 2001, using eight dominoes of plywood, each 50% larger than the one before. The first was two inches tall and the last one thirty-six inches tall.

When you pursue your goals by starting with the one, right thing, it leads to bigger things—you build energy in a geometric progression like Whitehead’s progressively larger dominoes. To keep doing the math:

  • The tenth domino would be nearly as tall as NFL QB Payton Manning.
  • The eighteenth would be comparable to the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
  • The twenty-third would be taller than the Eiffel Tower.
  • The thirty-first would surpass Mount Everest by 3,000 feet.
  • The fifty-seventh would be comparable in height to the distance between earth and moon.

To achieve success, aim for the moon. Getting there is doable when you create a domino effect in your life.

Activities That Drain Willpower

  • Establishing new habits
  • Fighting distractions
  • Resisting temptation
  • Suppressing emotion, aggression, or impulses
  • Taking tests
  • Trying to impress
  • Handling fear
  • Doing something you dislike
  • Choosing long-term over short-term benefits

Success Stories

One Product

Hugely successful companies focus on one product or service:

  • Colonel Sanders concentrated on one product, fried chicken made with a secret recipe, to create KFC.
  • The Coors Company grew 1,500% from 1947-67 with a single beer made at one brewery.
  • Starbucks focused on One Thing—coffee.
  • Google focused exclusively on search, which allowed the company to make a fortune selling advertising.

Successful businesses continually ask themselves, “What’s our One Thing?” because it has to evolve in response to competition, technology, and consumer demand.

Apple focused on one exceptional product at a time, moving from the Mac, iMac, iTunes, and iPod, to the iPhone and then iPad. If your business doesn’t know what its One Thing is, then its One Thing or focus should be determining what that is.

One Person

No one succeeds totally alone. Many of those who’ve achieved exceptional success can cite one person who made the difference by pointing them in the right direction—for instance:

  • Walt Disney’s brother Roy, a businessman, got him a job at an art studio where he learned animation.
  • Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton’s father-in-law loaned him money to start his first store.
  • When he was a boy, Albert Einstein had a mentor, Max Talmud, who introduced him to the work of key thinkers in science, math, and philosophy.
  • Oprah Winfrey’s father provided a nurturing childhood after her parents split. Later, another influential person—her agent—persuaded her to take the unusual step of starting her own company.

One Passion

Sometimes, a person’s One Thing is a passion or skill that drives his or her success. Passion and skill are closely connected:

  • When you’re passionate about something, you devote an inordinate amount of time to working on it or practicing, which translates into skill.
  • As your skill grows, your enjoyment and results grow. You invest more time, creating a cycle that leads to extraordinary success.

For example, American long-distance runner Gilbert Tuhabonye’s passion for running became a skill that led to a profession, which gave him the opportunity to contribute to the welfare of his native country. Born in Burundi, he was a national champion runner who escaped being killed during a civil war by outrunning his enemies. He was recruited by and attended Abilene Christian University in Texas, where he won All-America honors and later became a popular running coach. With professional success, he began a foundation to raise money to provide water systems in Burundi.

Applying the One Thing principle to your work and life is the most effective way to achieve extraordinary success.

One Life

Bill Gates is the paramount example of a person who has harnessed One Thing at various key moments to create an extraordinary life:

  • He had one passion in high school: computers.
  • One person, Paul Allen, gave him his first job and became his partner in forming Microsoft.
  • One person, Ed Roberts, changed both their lives by giving them an opportunity to write code for one computer, the Altair.
  • Microsoft’s One Thing initially was developing and selling interpreters for the Altair 8800, which ultimately made Gates the world’s richest man for 15 consecutive years.
  • When he retired, Gates and wife Melinda formed a foundation to do One Thing: improve people’s health in poor countries. They narrowed this further to focus on improving the availability of vaccines as the One Thing that would make the biggest difference.

Quotes from the book

If you chase two rabbits you will not catch either one. — Russian Proverb

Be like a postage stamp — stick to one thing until you get there. — Josh Billings

Every great change starts like falling dominoes. — BJ Thornton

It is those who concentrate on but one thing at a time who advance in this world. — Og Mandino

There can only be one most important thing. Many things may be important, but only one can be the most important. — Ross Garber

You must be single-minded. Drive for the one thing on which you have decided. — General George S. Patton

Success demands singleness of purpose. — Vince Lombardi

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. — Mark Twain

Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least. — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The things which are most important don’t always scream the loudest. — Bob Hawke

To do two things at once is to do neither. — Publilius Syrus

It’s one of the most prevalent myths of our culture: self-discipline. — Leo Babauta

Odysseus understood how weak willpower actually is when he asked his crew to bind him to the mast while sailing by the seductive Sirens. — Patricia Cohen

The truth is, balance is bunk. It is an unattainable pipe dream, a vain artifice that offers mostly rhetorical solutions to problems of logistics and economics. The quest for balance between work and life, as we’ve come to think of it, isn’t just a losing proposition; it’s a hurtful, destructive one. — Keith H. Hammonds

We are kept from our goal, not by obstacles but by a clear path to a lesser goal. — Robert Brault

The rung of a ladder was never meant to rest upon, but only to hold a man’s foot long enough to enable him to put the other somewhat higher. — Thomas Henry Huxley

Be careful how you interpret the world; it is like that. — Erich Heller

There is an art to clearing away the clutter and focusing on what matters most. It is simple and it is transferable. It just requires the courage to take a different approach. — George Anders

But those Woulda-Coulda-Shouldas all ran away and hid from one little Did. — Shel Silverstein

Success is simple. Do what’s right, the right way, at the right time. — Arnold H. Glasow

People do not decide their futures, they decide their habits and their habits decide their futures. — F. M. Alexander

Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there. — Will Rogers

Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself. — George Bernard Shaw

Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now. — Alan Lakein

Productivity isn’t about being a workhorse, keeping busy or burning the midnight oil…. It’s about priorities, planning and fiercely protecting your time. — Margarita Tartakovsky

My goal is no longer to get more done, but rather to have less to do. — Francine Jay

Day, n. A period of twenty-four hours, mostly misspent. — Ambrose Bierce

Efficiency is doing the thing right. Effectiveness is doing the right thing. — Peter Drucker

Nobody who ever gave his best regretted it. — George Halas

Focus is a matter of deciding what things you’re not going to do. — John Carmack

If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign? — Albert Einstein

The art of being wise is knowing what to overlook. — William James

Surround yourself only with people who are going to take you higher. — Oprah Winfrey

To get through the hardest journey we need take only one step at a time, but we must keep on stepping. — Chinese Proverb

Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go. — T.S. Eliot

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. — Mark Twain

In delay there lies no plenty. — William Shakespeare