The One Thing: An Extensive Book Review

The ONE Thing book review

Do you ever get so overwhelmed with all the things you could be doing right now that you can’t decide what you should be doing?

So you end up going on Facebook to give your brain a break.  After all, how can you make such an important decision under all that pressure?

Before you know it, 2 hours have past and the only thing you’ve accomplished is finding out your spirit animal is a hippo.

If you’re nodding your head in shame, then today, my friend, I bring you a glimmer of hope.

I recently read the book called The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan.  Before I go into specifics, I’ll boil the whole book down into one sentence, which the authors call the “focusing question”:

What’s the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it
everything else will be easier or unnecessary?

The book teaches you how to “drill down” to your one thing, why it’s important to focus on one thing, and what it will take to achieve your one thing.

Your one thing isn’t your only thing, and it’s not necessarily your biggest thing.  You can have one thing for each area of your life (career, family, finances, spiritual, etc.), and it will usually be one small piece of the bigger picture.  It will also change depending on different factors.

The key is figuring out which one thing you need to focus on right now and then giving it your undivided attention.

By using the focus question stated above, you come to an answer that:

  • is necessary, important, and the highest priority
  • you understand and believe will make a difference
  • either defines your long-term objective or short-term goals
  • will help you achieve what matters most to you
  • will give you the greatest productivity
  • will achieve extraordinary results
  • connects today to all your tomorrows
  • will contribute to your life purpose

This is my own extensive personal review of The ONE Thing.  It really helped me understand what it takes to get to the bottom of what’s truly important to me.  I think most people feel like they could be doing more with their lives, but they’re just too busy with life itself.

This book reminded me that’s it’s not about doing more, it’s about doing what matters.


The Main Points

The book has 16 chapters and is divided into 3 sections.  Here are some big ideas that the author writes about:

  • “going small” begins a domino effect that leads to extraordinary results
  • there are “truthy” lies our culture has convinced us are true but get in the way of our success
  • the real truth is that the path to success is a simple one if you make it a habit to ask the focusing question
  • identifying your big ONE thing (purpose) and focusing on your small ONE thing (priority), will increase your productivity
  • by carrying out the “three commitments” and avoiding the “four thieves of productivity”, you can ensure you will be living your most purposeful life


» The Domino Effect

Big success does not mean big focus.  Actually, it starts with a narrow focus.  The authors call this “going small”, and although it’s a simple idea, it may not be easy to apply at first.

This is because we might believe that in order to be productive, we need to be busy.  Long to-do lists, packed schedules, time-consuming tasks, and complicated plans can make us *feel* like we’re getting ahead.  But, truth be told, it usually results in feeling overloaded and overwhelmed – and still not getting the results we want.

We need to free ourselves from the false belief that starting small means thinking small.  Narrowing our focus doesn’t indicate we’re not dreaming big enough.  The book argues quite the opposite.

“Going small” means separating the coulds from the shoulds, the urgent from the important, and the busy stuff from the productive.  It means identifying the ONE thing to focus on right now that will get you closer to reaching your goals.

By giving your full attention to the smallest priority, it’s like knocking down the lead “domino” of a long chain of increasingly larger achievements, or what the book calls a geometric progression.  This is a picture of the sequential attribute of success:  each ONE thing you accomplish adds up over time, creating enough momentum to eventually topple over your biggest goals.

And it all starts with “going small”.


» Truthy Lies

We all have principles we live by, ones that drive our decisions and influence our actions.  Unfortunately, sometimes we accept ideas because we trust the source we got them from.  Or they’ve been repeated so many times that we identify them as true statements.  Perhaps you’ve even tested some of these principles for yourself and found that they did, indeed, line up with your experiences – but you’re still not making progress.

The authors of the ONE thing have identified 6 “truthy” lies that may be leading you down the wrong path and keeping you from achieving your goals:


Productivity starts with prioritizing.

If you have a long list of tasks with checkboxes, then everything seems important.  And because it’s on your list you now feel obligated to get it done.  All of these “equally important” tasks then scream for your attention and end up filling your whole day.

These to-do lists don’t prioritize your goals or purposefully take you in a specific direction, so they don’t result in high productivity.  Usually, it’s just busy work.

The authors encourage us to adopt success lists instead.  Success lists are focused, short, and important.

They’re also one way to prove the Pareto Principle, which states that 80% of a system’s output is determined by 20% of its input.  This proven concept is about inequality and helps us understand that everything does not matter equally.  The majority of what we achieve can actually come from the minority of what we do.

Start by brainstorming a list of everything that could potentially help you reach your goal.  Then apply the Pareto Principle by choosing 20% of these tasks that you think will have the greatest impact.

Normally you would make this 20% your sole focus until it’s complete.  But Keller and Papasan take this idea to the extreme, challenging you to not stop there.  Instead, go even “smaller” by identifying the top 20% of that 20%,

then find 20% of that 20%,

then 20% of that 20%, etc.,

until you’ve drilled down to




This is the ONE thing you need to do right now.  Scratch everything off your list.


I consider multitasking one of my God-given gifts and for someone to tell me that I’ve been fostering a lie my whole adult life was just downright unacceptable.  So I was ready to yell blasphemy! when I was reading this part.  

That is until I got to all the science-y facts that the authors bring up.  And, oh yeah, that other stuff called research.

Turns out there are smarter people than me that have figured out multi-tasking is ineffective and ends up *wasting* time.  Dang that sucks.

On top of that, calling it “multi-tasking” isn’t even accurate.  Our brains can’t focus effectively on two things at one time.  So instead, it separates simultaneous tasks into different channels.  They call it “task switching”.  Doesn’t sound nearly as impressive in my opinion.  And it all results in less productivity, more mistakes, greater distractions, and no mastery.


Whenever I see someone jogging in my neighborhood at 6:30am in the snow, all I can think is wow, that person has so much more discipline than me.  Good for them!

But I never really examined that thinking, until I read this book.

In my mind, I imagine that jogger reliving the same struggle to get out of bed every morning, overcoming the temptation to go back to sleep with mental strength, willpower, discipline, and self-control.

Every. single. morning.

Ugh.  Sounds soooo exhausting.

How do they do it?  Why do some people have discipline and others don’t?  Where do they get all that self-control?

The ONE Thing claims the belief that we have to be disciplined to reach our goals is a lie.  An outright LIE!

Wait.  Really?  A lie?  I don’t need discipline to get in shape, or master a new skill, or stop overspending??  Sounds too good to be true.

Actually, the authors tell us that we don’t need constant discipline to achieve these things, we just need *enough* discipline to build the habits that will get us there.  Once the habits “kick in and take over”, discipline is no longer needed.  The key is figuring out the right habit to focus on and being disciplined enough to develop it into an automatic behavior.

How long does that take?  A lot of self-help talk promotes a three-week window, but the authors refer (again) to research studies that suggest a little over three times that much at 66 days. This seems to be the “sweet spot” where the effort needed to sustain a new habit is minimized.

So if I had started jogging 3 months ago, I probably wouldn’t be struggling to get out of bed in the morning now.  The discipline I would have needed in the beginning would now be an established habit.  Does this mean I should start jogging tomorrow?  Mmmm.  Not necessarily.

It all depends on your goals.  When you can identify the one habit that will lead you to the success you want, you channel all of your energy into disciplining yourself to develop that one habit.  The authors call this selected discipline, and it allows you to be less disciplined in everything else.  Then, once the habit has become automatic, you identify the next habit that best supports your goal and discipline yourself just enough to develop that one.

This frees you from trying to be disciplined in everything.  You only need enough to develop the right habit until it’s an automatic behavior.  One discipline, one habit at a time.


Willpower is very important in achieving goals.  Unfortunately, it’s not at your beck and call.

You may think of willpower as a mindset:  thinking that you can control your behavior just by changing your thoughts.  At least, that’s the way I’ve thought about it.  Like mind over matter, the brain is stronger than the body.

This is partially true, but there’s more.

The brain is stronger, but if you think of it like a muscle than you realize that it gets tired from use.  You only have so much strength you can use before your muscles say I’m doneWe use up our energy with exercise, but we use up our willpower with decisions.  However, the *level* of both energy and willpower is highly affected by what we eat.  Food is like the gas in our body and mind tanks.

So, if you make too many tough decisions that go against your “default” behaviors, you’ll eventually run out of willpower.  And if you don’t put enough “fuel” in your tank, you’re going to run out more quickly.  That’s when you’re willpower turns into “won’t power”.  The trick is knowing what you need to fuel up your gas tank, then using it only to get closer to your goals.

Imagine you had a full tank of gas to get to your hotel which is 400 miles away, and you have no money to add more.  Would you take little detours to go sightseeing along the way?  Would you drive the scenic route even though it’s longer?  Would you take the surface streets instead of the freeways?  The right answer would be no because you’d be wasting gas and may not make it to your final destination.

Same with willpower.

The ONE Thing tells us that our willpower is a limited resource, and can get depleted throughout the day with a variety of big and small decisions we make.  If we don’t reserve it for the ONE thing we’re trying to achieve, we’ll be running on fumes and our willpower will turn into won’t power.


“A balanced life is a lie.”  – Gary Keller & Jay Papasan

I think we all want to feel balanced.  When we give too much to one area of our lives then we know we’re not giving enough to another.  This can make us feel guilty, or selfish, or inadequate, or frustrated.  In our effort to cover everything, we divide up our time and energy as equally as we can.  All in the name of feeling good about ourselves and keeping things balanced.

The authors call this middle mismanagement, referring to how balance is maintained in the middle.  If you’re too far away from the middle then you become unbalanced, which usually looks like spending a disproportionate amount of time on one thing.  When this happens we feel we have to  “redistribute” our commitments so we give every area of our lives its fair share.

Unfortunately, extraordinary results rarely happen in the middle.  You may feel good about your evenly sliced pie, but you won’t get extreme results from any slice.  Achieving big goals requires big sacrifices – something will ultimately get neglected.

So what do you do?  Maybe you want to build a business so you can give your family the best life possible, but in order to do that you’d have to neglect the very reason that motivates you.

The ONE Thing tells us to stop striving for balance, and instead work towards counterbalancing your work and personal life.  The idea is to be in a state of imbalance just long enough to do what needs to be done without causing irreparable damage.

In your professional life, you should choose extreme imbalance, giving the ONE thing that matters most your complete focus within the usual time you’re given at work.  Choose focused time, not overtime.  You can infrequently counterbalance that with other less important work responsibilities as necessary.  The authors call this “going long”.

With your personal life, it’s all about awareness.  Being conscious of your health, your relationships, and your personal needs.  You must counterbalance these more tightly (“going short”) because none of them can be neglected for too long without serious consequences.  Sometimes you can choose activities that combine several areas in your personal life, so you don’t always have to focus on just one.  This helps you to “move them along together”.

The ONE Thing tells us that a balanced life is a myth.  To get extraordinary results, there will always be a sense of imbalance and sacrifice.  The key is figuring out how imbalanced you should be in each area of your life.

Keller and Papasan offer the idea to go long in your work life as you focus on mastering ONE thing and go short in your personal life in order to stay connected to those things that matter most to you.  If you don’t want “middle of the road” results, choose a counterbalanced life.


I was raised by two loving parents who never went to college, but my dad still achieved his lifelong dream of becoming a successful airline pilot.  My mom also lived her dream, which was being a stay at home mom.  We had a very comfortable life, and my dad flew for almost 30 years before he retired.  But he never lost sight of how lucky he was.  The man never even graduated high school.

My parents wanted the same for their kids.  A good, reliable career that pays well.  But to them, the safest route was through college.  Get a degree, get a job, get a steady income.  Get married, buy a house, have some kids.  Keep it simple.  Don’t take big risks.  Stick to what you know and what you’re good at.  They just wanted their kids to have a comfortable life.

I imagine most parents that were a part of the silent generation raised their kids this way.  Unfortunately, it left people like me with a narrow view of success.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it did keep me from considering goals that seemed outside of my reach.

I wanted to be successful, but I didn’t want to stray too far from the beaten path because that would have been too risky.  I thought I was being smart, but that was probably just a disguise for fear.  Besides that, who am I to think I deserve exceptional prosperity?  I’m just a wife and mom from the suburbs.

The authors call this “shrinking thinking”, which creates a limited belief of how much you’re capable of achieving.  If you think about it, when was the last time you really met your limitations?  Do you truly know how far you could go if you never gave up?  If you’re honest with yourself, the answer is probably no.  So shutting down the idea of attempting a goal that seems unrealistic is actually irrelevant.  Saying it’s too big is not a valid reason for inaction.

Since we typically don’t know our limitations, this means we’ve never reached our full potential.  What would that look like?  Certainly not what you look like today.  So don’t imagine the “today” you when you envision achieving your biggest dreams.  Like the authors say, “big is about who you can become“.  You don’t know what that will look like, so stop worrying you don’t have what it takes.  You may just surprise yourself.

But what exactly is thinking “big”?

The ONE Thing encourages its readers to adopt a growth mindset, which is the belief that you are not limited by your natural intelligence and abilities.  Through hard work and effort, you are capable of achieving things in the future which you can’t presently accomplish.  In other words, you believe you can grow into someone who can attain the big success that’s out of your reach today.

When you have a growth mindset, you have bigger goals.  You think outside the box. You adopt the actions of successful people.  You’re not afraid of failure.  Instead, you fear mediocrity.

So don’t cut yourself short.  Give yourself the freedom to think big and trust that you have what it takes to get there, even if you haven’t found it yet.


» The Path to Success is a Simple One

The #1 barrier that usually keeps me from reaching a goal is analysis paralysis.  In other words, I think too much and don’t do enough.

Oh, I make plans and write lists.  I’m pretty good at that, actually.  Writing things down always makes me feel productive.  And brainstorming!  Who doesn’t feel like a winner throwing that word around?  Just a big mind dump of all the possibilities and ideas and options and choices and I could just go on and on.  Looking at my masterpiece of color-coded bubbles and arrows and connecting lines makes me feel like there’s no possible way I could fail!

I cannot even tell you how many plans I have written down in my life which never made it off the paper.  It’s pathetic.  And kind of sick, come to think of it.  Like a one night stand, I tempt myself with passionate promises made in the heat of inspiration, then make excuses when daylight reveals its harsh realities.  I should really treat myself with more respect.

What keeps me from committing and following through?  I would dare to say the answer would be similar to a philanderer’s.  Too many choices. How do I choose from so many options?  What if a better option presents itself?  What if I make the wrong choice?  

The ONE Thing says that in order to have your dream life, stop asking so many questions and answer only one:  The Focusing Question.

What’s the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it
everything else will be easier or unnecessary?

The authors claim we don’t need to make success such a complicated and daunting journey.  It can really be as simple as asking the Focusing Question at each intersection.

It can be used as a map for your big vision and a compass for your next step.  Each time you ask it (and you should ask it frequently) you drill down to what truly matters.  It helps to identify your priorities, and then get them in order.

The Focusing Question will help you develop the big picture for each area of your life, and also lead you to the most important, most purposeful and most effective task you should do right now.  It will help you to know the right thing to commit to.

Of course, the question will look different based on your objective.  When you consider each of your life categories, various time frames, and what you want to accomplish, you can construct a focusing question that applies to any goal:

  1.  Choose an area you want to work on.  Typical ones include health, finance, relationships, career, personal, etc.
  2.  What is your objective in this area?  What do you want to accomplish?
  3.  What time frame do you want to target?  You could take a wide angle approach and choose 5 years or 1 year.  Then continue to narrow your focus with a 3-month, 1-month, 1-week, or 1-day target.

Once you’ve decided these three things, build your unique focusing question:

For [insert life area], What’s the ONE Thing I can do to [insert objective]
in [insert time frame] such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?

For example,

For my finances, what’s the ONE thing I can do to develop a money tracking system this week, such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?

Once I have my answer for this week, I could drill down farther to today and then to right now.

Knowing what to do right now is important.  Otherwise, you’ll always be putting it off.  But this answer will change every time you knock down a domino, so asking the question needs to be a habit.

Every day, determine your direction by asking your focusing questions.  The authors also encourage you to set up reminders and affirmations so you don’t get distracted.  Give it 66 days, and you’ll have developed what The ONE Thing calls the Success Habit.

It’s really that simple.  It all starts with asking the right question.

But don’t stop there.

To ensure you are going to end up with extraordinary results, you must make sure your question addresses a BIG goal and a SPECIFIC outcome.

Remember the Big is Bad myth?  Don’t limit yourself by what you’re capable of today, because that’s irrelevant.  Give yourself room to grow by dreaming big.  You don’t even know what your limits are, so there’s no point in drawing boundaries.  This means you don’t settle for what’s just doable, or even what stretches you.  Both of these only require your current abilities.

Instead, reach for what is possible – beyond your comfort zone, and beyond others’ achievements.   Use other peoples’ experiences and successes to lift you higher so you can have a clear view of what possibilities lay ahead.

When you ask a question that’s Big & Specific, and answer it with what’s Possible, you are on your way to incredible results.


» Purpose, Priority & Productivity

I’ve always had trouble maintaining a big picture view.  I get caught up in everyday circumstances, putting out small fires and checking things off my to-do list.  I think this is how I feel needed and useful.  But in the meantime, my purpose bucket remains empty.

The authors talk about serial success seeking, which is something I can relate to.  I’ve often chosen certain paths strictly for the benefit of making money.  I’ve taken jobs like dealing in a casino and selling business equipment door-to-door just because I thought I could get rich from it.  (Never mind that I’m not a people person.)  I’ve started little businesses like making gift baskets and selling used books, but gave up because I was bored and it wasn’t easy.  I even got a bachelor’s in finance, because that sounded like it would be a real money maker (never ended getting a job in the financial industry).  And my latest accomplishment was getting a master’s in teaching math – just because I want to be home with my kids in the summer but still bring in a good income (not really feeling it anymore).

*None of these endeavors were pursued because I thought I was fulfilling my life’s purpose.*

The ONE Thing tells us that purpose is the cure for both a small-picture perspective and lack of motivation.  When you know your purpose in life, even the smallest decisions are connected to something bigger – bigger than just today or this week or this month.

You have a sense that the choices you make today really matter, because each one will ultimately contribute to what you were made to do and be.  And when life goes wonky sometimes and things don’t turn out as you had planned, you’re not swayed from staying the course.

As long as you stay connected to what your purpose is, you will never run out of inspiration and motivation to keep striving towards it.  Like a compass, it will guide you through all the detours that life brings.

However, without priority, purpose won’t get you anywhere.  When you know where you’re going, you must make getting there of utmost importance.  That means making every step count.  Separating the shoulds from the coulds.  Knowing what your ONE thing is right now, and focusing on that until it’s complete.  Knocking down each domino that leads to the ultimate prize:  living your purpose.

The authors devised a strategy for accomplishing this called Goal Setting to the Now.

Goal Setting to the Now helps you discover the most important ONE thing you can do right now to reach your long-term objective.  By starting at the finish line and working backward, you ensure that every small ONE thing you do is connected to your big ONE thing.

  1.  Create a Focusing Question for a “big picture” goal, for like 5 years from now or longer.
  2.  Working backward, determine Focusing Questions for various time frames – 1 year, 6 months, 1 month, 1 week, etc. – that are all connected and help you to stay on track with your big picture goal.
  3.  Keep drilling down until you get to the ONE thing you can do right now that will help you achieve your goal today, so you’re on track to keep your goal tomorrow, and this week, and this month, and this year, etc.

So, if I used Goal Setting to the Now for my long-term goal of getting out of debt, the sequence would look something like this:

What is the ONE thing I can do this year to stay on track with my 5-year goal of getting out of debt?

What is the ONE thing I can do this month to stay on track with my 1-year goal, so I stay on track with my 5-year goal of getting out of debt?

What is the ONE thing I can do this week to stay on track with my 1-month goal, so I stay on track with my 1-year goal, so I stay on track with my 5-year goal of getting out of debt?

What is the ONE thing I can do today to stay on track with my 1-week goal, so I can stay on track with my 1-month goal, so I stay on track with my 1-year goal, so I stay on track with my 5-year goal of getting out of debt?

What is the ONE thing I can do right now to stay on track with today’s goal, so I can stay on track with my 1-week goal, so I can stay on track with my 1-month goal, so I stay on track with my 1-year goal, so I stay on track with my 5-year goal of getting out of debt?

The authors liken this to connecting today with every tomorrow it takes to reach your big ONE thing.  This is making your purpose a priority.

But just because you have your priorities in order doesn’t mean you’ll ultimately fulfill your purpose.  You must take action.  You must be productive.

There’s a big difference between being productive and being busy.  I know, because I’m living proof.  I’m very good at *busy*, but unfortunately, I don’t have much to show for it.  That’s what sucks about just being busy.

Busyness can make you feel like you’re running but getting nowhere.  But being productive gives you the satisfaction that you’re moving in the right direction.

The distinction between the two is – you guessed it – purpose.

Productivity is the result of prioritizing purpose.  

And what you prioritize, you have to plan.  Otherwise, busyness will gobble up all your time.

The ONE Thing promotes time blocking as the most effective time-management system to use when focusing on your top priority.

Time blocking is basically scheduling “blocks” of time to get the important stuff done.  Some might say it’s dedicating specific time to your to-do list.  But because we’re only focused on ONE thing, there is no laundry list of stuff to get done.

Instead, there are just 3 things you need to time block for:

  1.  Time off
  2.  Your ONE thing
  3.  Planning

These are numbered in the order you schedule them.  First, schedule blocks of time for vacation days.  This comes before your ONE thing, because you need to rest and refuel in order to give your best to your ONE thing.

Second, the authors challenge us to dedicate a minimum of 4 hour blocks every workday to your ONE thing.

Yes.  Four hours.  Five days a week.  Minimum.  And if you can do more, even better.  These guys are *serious*.

Start as early as you can, and guard your time with a vengeance.  Make it the most important appointment on your schedule.  Lock your door, pull the blinds, put up the Do Not Disturb sign.

During those 4 hours, you need to be virtually inaccessible (except, of course, to your boss).  Remove all distractions including email, paperwork, incoming calls, your cell phone, and even web browsers if you don’t need them.  Give your full focus to your ONE thing.

The goal is to not work more hours, but get more done in the hours you work.

The last time block you schedule is for planning.  This is time for you to reflect on the progress you’ve made and where you’re going next.  It’s when you make sure you’re on track to reach your long term goals, and make any adjustments if you’re not.  In other words, you’re scheduling the time to line up your dominoes.

Connecting purpose, priority, and productivity in your life puts you on the shortest path to achieving the greatest results.


» The Three Commitments & Four Thieves of Productivity

We’ve learned a lot so far!  But still, the bottom line is *results*.

Once you’ve figured out your purpose (your big ONE thing), made it a priority (with small ONE things), and then time-blocked those priorities so you can be productive, there are still barriers that will hold you back.

Remember, it’s not just about moving forward.  What you really want is extraordinary results.

This part of the book tells us how to approach those blocks of time with the most effectiveness.

First, you must commit to three disciplines outlined above that will help you achieve your ONE thing.  Second, you need to learn how to withstand productivity “thieves” that will try to rob you of the results you’re seeking.


  1.  Commit to mastery
  2.  Commit to being purposeful instead of just entrepreneurial
  3.  Commit to being held accountable

Mastery can be an intimidating concept, but the authors encourage us to make it our goal anyway.  It’s not as inaccessible as you might think, once you consider that mastery is the act of mastering, which is a verb.  It’s something you do.  And, of course, what we do begins with what we think.  So you could think of mastery as a mindset that guides your actions.  It’s a process.

The authors tell us that mastery is “giving the best you have to become the best you can be at your most important work“.

So, mastering how to ride a unicycle might be impressive (to some), but unless it’s tied to your ONE thing then you may need to rethink your time management strategy.  In other words, mastery in itself isn’t the goal – it’s mastering the right thing.

Extensive time blocking is an effective way to achieve mastery.  When you focus long periods of time on one thing every day, you are on the path to mastery.

And mastery isn’t subjective, which leads to the second commitment.  You can’t say you’ve mastered something based on your opinion of your own ability.  It’s based on how well it’s been done by anyone.

So once you feel like you’re a champ at a particular skill, you still need to look around and see how you measure up to others with that skill.  If your pal George could beat you in a competition, you still have a ways to go in mastery.  It’s not just about doing your best but trying to surpass others’ best as well.

This is what the authors call moving from “E” to “P”, where “E” stands for Entrepreneurial and “P” stands for “Purposeful”.

This part was not intuitive to me, but it really just came down to semantics.  The meaning lies in how the authors define these two words.

The book equates being entrepreneurial with using our natural abilities.  Approaching a challenge with enthusiasm, but letting our natural “ceiling of achievement” determine our results.  Once we’ve done all we can naturally do, we give our efforts a thumbs up and move on.

Those who are purposeful don’t let this ceiling stop them from getting better results.  They have the mindset that achievement isn’t limited to current skills and knowledge.  Taking the time to look for more options and learn better systems enables them to accomplish things far beyond their natural ceiling of achievement.

This commitment is a great example of the growth mindset – believing you’re not bounded by what you’re capable of right now.  You can continue to learn and grow in intelligence and ability through perseverance and purpose.

To reach your ONE thing and your life purpose, you cannot limit yourself, and you must not settle for good enough.  Commit yourself to mastery and growth and you’ll be reaching your full potential.

You will inevitably come up against challenges that test your commitment, and this is where the third discipline comes in:  accountability.

To be held accountable doesn’t rely on the one holding you accountable – it relies on you taking ownership of your actions and being able to back up your decisions. There’s no room for passing the buck or acting like a victim.

Accountability fosters commitment, perseverance, responsibility, and honesty.  It could be the most important component of your goal-setting strategy.  Without it, you will undoubtedly be tempted to quit at the first sign of adversity.

The authors encourage us to find an accountability partner who is more of a mentor or coach rather than a friend.  The nature of the relationship will make a difference in how objective, frank and honest that person feels the freedom to be.

With the three commitments, you’ll be setting yourself up to reach your productivity potential.  But there are still some “thieves”  that will steal your time and keep you from reaching your goal if you’re not careful.


  1. Saying “yes” to more than you should
  2. Being unwilling to allow for chaos
  3. Personal energy mismanagement
  4. Your surroundings don’t support your goals

THIEF #1: Saying “yes” to more than you should

We all have the same amount of time to get stuff done.  Each day, the clock resets and we’re given another 24 hours.  Nobody has more and nobody has less, so what we do with that time is what makes all the difference.  That’s why it’s so important to guard it.

Unfortunately, sometimes we have difficulty saying no to requests that don’t contribute to that difference we’re striving for.  Maybe we feel obligated or want to feel needed.  Or perhaps we believe that saying yes is just the right thing to do.  We don’t want to be seen as selfish or inconsiderate.

Saying no is a communication skill that you can learn (and *should* learn) so you can guard the time you want to devote to more important things.

Personally, I think it’s important to get to the bottom of why you’re saying yes.  Because some reasons are valid, and others, not so much.  If your reasons are lined up with your values and priorities, then saying yes to some things is important.  However, if you say yes because you feel bad about saying no, that’s another story.  You may have to wrestle with your motivation and determine if it’s productive or just unhealthy.

You need to determine how committed you are to your ONE thing.  Saying yes to things that are separate from your ONE thing will keep you separated from accomplishing it.  To get results above and beyond “ordinary” and “acceptable”, you’ll need to learn either how to say no more often, or how to say yes without taking too much time away from your ONE thing.

THIEF #2: Being unwilling to allow for chaos

Have you ever gotten caught up in an activity and before you know it, 5 hours have passed?

Suddenly you realize nobody’s bothered you and you haven’t heard anybody crying or yelling or falling down?

Your immediate thought is something must be wrong.

So you come out of your quiet place to find a) the kitchen is a disaster area, b) every light and electronic is on, and c) there’s a pile of poop in the dining room because nobody let the dog out.

Total chaos.

It’s confirmed, once again, that your household will fall into a state of disorder and confusion if you’re not around to hold things together.  Ugh.

I still struggle with this.  Not so much with the mess, but with tasks that need to be done:  grocery shopping, cleaning, laundry, paying bills, making dinner, running errands, etc.  All of it steals time away from things that are more important to me, but I feel if I don’t take care of everything, then everything will fall apart.

The ONE Thing tells us that chaos is inevitable when you are fully committed to what’s most important to you.  To get extraordinary results, you must dedicate large blocks of time to your priorities.  This means other things won’t get done.  And, yes, you’ll probably end up with a mess somewhere.  Probably in the kitchen.

A good question to ask yourself with each task is: what is the worst thing that can happen if I don’t do this task right now?

If someone’s hair could catch fire or there’s a possibility you could misplace a child, perhaps you need to tend to that task immediately.

Otherwise, give yourself permission to let it go.  Don’t make it more of a priority than your ONE thing.

Be at peace with the chaos, and trust that the time investment you put into your ONE thing will pay off someday so you can afford someone else to clean up the mess.

THIEF #3: Personal energy mismanagement

Despite the high commitment and extensive focus it takes to achieve your most important goals, you still need to take care of your mental and physical health.  This is because no matter how motivated or inspired you feel, your body has the last say in how much action you can actually take.

When I get hyper-focused on a project, several hours can pass before I realize I haven’t eaten anything.  By then, my brain is turning off the lights and taking a nap.  That’s just about the time my emotions get a little more energetic – specifically:  frustration, impatience and negativity.  It’s not pretty.

We all know the drill.  Eat right and exercise.  The authors also encourage us to make time for meditation or prayer, and relational connection – all before you even look at your calendar for the day.  That way, you are fueled up and ready to give your best to your ONE thing.

Remember to take a break for lunch, and be home for dinner so you can reconnect with your loved ones.  Then be sure to get a full 8 hours sleep.

If any of these components are missing in your personal energy management plan, make adjustments now.  Your body will be more cooperative.

THIEF #4: Your surroundings don’t support your goals

You may have all the motivation, inspiration, enthusiasm and determination in the world, but if you’re not in a supportive environment then you could still fail at reaching your goals.  Your environment includes your physical space as well as the people you surround yourself with.

It’s hard enough some days to keep moving forward, especially if progress is slow or you hit some disappointments.  The last thing you need is someone telling you that dreams are for sleeping.

I used to tell my kids that they need to be selective about their friends.  “You become who you hang out with, so choose wisely!”

It’s no different as adults.  Of course, you’re more mature now so being swayed to do drugs or go shoplifting is probably no longer an issue.  In fact, those things may sound absolutely ridiculous and irresponsible at this point in your life.

But what if someone tries to convince you to give up on your goals?  Or tells you that they could never really picture you being successful with that “crazy idea” anyway?  Or questions your priorities because you spend so much time on your ONE thing?  Would you think that was ridiculous or irresponsible?

Probably not.  In fact, in your weakest moment you might mistake it for good advice.

That’s why it’s important to surround yourself with those who will support you, encourage you, and cheer you on.  People that believe in what you’re doing.  People that believe in you.

It’s so much easier to pull people down than raise them up.  Help yourself and choose like-minded peeps.

The other half of a supportive environment is your physical surroundings.  Just like certain people can distract and deter you from your priorities, so can the space you’re working in.

If your kids are watching tv and your spouse is cooking in the kitchen, you might want to look for a separate, quieter space.  We have a guest room in our basement that I use as my “getaway”.  I’ve decorated it so it’s warm and inviting and I want to go there.  It’s where I go when I want to write, create, read, journal and pray.  I can fully focus on what I’m doing without all the distractions.

Of course, even if you’re the only one home you can still be distracted.  Do what you need to do to not get off track.  Hide the remotes, take the house phone off the hook, leave the paper on the porch.  If you’re at work, don’t open your email, forward your calls to voicemail, and avoid the designated gossip centers.

You have work to do, so get to it!


The Final Chapter

The book ends with words of inspiration and encouragement, and a challenge to reflect on your life.

To give you some perspective, the authors suggest you look into the future and consider what regrets you may have at the end of your life.  What advice would your 80-year old self give you?

Another way is to imagine that your doctor just told you that you have 30 days to live.  How do you think you’d spend the rest of your days?  You’d probably do a lot of soul searching.  Make amends.  Write some letters.  Tie up loose ends.  Love on your family.

And think about all those things you’d dreamed about or planned for, but never did.

The ONE Thing is all about living a life that minimizes regret.  Knowing what matters most, and giving your all to that.  Having faith in the purpose you know you’re meant for.  Dreaming big, but going small, one domino at a time.

We all have one life to live.  You can either go through the motions, or live with purpose.  You can float through your days, giving attention to whatever’s in front of you, or live by priority.  You can put limits on yourself and accept what is “good enough”, or live for productivity.

The choice is yours.  Make a good one.

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