The ONE Thing Summary

The Grand Argument:
Extraordinary results come from focusing on one thing.

The ONE Thing is a book about the paradox that you will get more done by doing less. 

The logic starts with a redefinition of the word “productivity.” 

Most people confuse productivity with the number of things being done, rather than the results of the things being done.

But the authors suggest the real definition of productivity is the progress made toward a specific goal (the one thing).

To make progress on a specific goal, it turns out that a few laser-focused activities are more important than all other activities (the Pareto Principle).

And the authors take the additional logical step that one activity (the one thing) is most important to making progress on a specific goal (“Extreme Pareto”).

Therefore, the authors argue you should focus on the one thing (to do) to get the one thing (you want).

The authors note and argue that for the accomplishment of a specific goal (the one thing you want) to yield extraordinary results, it must be the correct goal. 

And, it must be acknowledged that the accomplishment of one goal (the one thing you want) necessarily precludes the accomplishment of innumerable other goals.

Determining the right goal (the one thing you want) and giving up all the other goals is necessary yet challenging in the pursuit of extraordinary results.

Therefore, the practical value of the book is in the authors’ instruction on how to narrow down one thing (to do) that will get you the one thing (you want), and how to overcome the challenges of staying the course to your own extraordinary results.

Introductory Chapters
Chapter 1: Narrow your aim.

The question is how to get what you want (success)?

The answer is to make your aim as narrow as possible on the “one thing.”

Before we get into the arguments, it’s important to distinguish between two “one things” the authors are talking about:

  1. The one thing that you want (which defines success).
  2. The one thing you can do at any given time that will get you closest to the one thing you want than any other action.

The arguments:

Most people think success comes from doing more to get more, but they’re wrong.

Success is not about getting more; it’s about getting what you want (the one thing).

If success is about getting what you want, then doing only that (one thing) that gets you what you want is more efficient and effective than doing more.

And, in fact, doing more hurts your ability to be successful precisely because it takes longer and costs more, and as a result could delay or prevent your success indefinitely.

To make your aim as narrow as possible you must:

  1. Let go of the endless list of things you could want and replace it with the one thing that you really want.
  2. Let go of the endless list of things you could do to get what you want and replace it with the one thing you should do to get what you want.

Three challenges arise from these arguments, which will be tackled in future chapters:

  1. Figure out the one thing you want.
  2. Figure out the one thing you should do to get what you want.
  3. Figure out how to focus on the one thing you should do to get what you want.

Now we know that success comes from narrowing our aim to the one thing we want, and doing the one thing that will get us what we want, let’s discuss why focusing on the one thing works.

Chapter 2: Leverage your activity.

The question is why focusing on the one thing (to do) to get the one thing (you want) works.

The answer is that by focusing on the one thing (to do), you’re building the momentum of a chain reaction that facilitates achieving the one thing (you want).

The arguments:

In this chapter, the authors compare the one thing you want (success) with toppling the largest domino at the end of an ascending chain of ever bigger dominoes. 

The metaphor is predicated on the fact that a single falling domino carries with it force enough to topple another domino up to 50% larger. 

The translation isn’t perfect, but the authors suggest the same is true of tasks.

Completing one task (the one thing to do) lined up with another, larger task has the exaggerated effect of greatly reducing – or eliminating – the effort to tackle the larger task.

The authors acquiesce that real life doesn’t line up tasks like dominoes.

Which means the first task is to line up your priorities such that the task you can accomplish (the one thing to do) that will carry with it the most force on the way to the one thing (you want) is the only task on which you focus.

By concentrating your efforts this way, you’ll make the other, larger tasks in the line up to the one thing (you want) easier or unnecessary, thereby achieving a chain reaction kind of momentum that leads to extraordinary results.

The authors also point out that if you look at tasks like dominoes, each domino requiring concerted effort to topple, it will be much harder – if even possible – to topple any significant dominoes if you’re trying to topple more than one domino at the same time.

Therefore, it is always wiser to focus your efforts on toppling one task (domino) at a time.

Now we know why focusing on the one thing works, let’s have a look at the “one things” of the successful people and businesses we know.

Chapter 3: Learn from the successful.

The question is what can we learn by studying the success of others?

The answer is that the successful (both people and businesses) always have a “one thing” you can identify and credit with their success.

The arguments:

The main argument of this chapter is that the one thing (as a concept) is found when studying every case of success, making it a fundamental truth. And therefore, the one thing (as a concept) should be the pursuit of any person or company.

The first supporting argument focuses on successful companies, pointing out that they have all succeeded with a focus on selling/providing one thing.

Examples used are: KFC (chicken), Coors (beer), Intel (microprocessors), Starbucks (coffee), Google (search)…

Therefore, all successful companies focus on their one thing.

To counter arguments about companies that sell/provide multiple products/services/offers, the authors point out that a company’s one thing can shift over time, based on market influences like technology and competition.

The example used was Apple, shifting from Mac to iMac to iTunes to iPod to iPhone and now iPad. (This book was first published in 2013.)

They further argue that there is generally a “halo effect” surrounding a company’s one thing at any given time that lends customers to the whole product line.

Notably, the authors did not mention any of the other behemoths we know offer multiple products with less obvious one things than Apple.

They also neglected to address whether they have found companies that have focused on their one thing and yet still managed to fail.

Moving to the second supporting argument, for people, the argument holds that all successful people have had their “one person” (a type of one thing) and a focus on their one thing. 

Examples used are: Walt Disney, Sam Walton, Albert Einstein, Oprah, Lennon/McCartney, and Bill Gates.

Both supporting arguments lead to the further conclusion that if a person or company doesn’t know what their one thing is, then their one thing is to figure out their one thing. 

And on reflection that a person/company’s one thing can shift over time, the authors offer further instruction to keep asking “what is the one thing” again and again. (The authors propose both a schedule and a script for this later in the book.)

Lending insight into finding the one thing, the authors suggest that guiding the search should be the person/company’s passion, as passion lends itself to the pursuit of one thing over time, which is required for success.

And finally, the authors assure the reader that if you allow it to show up, your one thing will present itself. So live the one thing of finding your one thing until it shows up, and then live that one thing until it makes sense to shift to another one thing.

I know. What a mouthful. Turns out this chapter didn’t fare so well on The Entreprising Rubric.

But, now that we know what clues success leave (according to the authors), let’s move onto the myths we believe that keep us from living our one things.

Part 1: The truth is counterintuitive.

The question is why doesn’t everyone believe and live the one thing already?

The answer is that they’ve bought into the myths and lies that tell us success is about doing more to get more.

The arguments are the following chapters.

Chapter 4: The most important thing.

The question is why do we believe the myth that everything (on our to do lists) matters equally?

The answer is we conflate what we could do with what we should do, which fails to recognize that some things are more important than others, and that one thing is the most important.

The arguments:

Equality doesn’t exist when it comes to results. There will always be a differentiating factor by which you can qualitatively measure one result over the other.

And since actions produce results, equality doesn’t exist when it comes to actions, either.

This means when we choose between one action or another, the quality of our choice has a direct effect on the quality of the result.

Which leaves us with the question: How do we make good choices?

This question is especially hard when we are faced with demands on our time and attention coming from every direction we look, all with deadlines and a sense of urgency.

The authors conclude that when everything seems urgent, everything seems to matter equally.

Unfortunately, the one thing we should be doing to get the one thing we want is almost never as loud or urgent as the rest of the voices on our to do lists.

Therefore, most people defer and delay doing their one thing in favor of doing everything else, confusing activity with productivity.

According to the authors, those who achieve extraordinary results (around their one thing) work differently. They have an aptitude for picking out what is most important, and giving it their exclusive attention.

Instead of working from lists of what they could do, achievers work from lists of what they should do (to produce extraordinary results).

How do they arrive at what they should do?

The authors say achievers employ the Pareto Principle (whether they know it or not). 

The Pareto Principle holds that a small fraction of activities produce the great majority of the result for any given result.

Which means achievers identify the few actions that make the most difference in achieving the extraordinary results of their one thing.

But the authors suggest you should do more, and apply the Pareto Principle over and over again to your list of what you could do until you get to one thing that you should do. Then focus on doing that one thing until it’s done. Then repeat the process. (They promise to get into more detail on how to do that later in the book.)

Now we know why people believe the myth that everything matters equally, and how to think differently about activity and productivity so we arrive at the most important thing we should do, let’s tackle the next myth on the list; multitasking.

Chapter 5: One thing at a time.

The question is why do most people buy into the myth of multitasking?

The answer is twofold. The myth of multitasking is pervasive and cultural, and even in the face of evidence against it, those who multitask insist they produce better results multitasking than they actually do. 

The arguments:

Regardless of all external pressures on our time and attention, which the authors have already mentioned, we are also constantly (every few seconds) having new thoughts, presenting us with options to divert our attention to another task.

It is therefore no wonder we are tempted to multitask, and try to accomplish more than one result at the same time.

The authors tell us this is a fool’s bargain.

Instead of accomplishing more in less time, multitaskers always take longer and produce poorer results compared to those who tackle tasks individually.

Still, multitasking is listed as a requirement for jobs, and people take pride in their ability to handle more and more tasks simultaneously.

It’s true that we can do more than one thing at a time, so long as only one requires the conscious application of attention. 

But since we can’t (effectively) attend to more than one thing at a time, multitasking is really a matter of shifting attention from task to task.

There is a huge cost in “task switching,” (and task switching should really be called attention switching).

Our brains are unresponsive to the needs of any task demanding the same kind of attention we’re currently devoting to another task.

So when we switch tasks, the shift requires time and energy to reorient to the new task. Every switch wastes both time and energy, making task switching, or multitasking, inefficient.

To make matters worse, switching from task to task also reduces the overall quality of attention paid to any given task, making a multitasker prone to mistakes, and further diminishing (or destroying) results. This makes multitasking ineffective.

Therefore, to be both efficient and effective, the authors tell us we must stop trying to multitask and instead focus on our one thing.

Now we know why most people believe in the myth of multitasking, and why the authors want us to give up the habit of trying to multitask, let’s move onto why we believe in the myth of a “disciplined life.”

Chapter 6: Habits are easier than you think.

The question is why most people believe that to live a successful life is to live a disciplined life?

The answer is most people confuse habit with discipline, but discipline costs a lot more energy than habit. Discipline is required to form habits, but habits are what drive success – not discipline.

The arguments:

When an activity is not already habitual, it requires discipline to perform it regularly. 

When we observe successful people performing an activity consistently that we don’t also perform consistently, we believe that they are disciplined to do so.

Discipline is uncomfortable, and even painful. It requires remembering to do something and doing it, even when other things come more naturally (and are therefore more comfortable and pleasurable).

This is why discipline is typically avoided, and why deciding to be disciplined about something doesn’t usually work. We believe that we will always have to be disciplined in order to maintain the behavior.

But that’s not true.

After consistently performing an activity over a period of time (66 days on average), it becomes a habit. And maintaining a habit only requires a fraction of the discipline it takes to form the habit in the first place, if it takes any discipline to maintain at all.

When an activity becomes a habit, it becomes easier, and usually becomes more natural, comfortable, and pleasurable to perform. 

When we observe a successful person doing things consistently, it’s because they were disciplined long enough to form good habits – not because they’re disciplined as a lifestyle.

Living a disciplined life is unsustainable.

Therefore, discipline should only ever be used as a temporary measure – just long enough to form a habit so that the momentum of the habit carries you forward.

The authors say that success requires choosing the right activity, and then making it a habit. And that you should only focus on developing one habit at a time.

They also say the benefits of focusing on one, leveraged habit is that it makes your life and day-to-day simple. There’s no guesswork as to what you have to do.

This helps you to maintain your attention on what really matters, making you more efficient and effective.

They also point out that one good habit has a halo effect of making other healthy and helpful activities easier, improving results in multiple areas of your life. But again, you should only focus on one.

Now we know why people believe the myth that they need life a disciplined life to be successful, and why that’s not true, let’s talk about the myth that your will power is always on will-call.

Chapter 7: The truth about willpower.

The question is why most people think they will have willpower on demand.

The answer is they think willpower is an infinite and always-available resource when really it is limited and needs replenishing on a regular basis. And when it isn’t available, it just simply isn’t available.

The arguments:

People tend to approach their schedules arbitrarily, as if every minute is equal to every other minute in the day. 

We do this because we believe whenever we schedule ourselves to work on our one thing – or anything – we will have the wherewithal (willpower) to do it at the prescribed time.

But that’s not necessarily true.

Our ability to complete intensive tasks, like those that become our “one things,” peaks after rest and refreshment (food), but trends downward overall throughout the day.

And despite our best intentions, we can’t save our willpower for later. It gets used up throughout the day, and it doesn’t come back until after we take enough downtime and get enough nourishment to replace it.

Therefore, it is important to mind our willpower and manage it like a scarce (though renewable) resource.

This is important because willpower has been shown to be a powerful precursor to success, mostly because it gives us the fortitude to delay gratification.

But tax your willpower, and your fortitude diminishes rapidly.

The authors suggest working your schedule with your willpower reserves in mind. To make sure that your one thing comes early in the day, and gets all if not most of your willpower.

By protecting and respecting (reserving) your willpower in this way, you will have an advantage to getting your one thing done, instead of losing your days to your old habits.

Now we know why thinking that willpower is always available is a dangerous mindset, and how to think about it as a renewable resource to be managed instead, let’s focus on the myth of a balanced life.

Chapter 8: Success is never balanced.

The question is why a balanced life is not a successful life.

The first answer is that balance doesn’t exist. But more important is that it is impossible to achieve everything, or even most things. What is possible is to achieve the most important things, but that requires prioritizing some things over others. Since this is inherently imbalanced, a successful life cannot be a balanced life.

The arguments:

We act as if what we call balance is static, but it’s not. What we perceive as balance is actually a dynamic process of counterbalancing the forces that cause imbalance. But balance itself is never achieved in this process.

Every time we choose to give time and energy to one thing, it is at the expense of an infinite number of other things. This inherently leads to imbalance.

When we idealize balance as a trait of a successful life, the inevitable imbalance of life leads us to conclude that we are not successful. 

The authors say this conclusion gnaws at us, and we typically double down on the ideal of balance and oblige ourselves to activities we mistakenly believe will help us attain the impossible. 

And, as we continue to fail, we end up farther and farther away from the goal of a successful life, which the authors say is about pursuing “purpose, meaning, and significance.” 

Noting that imbalance is a fact of life (and especially of pursuing one thing), the authors recommend reconciling yourself to the idea that things will be out of balance as you pursue a successful life. And they hope by doing so, you will stop idealizing balance.

If the ultimate success is to live your life fully, then you must live well in several categories. The authors identify the two super categories as work life and personal life.

The divisions of the work life category are your most important thing (your one thing) and everything else.

In your personal life, the divisions are family, health, friends, and integrity.

This book is mostly written about achieving success in your work life, but the authors do not want to neglect the importance of achieving success in your personal life as well.

To this end, they point out that the strategy for counterbalancing in your work life should be different than your strategy for counterbalancing your personal life.

If the goal isn’t to live a balanced life, but to live a full life, then the goal of counterbalancing needs to be one of risk management rather than what the authors call “middle mismanagement.”

In other words, the goal is to never go so far to an extreme that you lose everything else for any given category. This applies between the work and personal life categories, and within them.

The authors then point out that your work life has a much higher tolerance for the risk of imbalance than your personal life. In fact, to pursue extraordinary results, your work life must tolerate imbalance to the extreme, and potentially for long periods of time. 

And, your work life can recover from extreme imbalance for sustained periods of time. By maintaining focus on your one thing, your extraordinary results can make everything else easier or unnecessary.

Also, your work life is more resilient should you fail. You can always start over.

However your personal life is not so flexible, nor is it so resilient. It can handle neither such extremes nor can it recover so easily.

The authors suggest accounting for the differences between your work life and personal life by adopting different mindsets for each. Consider counterbalancing your work life in the long term and your personal life in the short term.

To do this, go to the extreme and focus only on your most important thing at work so you can get it done and get back to your personal life to keep things in check.

Now we know that balance is not ideal, and how to approach counterbalancing instead, let’s handle the myth that big is bad.

Chapter 9: Realistic is never extraordinary.

The question is how to get over our fears of thinking and aiming big.

The answer is to realize that our fears of the big are unfounded, and in fact we should be afraid of thinking and acting small instead.

The arguments:

People fear big. They fear failing at big goals, and they fear the journey to and through the achievement of big goals.

The fear of failure is simple to explain.

People love to win. In fact, they think their jobs and success depend on winning consistently. They believe this so strongly they will avoid losing at all costs (by aiming small). Unfortunately the costs of aiming small are huge since the costs are extraordinary results.

In addition to fearing failure, most people also fear what it takes to be successful. They see the journey as being fraught with overwhelming obstacles. 

And when imagining success, most people see success as a stressful level of activity to maintain (like discipline), and therefore fear failure is an ever-present danger (either professionally or personally).

The authors say that failure is not to be feared. Extraordinary results are not precluded and are sometimes aided by failure. But you will never achieve extraordinary results if you don’t aim big enough for them in the first place.

They also say that our fears of success, both the journey and achievement, are also unfounded.

According to the authors, our fears of success are predicated on a fixed mindset, such that we believe we will stay the same throughout our journey to and achievement of any goal. 

If that were true, then what is required of us through the journey would be overwhelming, daunting, and perhaps even dangerous – but it’s not true.

We don’t stay the same as we pursue our goals through their challenges. We grow. And so do our capabilities.

Therefore, the authors tell us that instead of pursuing incremental goals, we should aim big. Think big. Go big.

Once we aim big (the one thing we want), then we focus on the one thing (to do) that will get us there until we can do it. Then we do the one thing we can do until it’s done.

By the time we finish the one thing we can do, we will have grown and we will be prepared for the next one thing (to do) – or prepared to prepare for the next one thing (to do).

In the meantime, by not having given into our fears we will have avoided the trap of small thinking.

By thinking and aiming small, we preclude bigger thinking, choices, and actions in the future. We inevitably hit a ceiling, which brings our momentum to a halt while we recalculate and reorient (goal switching has many of the same effects as task switching).

Now we know why people fear big, but shouldn’t, and instead should pursue big by focusing on their one thing. Now let’s move into Part 2 on the simple path to productivity.

Part 2: Simplify to be successful.

The question is if doing more to get more doesn’t work, what does?

The answer is to do less – do the one thing – to do more. 

The arguments are the following chapters.

Chapter 10: Specificity is key.

The question is how to figure out what your one thing is, both the one thing you want (success) and the one thing you should do (the next domino).

The answer is to use the focusing question, and to use it often. 

The arguments:

The authors start with the premise that questions are at the root of all answers, and that good questions are at the heart of all good answers.

And they propose a shortcut in the way of a formulaic question (they call it The Focusing Question):

“What is the one thing I can do, such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

The first part of this question – what is the one thing I can do – helps you get specific in two ways:

  1. The list of things you can do is shorter than the lists of things you should, would, or could do. The narrowed list of what you can do
  2. And because you know you can only answer the question with one thing, not a list of things, you’re not able to hedge your bets here. You have to pick only one thing, and it has to be a thing you can do.

The second part of the question – such that by doing it – helps narrow the list of what you can do even further by putting an onus on the answer. It’s not just what you can do, but that when you do it something else happens.

The third part of the question – everything else will be easier or unnecessary – ensures that the answer is leveraged, or in other words, has a domino effect in the  specific direction of success.

Remember earlier in the book the authors said that if you allow it, your one thing will come to you. They say The Focusing Question helps with both determining your one thing (that you want), and your one thing (to do to get what you want).

And they suggest you ask it often.

Now that we know The Focusing Question will help us figure out our one things, let’s talk a bit more about habits. Specifically, the success habit.

Chapter 11: Be habitually successful.

The question is what is the one habit you can develop such that by doing so everything else will be easier or unnecessary.

The answer is developing the habit of asking The Focusing Question, as it helps you choose the right actions at the right times for success in every area of your life.

The arguments:

We are all products of our habits, so it’s not a matter of deciding whether or not to live habitually. Instead, it is a question of which habits we want to cultivate.

The authors propose we should choose habits that ensure that we get our one thing (success) in every area of our lives.

To do this, we must re-ask The Focusing Question over and over again, modifying it to suit the situation.

There are two super categories of The Focusing Question depending on whether we are asking about the big picture (the one thing we want), or the small picture (the one thing we can do).

The areas of our lives that we examine using The Focusing Question vary. The authors propose spiritual, physical health, personal life, key relationships, job, business, and financial life.

Then the authors recommend adding a timeline to the question to help frame its urgency. For instance, are you looking for the one thing you can do right now, or the one thing you can do this year, or in the next five years, etc.

Putting these together, you have a formula for determining your 7 one things (which is really 14), minimum (at least by my math).

By making a habit of asking The Focusing Question, you enable yourself to take the most leveraged action available to you at any given moment, creating the domino effect toward success.

The authors promise to tackle goal setting in Part 3.

In the meantime, now that we know which habit to develop, let’s talk about the path to great answers.

Chapter 12: Extraordinary results happen on purpose.

The question is how do you know whether your questions and answers are great.

The answer is your questions should be big, specific, and should incorporate measurability. And your answers should be novel yet also benchmark and trend from the latest and greatest.

The arguments:

The Focusing Question will help you identify your one thing (success) and your one thing (to do). But your success depends on how great your specific questions are, and how great your answers are.

The authors define great questions as big, specific, and incorporating measurability.

Big is synonymous with extraordinary results. The bigness of your question has to leave no room for luck. If achieved, it is done so because of your concerted efforts toward its end.

Specific leaves no room for second guessing. When you ask the question, and it’s both big and specific, your answer has to meet the challenge.

And if it’s both big and specific, then it should be measurable. So you’ll know when that last domino topples over.

Applying these criteria to your questions will make them great, which is the first step to finding great answers.

The authors say answers fall into three categories; doable, stretch, and possibility.

Doable answers do not lead to extraordinary results. Doable is well within your reach. 

Stretch answers are a stretch, hence the name. They’re still within your reach, although they require some research and learning. They yield better results than doable answers, but they still don’t answer the call of extraordinary results.

Possibility answers push past what you know you and others can do, and search for new ways to achieve new and extraordinary results. They require research and learning, but instead of aiming for what you know can be achieved (benchmarks), you end up aiming for something greater (trends greater than the benchmarks).

Now we know how to make sure our questions and answers are great, and the path to productivity, we can move into Part 3, which is all about those extraordinary results.

Part 3: Piecing together extraordinary results.

The question is how to connect our one things together to realize extraordinary results.

The answer goes like:

The authors say that so far we have two “one things.” They mean for any given area of our lives.

But let’s forget the math here, and for the sake of argument acquiesce that we have two one things.

The big one thing is determined by our purpose (our definition of success), and the small one thing is the prioritized action we take to achieve the big one thing. (We’re at two p’s right now; purpose and prioritized action.)

Another “p” is productivity, to which the authors had alluded in previous chapters but had not yet defined. Here, they define productivity as the measure of progress toward the big one thing (success) by taking prioritized action (the small one thing). 

The authors note in business, we often use a fourth “p,” – profit – as a heuristic to measure productivity.

Finally, the authors note that this model has to move from the life of the individual to the life of the organization/business/collaboration. So the fifth “p” – people – drive purpose-driven-priority-driven-productivity-and-profit.

In the introduction to Part 3, they say that productivity and profit are the measurable results of purpose and priority – but like the tip of an iceberg (their metaphor), productivity and profit must be built on huge purpose and laser-focused priority to reach extraordinary results.

They expound the arguments for this in the following chapters.

Chapter 13: The happiness factors.

The question is how can we use purpose to achieve extraordinary results.

The answer is our results are determined by our daily actions, and our daily actions are determined by our focus. By determining and focusing on our purpose (big one thing) and acting in alignment with our purpose (our small one thing), we can achieve extraordinary results.

The arguments:

When we’re asked what we want, the overwhelming answer is happiness. 

But the authors warn us that we mostly confuse happiness with a state we enter after having achieved or accomplished a certain thing.

While it’s true that achievement is one of five factors of happiness (the authors borrow the five factors framework from the work of Dr. Martin Seligman), the problem is we think the state of happiness we enter after achievement will be everlasting. And that’s simply untrue. 

We as people are not static, and neither are our emotions – including the feeling of happiness. Therefore, while an achievement produces feelings of happiness, those feelings always wane.

This isn’t all bad, as using one achievement as a launchpad to another achievement is what progress is all about.

But when we believe happiness (as a concept) is always at the end of another achievement, we only get to experience happiness in those fleeting moments, and are left always chasing our next high.

The good news is that we don’t have to stay in this cycle of perpetual happiness chasing. Instead, we can choose to focus on finding happiness in the two more important factors of happiness – the more durable factors – meaning and engagement.

Of course by switching the words meaning and engagement with the synonyms purpose and prioritized action, we have the one thing framework the authors have been laying out for us throughout the book.

The chapters keep hinting around determining your purpose, your big one thing. In this chapter, the authors invite you to visit their website for help in that process. In the book itself, they just offer a few questions to help you narrow it down.

But they do warn you not to confuse your purpose with the generation of money and wealth.

While they acquiesce that money can help in the pursuit of happiness to a point (think Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – or other studies have said it’s between $50k and $100k income per year), after you reach a certain threshold, more money does not equal more happiness.

Instead, the authors tell us that after we have enough, the only way for more money to equal more happiness is if it’s attached to our meaning and engagement. Money for money’s sake will not garner you more happiness.

And finally, to the mechanisms behind purpose driving extraordinary results, it goes like this:

Purpose guides you to the right action, which earns you better choices, which earns you the best (extraordinary even) results.

And, when things get tough (and they will get tough), purpose keeps you on track – helping you to persist and persevere through the difficult. The authors say sticktoitiveness is imperative to success, and purpose contributes to sticktoitiveness.

Which is hilarious, because at the very end of the chapter they say not to stress about the “right purpose” too much, because you can always change your mind.

Okay, now we know how purpose works to produce extraordinary results, let’s move onto priority.

Chapter 14: Align your activity with your goal.

The question is how to use priority to achieve our purpose (extraordinary results).

The answer is we use priority to work backwards from the goal to the present moment, and figure out precisely the one thing (to do) that will help us achieve the one thing (we want).

The arguments:

In the one thing framework, purpose acts to define the goal and its achievement. But without choosing the right actions at the right times (and in sequence), we will never reach the goal.

To know what the right actions are, the authors offer a script for the reader to work backwards from the end goal (purpose) to the present moment.

The script is a repetition of the focusing question for various increments of time, starting with the end goal, and leading back to the present moment. 

They do this because at any given moment, the present moment is the only one that exists. The past moments are already over, and we aren’t yet able to apprehend the future moments. Therefore, the present is where we focus.

But to focus on the right thing in each present moment is the only way to apprehend better future moments, and repeating that process is how we get to the end goal.

The authors make a point that it’s important not to fall for the lure of immediate gratification, and offer that their script is the antidote.

Now we know how priority works to help us achieve extraordinary results, let’s move to the authors’ discussion around productivity.

Chapter 15: Choose, plan, produce.

The question is how do purpose and priority lead to extraordinary results?

The answer is they lead to productivity around your one (big) thing. Specifically, being productive around your one thing (to do) such that you achieve the one thing (you want). 

The arguments:

Thus far in the book the authors have laid out the concepts and methods to arriving at your one thing (you want), also known as purpose, and your one thing (to do), also known as priority.

In this chapter, they go into more detail around the third necessary ingredient to getting what you want; taking action on your purpose and priority, which the authors call productivity.

Most people mistake doing stuff and doing more with being productive. But the authors have already told us this is false. 

It doesn’t matter how many boxes you check off on your list; the measurement of productivity is how close you get to your purpose (your one thing), and the short term measure of that is how focused your time is around your priority (your one thing).

If you’ve lined up your purpose (your one thing, thinking big) and priority (your one thing, going small) properly, then the best way to achieve your purpose is to devote as much of your resources as possible to your priority.

The most precious of your resources you can devote to your one thing (to do) is the time with which you do it. 

But since you cannot expect anything or anyone else to protect your time in order to protect your purpose and priority, you must protect it yourself. And this requires time management, which the authors have also associated willpower management.

The question then becomes how do we devote as much willpower time as possible to our one thing (to do) to get the one thing (we want)?

The answer the authors provide is time blocking, in order:

  1. Blocking time off to protect our willpower.
  2. Blocking time for our one thing (to do) such that it gets done.
  3. Blocking time for reflection and planning.

Days off and vacations are necessary for recharging willpower; the authors say that successful people block time off so that they “work between vacations.”

Blocking time to do our one thing happens in two ways; if our current one thing (to do) is a one-time thing, then we block enough time on enough days to get it done. But if our one thing (to do) is a regular thing, then we block enough time so that it becomes a habit.

The reason for protecting your time to reflect and plan is to acknowledge that we are not operating in isolation or a vacuum. Things change, and course correction is necessary.

It is key to treat our time blocks as sacred as they are necessary to achieving our one thing (success). Everything else waits for our time block to be done. 

But the authors warn not to get too hung up on finishing at particular times; think of your time blocks as event blocks. They end when you’re done doing what you set out to do.

For the rare occasions we let something else take priority, we must reschedule our blocks as quickly as possible lest we lose the momentum required to topple our dominoes.

By devoting our best time to our one thing over and over, we will achieve productivity and eventually our one thing. And if our one thing is big enough, this means extraordinary results.

The authors offer a template of a one thing schedule, both within the book and also as a free resource on their website. Of note, the schedule blocks off four hours per day, or 20 hours per work week devoted to your one thing (to do).

In the way of helping to protect our time blocks, the authors offer a strategy that includes making sure you conduct your time blocks in a suitable environment, that you have everything necessary available to you, that you proactively prevent distractions (like phone, email, etc.), and that you tell other people what you’re doing so they can help you protect your blocks.

They also briefly mention other things against which you must protect your time blocks – most notably you are your own worst enemy – but since they go into further detail regarding this in the following chapters, we won’t get into them here.

Now that we know how to live for productivity, let’s move onto what the authors call the three commitments.

Chapter 16: It’s up to you, so get it done.

The question is how to make your time blocks sacred so that you don’t get derailed when other things come up (and they will come up).

The answer is to make three commitments; to mastery, to superiority, and to accountability.

The arguments:

Even when we block out time for our one thing, the rest of the world keeps turning and everyone wants a piece of us. That’s just the way it goes.

But with the right mindset, we can conquer the temptation to scatter our attention and therefore our efforts, and stay on the path to our one thing (success) instead.

The authors say the right mindset centers on three commitments; to mastery, to superiority, and to accountability.

If we line up our purpose with thinking big, then we are aiming at extraordinary results. To achieve the extraordinary, we must be masters of our craft.

Mastery is becoming the best of the best at your one thing. It requires focused attention over a long period of time. By becoming the best at your one thing, you are making everything else easier or unnecessary. 

Mastery knocks down a lot of dominoes on the way to the ultimate domino (your one thing).

But becoming the best at your one thing isn’t enough, because your best might not be the best.

And that’s why committing to superiority is important. (Note, superiority isn’t the word the authors chose, but I think it works better.)

Committing to superiority means that for any given one thing (to do) on your way to the one thing (you want), you commit not just to doing your best but doing the best that is possible, period. This is a lot like the “possibility” rather than “stretch” goals from Chapter 12.

Committing to superiority is also about committing to leverage. Finding the best way to do things, even if it’s never been done before. Because when you leverage one action against another (domino effect), you make more and more progress toward your goal, making you more productive.

Committing to superiority therefore puts the extra in extraordinary. Your best results are always ordinary compared to the best results possible.

Finally, the authors say you have to commit to being accountable, otherwise your efforts will be thwarted at the first challenge. Of course self-accountability is brilliant, but studies of human behavior show we do our best when we employ the help of others. Therefore, the authors recommend accountability partnerships and coaches to help you along.

When you commit to mastery, superiority, and accountability, you’ll be prepared to defend your time blocks because you’ll know what is at stake.

In addition to discussing these concepts, the authors offer another free resource on their website to help you “shatter your ceilings” so mastery and superiority win the day.

Now that we know how and to what we must commit to set our time blocks up for success, let’s move onto defending our time blocks from the four thieves.

Chapter 17: You are your own worst enemy.

The question is how to protect our time blocks at all costs so we can focus on our one thing (to do) and get the one thing (we want).

The answer is to protect our time by managing the four threats we pose to ourselves, including saying yes when we should say no, fighting chaos instead of fighting for our one thing, letting ourselves go instead of protecting our greatest asset, and placing ourselves (and our goals) in danger instead of seeking safety.

The arguments:

When we hold ourselves accountable, we realize that the only real threat to our time blocks is how we behave in any given moment.

To behave well at the right times, we must be aware of the ways we might sabotage ourselves, and then do better.

The first way we sabotage ourselves is by failing to understand that in order to get our one thing, there are infinite things we are not going to get. And then letting the fear of missing out on those infinite things get the better of us, by saying “yes” to some of those, too.

Don’t do it. If it’s not attached to your one thing, it is not as important as your one thing, and therefore you must let it go if you have any hope of achieving your one thing. Do you want your one thing or not?

The second way we sabotage ourselves is by thinking we can have a neat and tidy (dare I say “balanced”) life as we pursue our one thing. We can’t. Balance is a lie, remember? Give it up, and pursue your one thing already.

The third way we sabotage ourselves is by procrastinating our health. Don’t do that, because when you do, you give up your willpower – a fragile but necessary ingredient to focusing and pursuing your one thing. You need to be healthy and rested with your willpower at full charge to get your one thing; so fill up on the regular.

The fourth way we sabotage ourselves is by putting ourselves in dangerous environments that drain our willpower so fast that we never have enough for our one thing. We might not be able to avoid all negativity and distractions, but we should do our damnedest to avoid them on the way to our time blocks, and protect against them until our one thing is done.

You literally have one job. Do your one thing. And the authors don’t want anything or anyone to get in your way.

Now that we know to live for purpose, priority, and productivity, and to do so by committing to the mindset of mastery, superiority, and accountability, and to protect our time blocks at all costs from ourselves and others, we’re pretty much done.

The Missing Chapters

The rest of the chapters serve as example chapters – reinforcing concepts and arguments previously expounded upon in the book.

Entreprising on The ONE Thing

A Note from Tonya at Entreprising

I hope you enjoyed Entreprising’s Guide to The ONE Thing – A summary of arguments.

To see how The ONE Thing stacks up against the best business books, check out The List.

Also visit The ONE Thing Review to see how I scored it by The Rubric.

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