The One Thing Summary

BookSummaryClub Blog The One Thing Summary

The lowdown: The One Thing by Gary Keller is like a to-do-list on steroids.

This book is a revelation that has spurned into a podcast and an online community. The One Thing is, in my opinion, the most important productivity book ever written (big call, I know).

I am the first to admit that I am a ONE thing fanboy. I bought the book, the audiobook, listened to the podcast and was a member of the online community for a while.

The reason being is that it works.

When Arthur Guinness set up his first brewery, he signed a 9,000 year lease on the building. Before J.K Rowling had even written a page, she already envisioned a seven-book series.

The lesson: To achieve extraordinary results you have the think big, then act small to achieve them.

By thinking big and having a big audacious goal you wish to achieve someday, you can engineer your steps to get there. You only spin your wheels or tread water when you don’t have a long-term plan. However, you need the skills in order to take a large ‘reach-for-the-moon’ goal and turn it into actionable steps.

The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results
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The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results
  • Audible Audiobook
  • Gary Keller (Author) – Timothy Miller, Claire Hamilton (Narrators)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 10/08/2013 (Publication Date) – Rellek Publishing Partners, Ltd. (Publisher)

The three key lessons from The One Thing are:

  1. Reverse-engineer your goals
  2. The focusing question
  3. The secret to discipline is creating habits
The One Thing Summary

Lesson One: Reverse-engineer your goals

Reverse-engineering your goals is not a method unique to The One Thing. In fact, many self-help books and productivity books give a similar point.

However, like the guitarist from Spinal Tap, The One Thing turns it up to eleven.


To milk the comparison feven further, the other reverse-engineering principles are like the drummer from Spinal Tap…. easily replaceable.

Okay, that’s enough of Spinal Tap. After all, there’s a fine line between stupid and clever.



Back to the book… The One Thing sets you to create a goal so crazy that you may not even get there. A goal that you shouldn’t be able to achieve in 5, 10, or even fifteen years.

Thinking big like this can be unsettling when you first try it.

From there, once you have your big goal. Think about what you need to in the next five years to make sure you’re on track to reach that goal? What benchmarks are there?

Now, go even further. To make sure you reach that benchmark in five years, what do you have to do over the next year?

Again, keep moving backwards. What do you need to do in the next month to make sure you’re on track to achieve that benchmark in the next twelve months?

Now I am sure you can guess what we do next… What do you need to do in the next week to make sure you reach your monthly benchmark?

From there, what is one thing you need to do TODAY in order to achieve that weekly benchmark?

Finally, what do you have to do RIGHT NOW to make sure you achieve that daily benchmark.

As you can see, the core principle of The One Thing is to think big… probably bigger than you’ve ever thought before, but take small actions to get there.

Writing this process down from your ‘Someday’ goal to your ‘Weekly’ goal should be a process that you go through weekly in order to make sure you’re on track for your goals.

Lesson Two: The Focusing Question

Writing your goals down as we discussed before will give you more clarity and more purpose than you’ve ever had before.

However, now you have to take action on them, and there is always a mix of distraction and overwhelm.

There are so many things you can be doing… how are you supposed to know where to start?

The answer, is to ask yourself the focusing question. A question that you should write down and keep somewhere you can read it daily (mine is on my desk).

That question is:

‘What is the ONE thing I can do, such by doing it everything else will become easier or unnecessary?’

This question works on the large and small scale, helping you focus on your someday goal and you next step at the same time

Your ‘one thing’ should be the most important thing you do that day… It should also be the first thing you do.

Your ONE thing will never be

  • Checking emails
  • Browsing social media
  • Changing a few minor things on your website

Yet, that is the first thing many of us do when we sit down to work. Instead, make your ONE thing the first thing.

After all, if doing your most important thing is your most important thing…. why do anything else?

Lesson Three: The secret to discipline is creating habits

Do you want to know one of the main reasons people don’t succeed?

In reality, success is boring.

Success is consistently doing the same small task time and time again.

You don’t get success by going to the gym once. Likewise you don’t get success by reaching out to one potential client.

It is a matter of repetition and willpower.

Making that call, or going to the gym takes willpower. It is easy to press snooze and work out tomorrow. It is easy to procrastinate.

And the nasty thing about willpower is that it is kinda like the battery life in your phone. It starts at 100% but the more you use it, the less there is. That’s why you eat well all day then binge at 9:30 at nigh.

In order to set yourself up for long-term success, you need to bypass willpower by forming habits.

So, pick one thing that requires a habit and set yourself up to repeat it every day. It takes on average 66 days to create a habit, over that time completing the same task takes less and less willpower. After you’re done, move on to the next one. Slowly you’ll create a bank of useful and healthy habits.

It is important to focus on one habit at a time. That is why a lot of dieters struggle at the start, they try to change a lot at once.

So, look to create a habit with yourself which you can achieve in the next 66 days.

My Personal Takeaway

Like I said, I love this book.

After reading it, I started writing down my goals and reverse engineering them to create weekly to-do lists. These to-do lists are always in order of priority, focusing on the ONE thing.

I also set to create healthy habits for my lifestyle. This has included going to the Gym before work which has been a great habit to set. At the start, that alarm at 5:00 am was the worst sound in the world. Now, I am usually at the Gym before the alarm even sounds.

Did this summary excite you?

Book summaries are great, but I also really believe that you will not fully understand the book or the author without trying the real thing. Learn more about this subject by listening to the full book for free via Audible.

Put it into action

There is so many things which you can do, but in order of the ONE thing, you should look to reverse-engineer your goals.

  • What is your someday goal?
  • What is ONE thing you have to do in five years to be on track for your someday goal?
  • What is ONE thing you have to do this year to be on track for your five-year goal?
  • What is ONE thing you have to do this month to achieve your yearly goal?
  • What is ONE thing you have to do this week to achieve your yearly goal?

You’ll be surprised how clear you next step becomes.

You should consider buying this book if…

This book is perfect for entrepreneurs who are overwhelmed with how much there is to do, and looking for a new way to work.

I would also give this book to any solopreneur.

Or, read our other business book summaries.

Let me know what you think of The ONE thing.


Hey, I’m Erik… a Swedish university student, marketing professional, and life-long learner. Here at BookSummaryClub I summarize my favorite non-fiction books into easily digested posts. Hope you like what you’re reading!

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