Book Notes on The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

The very first book I’ve finished in 2016 and it’s a hit.

Although it’s been recommended by outstanding entrepreneurs, I only picked up this book after it was recommended to me by a high-performing coworker. In fact, he said this was a groundbreaking read which everyone should internalise. I agree.

What makes this book unique among other ‘how to be successful’ titles, is its clarity. The One Thing presents a clear framework, without unnecessary filler, which you can apply in your life instantly. In a world that worships to-do lists, this framework is intended to help you narrow down your focus and find your ONE thing. Just the one thing that will lead you to success.

What is the ONE thing I can do today/this week/this month so that everything else would be easier or unnecessary?

That’s the question you should ask yourself regularly. Sound oversimplistic? When you hear it first, for sure, but the authors present a strong case in favour of channeling the majority of your efforts into just one to-do item. It’s amazing how powerfully this can contribute an achievement or a BIG goal you’ve set.

In order to figure out your one thing today, the authors advise to start by defining an outrageous goal for 5 years into the future. Next, deconstruct it by going back to 3 years from now, then 1 year, this month, this week and finally today – what is the one thing you can do today that will get you closer to achieving the unachievable in 5 years?

As a simple example, we’ll use money. Compared to today, how much money would you like to be earning in 5 years? x2, x3, x10… x20? Now, look at your choice – is it a realistic goal? If it is, you should choose bigger (aim higher).

The point is to THINK BIG and ACT SMALL TODAY, ignoring everything that’s unnecessary. That’s the stuff that clutters your life for the sake of being busy.

According to the book, the key to achieving success is building up to it over time. “Success is built sequentially. It’s one thing a time.” You can compare it to a line of dominos. Focussing on one thing allows you to pick the last (the biggest) domino in the line then go back and start building momentum by knocking over the smallest, first domino.



If it’s not clear already, this book is indeed waging war on multitasking. Today we keep ourselves busy, but what are these things that occupy our time? Science has proven time and again that people who multitask underdeliver and waste their time.

Meanwhile, outstanding entrepreneurs swear by the 80/20 principle, where just 20% of your actions deliver the majority of results. So it makes sense to focus on just the 20%. In the 80/20 principle, the typical approach to planning one’s day would be:

  • Define a to-do list of e.g. 15 items
  • Split those items into the 80 category and the 20 category, where the 80 contains your ‘could do’ items (11) and the 20 contains your ‘should do’ items (4). A person not following this principle would attempt to do all 15 that day and probably wouldn’t deliver any complete items or they wouldn’t be of value.

The One Thing goes beyond the 80/20 principle and adds a third step:

  • Out of your 4 ‘should do’ items, pick just one thing you must do in order to achieve your biggest, most extraordinary goal.


Choosing the one thing makes you allocate resources so that you knock down today’s one thing, and then tomorrow’s one thing – like domino’s you’re building up momentum and taking down progressively bigger challenges until you’ve reached your ultimate goal.

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

For a while now I have unknowingly been following the ‘one thing strategy’. This truly is the strategy for achieving the extraordinary, which after all why we’re here in the first place.

But the book doesn’t end just telling you why and how you should pick your one thing. It’s packed with other advice on how you too can bring the one thing to reality. Because let’s face it, not all of us are able to completely devote themselves to the one thing right away. As high performers with responsibilities and schedules, we need to redesign our lives. This includes new underlying principles: goal-setting, optimal nutrition for mental performance, and the ONE thing, that has to be first thing in the morning without any interruption. Authors state that just 4 hours a day will get you to the extraordinary over time. Just think about it: how much could you achieve in 4 hours if you channeled 100% of your energy and focus into this thing?


My one thing today was writing these notes on the book by revisiting my handwritten notes inside the margins so as to internalise more knowledge. Now that I’ve internalised the principles of the ‘one thing strategy’, I can go about the rest of my day, accomplishing everything else that doesn’t necessarily tailor with my main goal and that is fine, because all those things have their own one thing too.

This book is now firmly at the top of my list of reads to pass on to other high performers and aspiring entrepreneurs.

Books can be your mentors if you choose them wisely. I read over 50 useful books last year and I aim to do the same this year, except I’ll be sharing all of the best insights right here on the High Achiever Diet. Want to stay up to date on the best books to lead you to success? Subscribe to my monthly newsletter below:

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