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The ONE Thing Summary

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The ONE Thing Book Summary QQQureshi


I’ve always been into learning new things. When I was a kid, I dedicated every summer to a project. One year it was learning how to longboard, another was how to draw, another was making furniture. I had an obsession for a little while with many things because I love being a beginner realizing there’s so much out there for me to improve on.

When I first became captain of First Class Bhangra (FCB) back in college, I was not prepared. Honestly, that’s just a euphemism. I was a dick. Your classic aggressive, yelling, short tempered male in a position of lemon-pepper mild authority. I was terrible at speaking and whenever I got nervous or felt in over my head, I resorted to yelling to assert some stupid form of dominance.

After our first performance with me captaining was just….awful. It was tough to look at myself. I did what I do best in those situations, I wrote a book report. At least that’s what my ex lovingly called it. I read a bunch of articles, a bunch of books, listened to a ton of podcasts and set on my path to figure out how to interact with humanity without screaming. By far, this book was the most valuable.

The ONE Thing Summary

This book has the content of about 100 self help productivity books summarized into one. The main point of this book is to emphasize the importance of habits and make doing your ‘ONE thing’ first everyday. I’m not going to summarize everything because honestly, this blog would be just obscenely long. At that point you might as well read the book (download the PDF for free here), it’s a quick read. However, I’ll give you the gist and highlight some key sections.

What is The ONE Thing?

“Going small” is ignoring all the things you could do and doing what you should do. It’s recognizing that not all things matter equally and finding the things that matter most. It’s a tighter way to connect what you do with what you want. It’s realizing that extraordinary results are directly determined by how narrow you can make your focus.

Keller, Gary; Keller, Gary; Papasan, Jay; Papasan, Jay. The ONE Thing (p. 8). Bard Press. Kindle Edition.

Many people have heard of the 80/20 principle. Stating that 80% of your results will come from the important 20% of your tasks. Ie procrastinating studying by cleaning your room for the 3rd time in the past 12 hours won’t get you closer to your goal, but actually sitting down and studying will. Procrastinating by cleaning = 80% stuff, studying for the exam 20% stuff. If you narrow that down further, 20% of that 20% will be an even better use of your time. Take that to the extreme, if you can narrow down to ONE thing then you can achieve your results as effectively as possible.

The book then provides a number of strategies to help you identify and achieve your ONE thing. Teaches you about the importance of blocking out time to work on your one thing, actively working to establish habits that achieve those results, and many other things.

In a dancing context, every team, every dancer has a ONE thing. The new dancer that has just started has a million things they can do to improve, but there’s ONE thing they can do that’ll help them improve the fastest. It could be staying on beat, controlling their arms so they’re not so flaily, getting their legs higher, adding shoulders to motions, maintaining proper posture with all movements, one of those will have the greatest returns and make everything else easier or unnecessary.

Here’s what I mean by ‘making everything easier or unnecssary’. As FCB captains, one thing we always procrastinated on was making the set. If we set aside even just 30 minutes everyday to work on the set, we finished the set faster. If we finished the set faster, that means the dancers can learn the choreo earlier, if they learn the choreo earlier, they’ll be have more time to practice choreo, if they have more time to practice they’ll make fewer mistakes, if they make fewer mistakes they’ll be better on stage, if they do better on stage, we’ll win. Doing your ONE thing has a domino effect leading to results much bigger than the first thing you’re doing.

What’s the Domino Effect?

The Domino Effect is illustrated with the analogy of dominoes. A domino is able to knock down another domino that is 50% larger than the first. If you follow that line of thought, then knocking down a 2 inch domino could knock down the Eifel Tower at the 25th domino and the 57th domino would be the distance to the moon. This is to illustrate that small wins can lead to seriously huge gains. But how do you apply this to life.

Often the hardest thing about doing any task is starting it. Ever find yourself dreading to do a problem set for homework so you put it off forever. Then when you sit down to do it and actually start, it’s easy to crank it out once you get rolling? Same idea applies with the domino effect. You have to identify the ONE thing that once done (in this case sitting down and doing one problem) makes doing the rest of the problems easier or unnecessary.

The key is identifying the smallest thing that you CAN do that makes it easier to actually accomplish a task aka the lead domino. The key word is CAN. You should be working out everyday, but you can put your running shoes on every morning. When I’m talking to someone who’s struggling to form a habit or get something done I usually ask them the The Focusing QuestionWhat is the ONE thing that you can do that makes everything easier or unnecessary. I keep asking that over and over and over until we get to a point where the lead domino is such a simple task that it would be absurdly easy to get that lead domino done, ie putting running shoes on every morning.

I’ll use a personal example using that question to identify what was my lead domino to get enough sleep.

You want to get 8 hours of sleep a day. What’s one thing you can do that makes getting 8 hours of sleep a day easy or unnecessary? Well you could go to sleep earlier. Well what’s one thing you CAN do to make that easier? I can get in bed at 9 PM. What’s one thing you CAN do to make that easier? Get all my work done at a reasonable time. What’s one thing you CAN do to make that easier? Well I’d have to be better about planning out what I need to get done everyday. What’s one thing you CAN do to make that easier? I could plan out my expected work at the beginning of the week? What’s one thing you CAN do to make that easier? I could block out 1 hour every Sunday and make sure I always do it at that time. What’s one thing you CAN do to make that easier? I can set a recurring reminder on my GCal to plan my week every Sunday right now.

If I hadn’t gone through that exercise, I would never have linked me planning out my week every Sunday to equate to getting enough sleep. Not even that, just blocking out the time and dedicating that time to planning out my week was the real key. That’s something I CAN do. Not something I should do. I SHOULD get 8 hours of sleep, I CAN plan my week out so that I’m more likely to get 8 hours of sleep.

That’s just the first 20 pages. This line of thinking is the key point to this book. Building a habit of identifying the lead dominoes in your life and knocking them down. Once you knock them down, you make habits of getting your important stuff done. The stuff that gets you closer to your big goals faster. The rest of the book, gives you a bunch of tools to get there. Like I said before, I’m not going to go over each one (you can download it for free here)

Everything Matters Equally

When everything feels urgent and important, everything seems equal. We become active and busy, but this doesn’t actually move us any closer to success. Activity is often unrelated to productivity, and busyness rarely takes care of business.

Keller, Gary; Keller, Gary; Papasan, Jay; Papasan, Jay. The ONE Thing (p. 32). Bard Press. Kindle Edition.

Ever feel like you were busy all day and didn’t get anything done? Well what did you do? Answer emails? Decided to just clean your room when your homework was on your desk? Run a bunch of random errands? Answered some phone calls? These are seem important, but they’re not. Will you get fired because you answered your emails at the end of the day? How about cleaning your room, running those errands, etc? Then why are you getting that done before the actually important things?

Your To-Do list probably has a bunch of could do’s and should do’s. A could do is responding to emails or getting caught up on paperwork. A should do is studying for your board exams, making choreography for the competition in 3 months, filing your taxes, going to the gym. The stuff you know is important but don’t want to because it’s hard. You just want that dopamine hit of crossing a task off the list to feel like you did something.

By focusing on the most important thing everyday and getting that done first., you ensure that you make progress towards your goal every single day. A little bit of progress everyday can amount to an amazing feat in a year.

A thousand small steps looks like a giant leap to those around you.

James Clear

One of my favorite pictures Austin Kleon made


You can’t actually multitask. Your brain is literally not wired that way. Argue all you want, but studies show time and time and time and time and time again that you’re wrong. What you actually are doing is just switching tasks fast. However, whenever you switch tasks, it takes a little bit for you to completely focus back in.

Ever sit down to get some work done and you’re in the zone, then your friend texts you, you answer, talk to them for 10 minutes about whatever, you get back to work, and it takes you about 10 or so minutes to really tune back in with the same intensity? That’s what I mean. There’s a cost to switching tasks. Every time you sit down to read a book while watching TV, you read extremely slowly while also missing a ton of the show. Get the reading done then watch TV after. You’ll enjoy both activities more and get more out of it if you focus one at a time.

A Disciplined Life

Some people talk to me and tell me that I have a ton of discipline to do all the things I do. In reality that’s not the case at all. I swear I’m one of the most distractible people you’ll ever encounter. Tik Tok swears up and down that I have ADHD and serves me up ADHD content everyday. To live a ‘disciplined life’ you just have to work on creating some strong habits.

On average it takes about 66 days of focused effort to make a new habit with a range of about 18-254 days. The easier the habit, the easier it is to form. For example, it’s super easy to make a habit of going on TikTok before bed thus will take much less time, it’s hard to workout every morning thus will take longer to set that habit.

“But how do I form new habits?” you may ask. Use the domino effect. Like my sleep example above, if you want to make a habit of sleeping 8 hours, go through the line of questioning to identify your lead domino. Knocking over your lead domino every day will be the habit that you want to form. The key is trusting that once you knock down the lead domino, everything else after will fall too.

A common example used to illustrate this is when people say they want to work out everyday. They’ll say they worked out if they work out for an hour. That’s hard to go from couch potato to muscle-meat-head overnight. What’s an easier habit to form is to walk into the gym. If you literally just did not have time to go to the gym, that’s okay. Just put on your workout clothes and walk in the door. If after you’re literally standing in the gym you still think you can’t get a workout in, that’s okay, go home and do whatever else you needed to do. You get the check for the day. Overtime you’ll find yourself thinking, ‘well I’m already here I might as well try something’ then ‘well I already did one set might as well just finish the workout’. Over time it’ll be easier and easier and you’ll have made the habit of working out. You have to trust that once you knock down that lead domino, in this case just walking into the gym, the rest will follow. Do that until you form habit after habit and it’ll much easier to live a ‘disciplined life’.

There’s much more in this book and I may summarize more of this book later, but these are the bigger key ideas the book espouses. It’s a fantastic book and I recommend this book to practically everyone. I’ve read many productivity books and most of them usually spend the length of an entire book that is easily summarized in one to two chapters of this book.

Have a captain, boss, coach, friend, or someone else in your life that you think could benefit from reading this? Share this blog with them. I hope they get out of it as much as I hope you did.

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