The One Thing – Book Review

View from Cadillac Mountain, Mount Desert Island, Maine.  This was taken from the Blue Hill Overlook.
View from Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, Mount Desert Island, Maine. This was taken from the Blue Hill Overlook.

It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants.
The question is, what are we busy about?
– Henry David Thoreau

Among the things I’ve done recently to nurture my creativity is to finish the book, “The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results” by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan.  I’ve been reading it off and on all year, going back over parts several times.  More information and resources can be found at their website,

Below are some of the parts that I highlighted because it really spoke to me.

My purpose here is to create a short list that I can refer to going forward.  The book is much more involved than this, with lots of examples of how to apply to this and pitfalls to watch out for.  The constant theme is encouragement that I can do this – it’s within reach.  But I have to act on it.  Reading about it, thinking about it, and talking about it is not enough to reach my goals.

  • Not everything matters equally
  • Success is sequential, not simultaneous.  You do the right thing and then the next right thing, building success over time.
  • Only ONE Thing can be the most important.
  • No one succeeds alone.
  • Passion and skill are connected.  Passion leads to disproportionate time practicing or working on something.  When skills improve, results improve, which leads to more enjoyment, more passion, and more time invested.
  • Achievers work from a clear sense of priority.
  • Multitasking is a lie and exacts a cost few realize they’re paying.
  • We don’t need more discipline than we have right now.  What we need is the habit of doing it and just enough discipline to build the habit.
  • Build one habit at a time and give it enough time (66 days at least) to get solidly established.
  • Willpower always being on will-call is a lie.  Willpower has a limited supply and has to be managed like food or sleep (see the extensive list of what taxes willpower in Chapter 7).
  • A balanced life is a lie.  Time on One Thing takes away time from another.
  • We have to envision our own journeys, make our own maps, and create our own compasses.  What we want doesn’t come with a set of instructions.
  • See Chapter 11 for the focusing questions to help identify my ONE thing.
  • Productivity is driven by purpose and priority.
  • I need to know what matters to me and take daily actions in alignment with it.
  • Goal setting needs to work from the distant future back to right now.
  • Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after another (Walter Elliot).
  • My biggest challenge is likely to be my need to do other things besides my ONE Thing.
  • It takes elite performers 10 years to gain mastery.
  • The four thieves of productivity are the inability to say no, fear of chaos, poor health habits and an environment that doesn’t support my goals (both people and physical surroundings).
  • Success is an inside job.
  • Chapter 8 has a great discussion about balancing our lives.  For our personal life, the authors talk about the need for tight counterbalancing and that the need to avoid long periods where we’re out of balance.  For our work lives, it will be necessary to be out of balance for long periods to achieve extraordinary results.  They include a quote by the author James Patterson, that describes our personal life as glass balls which if dropped, are irrevocably scuffed, nicked or shattered, whereas our work life is like a rubber ball that bounces back.

I see where I’ve done many of these things at work.  I unwillingly took a job doing state income taxes, only to find out I was very good at it (I wrote the story up here).  The more I practiced and studied, the better I became.  Over time, I pared away the things that kept me from being an expert in my field and concentrated on mastery.  Although I will never know it all, I know more than many people do about corporate state income taxes.

So for my next post the question will be, how do I apply that to my creativity?

Note from yesterday’s post – I went back and added another item to my checklist of what I need to remember for next time.  I also added in some more blooper pictures.  I did a lot of experimenting and it’s a shame to not display all my ideas, even though they didn’t work.

To see everything I’m doing with my 31 Days of Nurturing My Creativity, click here.

To see what others are doing with their 31 Days project, click here.



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I am a backyard adventurer, philosopher and observer, recording my life in journals and photographs. Visit my blog at

12 Comments Leave a comment

    • While the book didn’t contain anything new, a lot of what was in there I hadn’t thought of in a long while or in the context which the authors presented it in. That first one is something I practice at work, but I sure don’t practice at home enough. And yeah, it’s hard to prioritize especially when you have young children. Or the perpetual toddlers, the dogs. Not of course, that Molly would ever do that to you.

    • I’m glad you liked both! I hope you find the list useful and would encourage you to read the book. There’s much more in there besides what I wrote up here.

  1. As I read this I found myself almost ‘cheering’ for the sense it made to me. The ‘multi tasking’ concept has always eluded me. WHY try to do a poor job at a couple of things at one time? This resonated deeply with me. THANK YOU for sharing this. It makes sense in regards to everything I want to do. Even if only one is “THE” thing. :)

    • Your comments this month have helped so much. I’m really gratified that you’re finding it useful and it’s helping you clarify your own thinking on your creativity. Of course, you’re helping me clarify what I said as well and I thank you for that.

      Yeah, multi-tasking has always baffled me too. You get so much less done and none of it gets done well. But I had a past employer that just insisted on it, right up until there was a material weakness and it was apparent that no one could be an expert on everything at one time. By then, of course, it was too late and the SEC got involved because financial statements had to be restated.

      • Then your posts have been well serving Nancy. To serve the purpose you hoped, and to meet some needs of others.

        And multi tasking? I’m seeing “studies” that say it’s never good as well. :) Makes me feel better!

  2. This reminds me of similar principles discussed in the book “Essentialism.” These ideas must be in the air these days as everyone seems to be overwhelmed and booged down with too many things. My take-away is that even though I could really do anything I wanted to, I can only really do just a few things well and one at a time. We always overeat at an All-you-can-eat buffet plus it’s not the best food, so we don’t feel so great. But when we sit down to a lovingly prepared meal we don’t have to eat as much to feel satisfied and feel so nourished by it. I’ll use this winter to truly identify my priorities and go after them…

    • I have “Essentialism” waiting to be read. I think it’s similar, but seemed to have enough differences to be worth reading. I’m partway through “A More Beautiful Question” by Warren Berger that is also good on this topic.

      I think your analogy about the meals is very appropriate to explain why we need to focus on just a few things. I’ve been playing around with this for a while and have finally figured out what my ONE Thing is, but it took a while and some letting go (i.e., prying my fingers off of it type of letting go).

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