The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results

“Be like a postage stamp— stick to one thing until you get there.” —Josh Billings…

I went as small as I could possibly go and asked: “What’s the ONE Thing you can do this week such that by doing it everything else would be easier or unnecessary?” And the most awesome thing happened. Results went through the roof.

Where I’d had huge success, I had narrowed my concentration to one thing, and where my success varied, my focus had too.

Highly successful people know this. So every day they line up their priorities anew, find the lead domino, and whack away at it until it falls.


  1. Everything Matters Equally
  2. Multitasking
  3. A Disciplined Life
  4. Willpower Is Always on Will-Call
  5. A Balanced Life
  6. Big Is Bad

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.

“The things which are most important don’t always scream the loudest.”

Instead of a to-do list, you need a success list—a list that is purposefully created around extraordinary results.

The 80/20 Principle asserts that a minority of causes, inputs, or effort usually lead to a majority of the results, outputs, or rewards.”

Pareto points us in a very clear direction: the majority of what you want will come from the minority of what you do. Extraordinary results are disproportionately created by fewer actions than most realize.

I want you to go small by identifying the 20 percent, and then I want you to go even smaller by finding the vital few of the vital few.

I challenged our group to brainstorm 100 ways to turn this situation around. It took us all day to come up with the list. The next morning, we narrowed the list down to ten ideas, and from there we chose just one big idea. The one that we decided on was that I would write a book on how to become an elite performer in our industry. It worked.

Go small. Don’t focus on being busy; focus on being productive. Allow what matters most to drive your day.

Go extreme. Once you’ve figured out what actually matters, keep asking what matters most until there is only one thing left. That core activity goes at the top of your success list.

Say no. Whether you say “later” or “never,” the point is to say “not now” to anything else you could do until your most important work is done.

Don’t get trapped in the “check off” game. If we believe things don’t matter equally, we must act accordingly. We can’t fall prey to the notion that everything has to be done, that checking things off our list is what success is all about.

“I was sure they had some secret ability” said Nass. “But it turns out that high multitaskers are suckers for irrelevancy.” They were outperformed on every measure. Although they’d convinced themselves and the world that they were great at it, there was just one problem. To quote Nass, “Multitaskers were just lousy at everything.”

I learned that success comes down to this: being appropriate in the moments of your life. If you can honestly say, “This is where I’m meant to be right now, doing exactly what I’m doing,” then all the amazing possibilities for your life become possible.

What’s the ONE Thing I can do / such that by doing it / everything else will be easier or unnecessary?

The Focusing Question helps you ask a great question. Great questions, like great goals, are big and specific. They push you, stretch you, and aim you at big, specific answers. And because they’re framed to be measurable, there’s no wiggle room about what the results will look like.

Big & Specific: “What can I do to double sales in six months?” Now you have all the elements of a Great Question. It’s a big goal and it’s specific. You’re doubling sales, and that’s not easy. You also have a time frame of six months, which will be a challenge. You’ll need a big answer. You’ll have to stretch what you believe is possible and look outside the standard toolbox of solutions.

So if “What can I do to double sales in six months?” is a Great Question, how do you make it more powerful? Convert it to the Focusing Question: “What’s the ONE Thing I can do to double sales in six months such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” Turning it into the Focusing Question goes to the heart of success by forcing you to identify what absolutely matters most and start there.

…possibilities. Setting a doable goal is almost like creating a task to check off your list. A stretch goal is more challenging. It aims you at the edge of your current abilities; you have to stretch to reach it. The best goal explores what’s possible. When you see people and businesses that have undergone transformations, this is where they live.

I believe that financially wealthy people are those who have enough money coming in without having to work to finance their purpose in life.

The key to making this work is to block time as early in your day as you possibly can. Give yourself 30 minutes to an hour to take care of morning priorities, then move to your ONE Thing. My recommendation is to block four hours a day. This isn’t a typo. I repeat: four hours a day. Honestly, that’s the minimum. If you can do more, then do it.

To experience extraordinary results, be a maker in the morning and a manager in the afternoon. Your goal is “ONE and done.” But if you don’t time block each day to do your ONE Thing, your ONE Thing won’t become a done thing.

“If you don’t take care of your body, where will you live?”

Here’s the productivity secret of this plan: when you spend the early hours energizing yourself, you get pulled through the rest of the day with little additional effort.

Write down your current income. Then multiply it by a number: 2, 4, 10, 20 it doesn’t matter. Just pick one, multiply your income by it, and write down the new number. Looking at it and ignoring whether you’re frightened or excited, ask yourself, “Will my current actions get me to this number in the next five years?” If they will, then keep doubling the number until they won’t. If you then make your actions match your answer, you’ll be living large.

Go live a life worth living where, in the end, you’ll be able to say, “I’m glad I did,” not “I wish I had.”

Bronnie Ware’s 2012 book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying…