Book Notes: The One Thing

“If you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one. “
                                               – Russian Proverb

That’s how Gary Keller’s The ONE Thing opens up.  Even before the first paragraph, title page, table of contents, or anything else, these are the first words of the book.  From the very beginning, its focus is clear.  And that’s part of what makes this book so good – it models what Keller is talking about.

The One Thing - Gary Keller

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Which Rabbit to Chase?

Clearly the sense of the proverb is that you should focus on only trying to catch one of the rabbits in order to be successful.  Much of The ONE Thing is devoted to helping you figure out which one that is (and often there are a lot more than two to choose from).

If you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one. - Russian Proverb Click To Tweet

From there he helps you find ways to make your chase effective by debunking myths like multi-tasking and life balance, and showing you ways to block your priority time so that the important things get done first.

While there are several chapters that appealed to me, and a few that have caused me to alter some of my daily habits, one of the concepts of the book that really resonated with me is the idea that by saying “Yes” to something, you are saying “No” to everything else.

Saying Yes to one thing means saying No to everything else. Click To Tweet

One of the Four Productivity Thieves

It is one thing to figure out what your “One Thing” is.  But to be successful you have to focus your efforts and resources on that One Thing, and away from competing interests.  You have to be able to say “No” to them.  Keller sees the inability to say “no” as one of the four thieves of productivity.

A great illustration of this idea is how Steve Jobs focused Apple when he returned to the company in 1997.  At the time, the company had more than 350 products in development.  But over the next two years, he carved the list down to only 10.

Jobs knew that he would not be able to achieve extraordinary results with any of the projects if the resources of Apple were dissipated over hundreds of them.

So he determined which few had the greatest potential and deserved the full focus and support of the company.  Those were his “One Thing,” the rabbit he was going to chase.   He started saying “No” to everything else.

As he said at the 1997 MacWorld Developers Conference:  “When you think about focusing, you think, ‘Well, focusing is saying yes.’ No! Focusing is about saying no.”

How to Say No

But saying no to others can be hard.  We want to be helpful.  We are taught to be considerate, and to be good teammates.  Nobody wants to be a jerk.  So how do you say “No?”  Here are three ways to consider.

Say “No” promptly.  First, don’t string someone along.  If you are going to say no, do it right away so there are no false impressions.  Waiting only makes it harder later, and you are wasting the time they would have had to find someone else to say “yes.”  So just get it done.

Say “No” with respect.  No need to be callous about it, just be clear.

“I won’t be able to give that job the focus it deserves.”
“It won’t get done in the time frame that you need.”
“That’s not my area of expertise, you should have someone with more skill and time to do it right.”
“I won’t get to it this morning, but I can block some time for it this afternoon.”

Say “No” with a lead to someone with a “Yes.”  Saying “No” doesn’t mean you can’t be a little helpful.  Putting them in contact with someone who can help can satisfy your desire to be a good teammate without sacrificing your focus.

Just don’t say “Yes” just because you don’t want to deal with the short-term discomfort of saying “No” to someone.  Because when you say “Yes” to them, you are saying “No” to yourself.

The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes. It is very easy to say yes. - Tony Blair Click To Tweet

About The Book

The book is laid out simply, with a clear main point for each chapter, helpful quotes, and useful illustrations.  There is also a “Big Ideas” recap section at the end of each chapter to drive home the key points.

Keller even took the time to highlight and underline key text to make it stand out.  He helps you focus on the One Thing he is trying to convey.

And just as he begins the book with his focus, he ends it that way, too, with a big question mark on the back cover that asks you, “What is your One Thing?”

The Takeaway

People and organizations are similar in the sense that they cannot do everything with excellence all the time.  Those that achieve extraordinary results are able to focus on a few things and become extremely good at them.

In order to do this they have recognized that to say “Yes” to those things, they have to say “No” to everything else that can get in the way.

Leaders do this too.  They establish a vision for their organizations, and set goals that will help them get there.  Those are the things the team should say “Yes” to.   That is the rabbit you are chasing.

When a second rabbit pops up, learn to say “No” and let it go.  It’s not your ONE Thing.

Question:  How else can you say “No” and maintain your focus on your ONE Thing?

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About the Author: Ken Downer
Ken Downer - Founder RapidStart Leadership

Ken served for 26 years in the Infantry, retiring as a Colonel.  From leading patrols in the Korean DMZ, to parachuting into the jungles of Panama, to commanding a remote outpost on the Iran-Iraq border, he has learned a lot about leadership, and has a passion for sharing that knowledge with others.  Look for his weekly posts, check out his online courses, subscribe below, or simply connect, he loves to talk about this stuff.

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