One Stefan Engeseth

Less is more

A review of The ONE Thing by Gary Keller.

It’s this 1 thing that’s got me trippin’

It’s always appropriate to quote Beyoncé when writing a book review. I liked The ONE thing enough to write notes in the margin, but it didn’t have enough impact for it to make the recommendation list. Also, essentially;

It’s all in the title

This isn’t a bad book, it’s a New York Times and a Wall Street Journal bestseller. It’s just that you don’t really need to read the whole book to get the premise. It is about picking your One Thing and doing it. A bit Eat that Frogand a bit Warren Buffet 5/25  rule.

The ONE Thing forces you to think big, work things through to create a list, prioritise that list so that a geometric progression can happen, and then hammer away on the first thing – the ONE Thing that starts your domino run

There you have it.

You don’t even need to read the other 222 pages.

Familiar examples

Reading so many business and marketing books means you see the same examples being cited: Bill Gates, the Beatles, Steve Jobs, Michael Phelps…

Each time these stories are told they are from a slightly different perspective. Not that the stories are twisted to suit the hypothesis, but an alternative interpretation of success is often given. ONE Thing uses many of the same examples as Grit and also uses the same Bill Gates story that is used in Outliers.

Keller uses Gates as an example of a man who developed ONE key skill: computer programming. Then he developed his foundation to tackle ONE Thing: “really tough problems”. Except, that it isn’t just one thing, it  (Microsoft) is run by two people and does lots of things.

I find the story Gladwell tells in Outliers more compelling. It is about how the environment Gates found himself in (easy access to computers) was fundamental to his success. Yes, he did commit himself to excel in this field, and he certainly remained focused throughout. But I don’t think that the fact he focused on one thing (selling BASIC interpreters for the Altair 8800) is the total sum of his story.

Another example given in the book is about Sam Walton (of Walmart). But when listening to a Tim Ferris podcast, the example of Sam Walton came up, and their explanation was that he set up the first Walmart where he did because his wife wanted to live there. They went on to explain that it was never his ‘big plan’ to expand. He just wanted to create something great, and it happened that the land was cheap. The Keller example uses Sam Walton to describe the concept that you should always plan big. That Sam Walton envisioned a business so big that he set up his future estate to minimise inheritance taxes. Both versions of the story might be true, it might just depend on where you drop into the Walton timeline.

The above serves as a reminder that famous examples can be used in many ways to highlight different arguments. Much the same way that statistics can be used to tell a very specific story.

Liar, liar, pants on fire

One of the good points in the book is the calling out of our internal lies.

Keller highlights 6 key lies that we tell ourselves:

  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

I can for shizzle get down with the fact that not all things can be equal. It would be bonkers to think that things in life all held equal value and importance. Also, there is enough literature out there to clearly demonstrate that multitasking does not work. The point on discipline is actually about having good habits, so we don’t have to be constantly disciplined. Read the Power of Habit for everything you need to know about this subject.

According to the University College of London it takes 66 days to form a new habit. We still need to commit to that habit past this point, but the required discipline drops significantly. It simply becomes who we are and what we do. Habits and routines drive me and help me get things done. I travel for meetings on Thursdays and take Fridays off. If this routine gets changes I feel all out of kilter. Habit can also be a bad thing. There is more than one way to live a week, but I know that the ‘optimised’ week gives me everything I need and lets me to make the most of my time both personally and professionally.

The point about willpower is interesting if a little confused. What I took from it is that we have a reserve of willpower, so use it wisely. Don’t waste it focusing on resisting things that aren’t important. More could have been made about connecting discipline and willpower. I think that when we have good habits, we just need less willpower. Yes, sometimes in the evening I have less willpower to resist the tantrums of my children, but I know that I have the right habits (not caving to tantrums), and I can use those habits to stay calm and ride out the storm. There are also habits that work well together. Generally, when we start exercising, we find we make other ‘good’ choices more easily; sleeping more, eating and drinking less. This isn’t about more willpower, these choices just don’t seem as hard.

Balancing act

I’ve taken out his point separately as I think it is the most interesting and challenging. I don’t feel like The ONE Thing helped me work out how I want to balance (or not balance) my life but there were some interesting points raised:

  1. Work/life balance is new and growing as a trend
  2. We can’t equally balance all elements in our lives
  3. Some elements have more ‘give’ than others
  4. Our focus might shift at different points in our lives

There are times in my life that I have 100% got the balance wrong. I don’t regret it as I think we learn important lessons about mistakes and at the time I didn’t have the skills to counterbalance or make better decisions. Each year I learn more about myself, what I value and what I am prepared to say no to. I don’t get this right all the time, but I think my values and my decisions are better aligned than 10 years ago. I don’t think I have got less selfish, but I think I have finally started to understand that having some time for myself makes me happier and therefore better at everything else in my life.

When I started Generate Solutions I worked like a beast for the first year. I ran a supermarket whilst setting up the company and working on my first projects. A month after quitting my job I found out I was pregnant. This meant I had 8 short months to get the business up and running and ready for me to exit for maternity leave. I worked till midnight and woke up at 6 am. I actually cannot believe that I managed this whilst also having a toddler to care for. But, it was my priority to give it everything whilst I could as I knew that once baby #2 came along I wouldn’t have the time or the energy. Also, I knew my priority from March was going to be 100% baby care for 4 months.

Perhaps the problem comes with the work balance. It is misleading giving the idea that we can somehow have it all. We can’t, but we can have the things that matter most to us. The challenge comes with working out what those things are. This is the lifelong lesson we are all working towards.

My rules for a balanced life:

  • When I am with my kids I am with them 100%. No phone. No TV.
  • Never say no to an opportunity (for work, fun, play or travel)
  • Shop less
  • No social media and email at weekends
  • Exercise 3 or 4 times a week
  • Eat out once a week*
  • Have a holiday with my husband (no kids) and say yes to offers of help/childcare
  • Break all of the above rules as necessary
  • Try and do one thing I would have loved to do when I was a kid

All about timing

Having now written up my thoughts about The ONE Thing it is a good reflection tool. I am still not a fan and it won’t be in my recommendations list, but I have enjoyed reviewing the different arguments presented. I would recommend reading Grit, Outliers, Power of Habit, Sapins, ReworkDecisions and the Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck. These books will give you everything you need, and more, over The One Thing.


*this was written back in the day when restaurants were open and you could socialise

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

About Good Words Online

This blog was designed to be a home for all the content I’ve created over the years. It is a mix of book reviews, personal reflections and business learnings. There is no definitive way to live or work, we all make our own choices. I in no way think I am right about any particular subject. This is simply about sharing what I’ve learnt and creating an online reminder for myself.

The name, good words, has no religious references. We can’t be good all the time. Each of us will make mistakes. All we can do is try to learn from them and try and attempt to be a little better next time.

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