Focus on the One Thing

Focusing Question: What's the one thing I can do right now to make everything else easier or unnecessary? From The One Thing by Gary Keller + Jay Papasan

We live in a world of distractions. As business leaders, we always have many things to do and limited time in which to do them.

What if we could cut through the clutter and get better results in less time? The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan offers some ideas.

To-Do List Paralysis

You may remember the story about a donkey standing between two piles of hay. The donkey starved to death because he could not decide which pile to eat first.

That’s how the human brain responds to a bloated to-do list. Lots of tasks, all of them feel important. We bounce between them, which leads to mediocre results. How do we decide what to do next? Better question: How many of those to-dos should never have been on the list in the first place?

The Focusing Question

When deciding what tasks to keep and what to toss, Keller and Papasan recommend that we ask the following:

The Focusing Question: What’s the one thing I can do right now to make everything else easier or unnecessary?

A few Focusing Question examples:

Applying The Focusing Question to my to-do list enabled me to remove over 75% of the items. My list was bloated with lots of “nice to do” tasks that were only marginally related to my goals. Now I can get real work done.

Van Halen’s One Thing: Practice

Alex Van Halen has said that when he would go out at night his brother Eddie would be sitting on his bed practicing the guitar, and when he came home many hours later Eddie would be in the same place, still practicing. That’s the journey of mastery - it never ends.

~Excerpt from The One Thing, p177

Malcolm Gladwell popularized the ten thousand hours of practice rule in one of his books. Eddie Van Halen made practice his One Thing as a teenager. As a result, Van Halen enjoyed decades as an electric guitar legend.

Van Halen’s story might inspire us to ask, “What’s the One Thing I need to practice right now?”


This post touches on the parts of The One Thing that resonated with me, personally. Your experiences are different from mine. Suggestion: Grab a copy and read it for yourself. Make that your One Thing next week!


Special thanks to Rod Khleif of REM Capital for recommending The One Thing to me.