The ONE Thing: Book Review

The ONE Thing was written by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan and first published in Great Britain in 2013 by John Murray Press, Hodder & Stoughton.

The best books usually make the argument that so-called time management is really about choice, focus and self management rather than attempting to manage time. Thousands of books have been written on the subject and I have wasted time reading a few of them – finding bits here and there that work for a while but never quite give me the answers I am looking for.

While Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People made sense at the time and it definitely made me change my thinking, I have found that seven things are too much for my tiny brain to remember! 😉

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen was another book that influenced me a number of years ago. But I would be hard-pressed to remember the five steps he suggests or any other snippets of advice that I could quote today as having become a part of how I manage myself or my time. 

The ONE Thing is different. In arguing for focus, it really keeps things simple with a very clear and uncluttered approach. Being based on one question repeatedly asked (in very slightly differing ways which could admittedly get old or annoying quite quickly) to drill from big picture to small detail it feels easy to remember and to adopt straight away. For me, it’s very reminiscent of the Toyota way of asking Why? five times.  

I won’t ruin the book for those who want to read it, and I’m sure the authors wouldn’t be too pleased if I gave away the key question. 

The authors quote research that says it takes an average of 66 days to form a habit. So even in its simplicity, they are not promising quick wins like so many self-help evangelists do. 

The ONE Thing is based on a premise provided by a Russian proverb, За двумя зайцами погонишься – ни одного не поймаешь (Za dvumya zaitsami pogonish’sya – ni odnovo nye poimaesh’)  If you chase two rabbits, you will catch neither.

It espouses blocking off time each day to focus on something (not a new idea and one which I have read in many books), which I think ignores relationships. It is not as easy as simply turning down a meeting request from your manager. But it is hard to argue with the logic that time devoted to key goals rather than being bogged down or disturbed by less important stuff has a compound effect. 

The authors use a domino metaphor and illustrate quite well that from research proven in 1983 that a smaller domino is capable of knocking down a domino fifty percent larger than its own size: starting with a standard domino (which would in turn knock down a domino 1.5 times its size) by the 10th iteration, the domino would be the height of an American football quarterback; by the 23rd, the Eiffel Tower; and the 31st taller than Everest. Their metaphor is not lost on the reader in saying that by working on important things each day in a focused way, we can achieve great things.

Ask me in 66 days if I got results!

Time – a finite resource

C.S. Lewis, author of the Narnia Chronicles and resident of Oxford once said: “The future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of 60 minutes an hour”. While we are on this earth, we all get the same finite resource: time. We don’t know when it will come to an end, but it’s up to each of us what we do with it.

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about time. Morbid though it is, as I get closer to forty, events going on around me have made me think about my own mortality and what I am going to achieve before my time is up.

We all talk about work-life balance. In Japan, many of us work long days and then go home to our families — not getting much quality time with the people we love. It’s not unusual to spend more time with your manager or customers than with your spouse or children. I mean c’mon… I like my colleagues, but I don’t love them!

Just over three years ago, I made a commitment to study for an MBA. This added another element to the mix: work-life-study balance. I found myself not only going to school after work and on weekends, but also devoting much of my time to study when I was at home.

Being absent or unavailable puts a strain on any relationship. My wife and daughter saw less of me and made it known to me that they were not happy. So I then realized that it was not a work-life-study balance that I was seeking, but a work-life-family-study balance. The simple two-sided equation was now starting to get more complex.

As time went by, I started to think about my physical well being (I told you this was morbid!) Having not exercised consistently for more than ten years, I had a beer belly that any thirty-something can be proud of: and all bought and paid for, to boot! So I foolishly stood up in a classroom of thirty peers and proclaimed that I would run thirty minutes every weekday morning from now on. Idiot!

Now it’s a work-family-life-study-running balance and the belly has long gone.

Hold on a minute… Work-family-life… So what is this elusive “life” bit about? It used to be that whenever I was not at work, I was living my life. Life included family and doing all the other fun things. But as life got more complicated, it seems to me that I had to make specific time for family and so now it gets its own category separate to life. Life for me has now become what I focus on in amongst all the other really important stuff — family, personal and spiritual growth, physical exercise, and even alas, work. It’s the bits that now go on in between. Life now means my ultimate goal, where I want to end up, what I want people to say about me at my funeral. This is still an unfinished journey, and I don’t plan on dying for a very long time. If you promise to come back from time to time, I promise to let you in for a front row seat on how I plan to minimize the less critical ‘work’ to make the most of what is really important…