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In order to succeed you only have to do ONE Thing well. Ask yourself, “What’s the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” Respect that you have a limited supply of willpower and build your habits based on that knowledge.

The Highly Productive Person’s Daily Energy Plan

  1. Meditate and pray for spiritual energy.
  2. Eat right, exercise, and sleep sufficiently for physical energy.
  3. Hug, kiss, and laugh with loved ones for emotional energy.
  4. Set goals, plan, and calendar for mental energy.
  5. Time block your ONE Thing for business energy.

This is valuable. By framing important assets of my life as “energies” it’s easier to find action steps towards them. I can find activities that refuel these energies.

The Domino Effect

Domino bricks have the capability to topple another domino that is actually 50 percent larger. That means that a single domino brick could bring down another brick twice its size which in turn could take another brick twice its size and so on. One domino brick would have the possibility to take down the Eiffel Tower after 23 bricks. That’s mind blowing.

The Six Lies Between you and Success

  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

These are the lies that get into our heads and, repeated often enough, becomes the operational principles driving us the wrong way. Put these lies to bed.

Everything Matters Equally

No matter how talented people are—no two are ever equal. Equality is a lie.

As kids we didn’t have a choice as to when to do things. We did them as they came up. It’s breakfast time. It’s time to do homework. It’s time to go to school. As adults, everything is discretionary. Everything is a choice of ours. We need to choose. How do we do good decisions?

Big Ideas

  1. Go small. Never focus on being busy; focus on being productive. Allow what matters most to drive your day.
  2. Go extreme. Keep peeling the layers of the onion until you have the ONE thing. That core activity goes to the top of your success list.
  3. Say no. Always say “not now” to anything else you could do until your most important work is done.
  4. Don’t get trapped in the “check off” game. Don’t fall prey to the notion that everything has to be done. Checking things off your list is not what success is about. Things don’t matter equally. Success is found in doing what matters most.

Extreme Pareto

Take the Pareto Principle to another level. Take your to-do list and turn it into a success list. A to-do list contains possible “could’s“ while a success list only contains “should’s”. Identify the 20 percent, then go smaller by finding the vital few of the vital few. You will end up with the single most important thing you need to do.

Multitasking is a Lie

Multitasking is not a way of life, it’s a way of lie. Multitasking didn’t appear as a term until the 1960s. It was used to describe computers, not people. Multitasking is about multiple tasks alternately sharing one resource. You can never focus on two things at once, while it is possible to do them both at once, you can only focus on one or the other.

You need reorientation every time you’re task switching. This comes with the cost of lost effectiveness and the draining of the mind. Researchers estimate we lose 28 percent of an average workday to multitasking ineffectiveness.

A Disciplined Life

When you see people who look like “disciplined” people, you’re actually seeing people who have trained a handful of habits into their lives.

Habits are only hard in the beginning. By applying selective discipline towards a goal for 66 days will make the habit easier and easier to sustain.

Don’t be a disciplined person. Be a person of powerful habits. Develop them one at a time. Over time. Stick to it.

66 Days to Acquire a Habit

It will take on average 66 days to go from selective discipline into forming a habit. It takes time to develop the right habit so don’t give up too soon.

The Marshmallow Test

In the early 1970s, researcher Walter Mischel conducted a study at Stanford University. Kids were offered one of three treats—a pretzel, a cookie, or a marshmallow. The kids were told that they could wait 15 minutes and be awarded a second treat. One treat now or two later. On average kid held out less than three minutes.

Delaying Gratification

Willpower or the ability to delay gratification is a huge indicator of future success.

Respect the Willpower

Make doing what matters when your willpower is at its highest, normally in the mornings or after a break. Think about it. Pay attention to it.

Don’t spread your willpower too thin. Respect that you have a limited supply of it so decide what matters and reserve your willpower for it.

Never let what matters most be compromised because of an under-fueled brain. Eat right and regularly.

Don’t fight you willpower. Accept it and build your days around it. Willpower is not on willcall.

The Focusing Question

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

By asking The Focusing Question you gain your Big Picture (what’s my one thing?) and the Small Focus (what’s my one thing right now?)

Break the question down into three parts

  1. What’s the one thing I can do… This sparks focused attention. It forces you toward something specific.
  2. …such that by doing it… The bridge between just doing something and doing something for a specific purpose.
  3. …everything else will be easier or unnecessary? The ultimate leverage test. When you do this ONE thing, everything else you could do to accomplish your goal will be easier or maybe no longer necessary.

Writing could be the ONE Thing I can do to make everything else easier or no longer necessary. I’m having trouble finding what I want to do. To find out what I want to do I need to better know myself. And what better way to know myself than through writing? Do it continually, every day, and I will gain knowledge about who I am.

The Success Habit

Ask the Focusing Question and frame it to the most important areas of your life. The areas could be:

  • Spiritual life
  • Physical health
  • Personal life
  • Key relationships
  • Job
  • Business
  • Finance life

Then ask what’s the ONE Thing to do for each area that would make everything else easier or unnecessary. For spiritual life for example “What’s the ONE Thing I can do to help others…?”

For My Physical Health

  • What’s the ONE Thing I can do to achieve my diet goals…?
  • What’s the ONE Thing I can do to ensure that I exercise…?

For My Personal Life

  • What’s the ONE Thing I can do to improve my skill at ____ …?
  • What’s the ONE Thing I can do to find time for myself…?

Make asking this crucial question into habit. It needs to stick. Ask it every morning when you wake.

Put up a sign in your office that says, “Until my ONE Thing is done—everything else is a distraction.”

Ask the Great Question

It’s crucial to frame the question of what you want to achieve. It needs to be specific. For instance “What can I do to double sales in six months?”

Get the Benchmark

The benchmark is today’s success. You’ll have to see if you can spot what might come next. The trend is the next step you can do in the same direction. Benchmarking and trending are your best options with coming up with an action step for a personal goal, or finding a cure for a disease.

The Three Parts of the Iceberg

  1. Purpose.
  2. Priority.
  3. Productivity.

Priority is a Singular Word

To be precise, the word is priority—not priorities—and it originates from the Latin prior, meaning first. It wasn’t until the 20th century that the word was pluralised.

Goal Setting to the Now

Set a future goal and methodically drill down to what you should be doing right now. Think of it a bit like a Russian matryoshka doll in that your ONE Thing “right now” is nested inside your ONE Thing today, which is nested inside your ONE Thing this week etc.

Time Blocking

Be protective of your time. Block out time for your ONE Thing and protect it with a vengeance. It’s the thing you must do before anything else. When it’s done you can spend the rest of the day doing “everything else.”

Brain Dump

When you’re in a focused time slot and something pops into your head. Instead of rushing on to check that one thing, just write it down on a piece of paper. Brain dump. You can get back to it later, but you’ve got it out of your mind and can return with your work.


You need to be doing fewer things for more effect instead of doing more things with side effects.

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The moon is reachable if you prioritize everything and put all of your energy into accomplishing the most important thing.

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The key is over time. Success is built sequentially. It’s one thing at a time.

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This is the story line for extraordinary success stories. Passion for something leads to disproportionate time practicing or working at it. That time spent eventually translates to skill, and when skill improves, results improve. Better results generally lead to more enjoyment, and more passion and more time is invested.

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As Henry David Thoreau said, “It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is, what are we busy about?”

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While to-dos serve as a useful collection of our best intentions, they also tyrannize us with trivial, unimportant stuff that we feel obligated to get done—because it’s on our list. Which is why most of us have a love-hate relationship with our to-dos. If allowed, they set our priorities the same way an inbox can dictate our day.

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So, if doing the most important thing is the most important thing, why would you try to do anything else at the same time? It’s a great question.

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Researchers estimate that workers are interrupted every 11 minutes and then spend almost a third of their day recovering from these distractions.

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You can do two things at once, but you can’t focus effectively on two things at once.

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When you discipline yourself, you’re essentially training yourself to act in a specific way. Stay with this long enough and it becomes routine—in other words, a habit.

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The trick to success is to choose the right habit and bring just enough discipline to establish it. That’s it. That’s all the discipline you need. As this habit becomes part of your life, you’ll start looking like a disciplined person, but you won’t be one. What you will be is someone who has something regularly working for you because you regularly worked on it. You’ll be a person who used selected discipline to build a powerful habit.

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Think of willpower like the power bar on your cell phone. Every morning you start out with a full charge. As the day goes on, every time you draw on it you’re using it up.

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The more we use our mind, the less minding power we have.

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We lose our willpower not because we think about it but because we don’t. Without appreciating that it can come and go, we let it do exactly that. Without intentionally protecting it every day, we allow ourselves to go from a will and a way to no will and no way. If success is what we’re after, this won’t work.

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Willpower is depleted when we make decisions to focus our attention, suppress our feelings and impulses, or modify our behavior in pursuit of goals. It’s like taking an ice pick and gouging a hole in our gas line. Before long we have willpower leaking everywhere and none left to do our most important work. So like any other limited but vital resource, willpower must be managed.

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We hear about balance so much we automatically assume it’s exactly what we should be seeking. It’s not. Purpose, meaning, significance—these are what make a successful life.

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If you think of balance as the middle, then out of balance is when you’re away from it. Get too far away from the middle and you’re living at the extremes. The problem with living in the middle is that it prevents you from making extraordinary time commitments to anything.

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The reason we shouldn’t pursue balance is that the magic never happens in the middle; magic happens at the extremes.

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“Imagine life is a game in which you are juggling five balls. The balls are called work, family, health, friends, and integrity. And you’re keeping all of them in the air. But one day you finally come to understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four balls—family, health, friends, integrity—are made of glass. If you drop one of these, it will be irrevocably scuffed, nicked, perhaps even shattered.”

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Pursue a big life and you’re pursuing the greatest life you can possibly live. To live great, you have to think big. You must be open to the possibility that your life and what you accomplish can become great.

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Don’t fear big. Fear mediocrity. Fear waste. Fear the lack of living to your fullest. When we fear big, we either consciously or subconsciously work against it. We either run toward lesser outcomes and opportunities or we simply run away from the big ones.

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I discovered that we can’t manage time, and that the key to success isn’t in all the things we do but in the handful of things we do well.

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One of the most empowering moments of my life came when I realized that life is a question and how we live it is our answer.

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Most people struggle to comprehend how many things don’t need to be done, if they would just start by doing the right thing.

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When we start and continue a way of thinking or a way of acting over a long enough period, we’ve created a new habit.

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“People do not decide their futures, they decide their habits and their habits decide their futures.” —F. M. Alexander

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One of our biggest challenges is making sure our life’s purpose doesn’t become a beggar’s bowl, a bottomless pit of desire continually searching for the next thing that will make us happy.

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Pick a direction, start marching down that path, and see how you like it. Time brings clarity, and if you find you don’t like it, you can always change your mind. It’s your life.

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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.

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“Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after another.”

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Life doesn’t simplify itself the moment you simplify your focus; there’s always other stuff screaming to be done. Always. So when stuff pops into your head, just write it down on a task list and get back to what you’re supposed to be doing. In other words, do a brain dump. Then put it out of sight and out of mind until its time comes.

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The people who achieve extraordinary results don’t achieve them by working more hours. They achieve them by getting more done in the hours they work.

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Michelangelo once said, “If the people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it wouldn’t seem wonderful at all.” His point is obvious. Time on a task, over time, eventually beats talent every time.

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If you have to beg, then beg. If you have to barter, then barter. If you have to be creative, then be creative. Just don’t be a victim of your circumstances.

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Attitude is contagious; it spreads easily.

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One evening an elder Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside all people. He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us. One is Fear. It carries anxiety, concern, uncertainty, hesitancy, indecision and inaction. The other is Faith. It brings calm, conviction, confidence, enthusiasm, decisiveness, excitement and action.” The grandson thought about it for a moment and then meekly asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?” The old Cherokee replied, “The one you feed.”

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Put yourself together, and your world falls into place

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Books I’ve read.

Johannes Holmberg

Tiny summaries on books I’ve read. Sorted by latest read. But you can also sort on top recommendations. Highlights and covers are copyright to their respective authors.