The One Thing for Extraordinary Results

The book THE ONE THING by Gary Keller had a big impact on me and my approach to work. The impact isn’t just on my RESULTS at work but also on how I FEEL: I am happier, less stressed out, more engaged, and more motivated than I have been in a long time.

Below is a summary of my key takeaways

The Process

tot_dominos_trim1. Have a clear long term goal

This process assumes that you have a goal that you want to achieve at some point in the future.

2. Identify the ONE thing that will produce the biggest results

If you could only do ONE thing this year to get you closer to your goal, what would that be? Ask yourself: “What is the ONE THING I can do THIS YEAR such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” That thing is your goal for the year.

3. Identify your ONE thing for TODAY

  • MONTH: What is the ONE thing you could do THIS MONTH to get closer to your one year goal?
  • WEEK:What is the ONE thing you could do THIS WEEK to get closer to your monthly goal?
  • TODAY: Finally, what is the ONE thing you could do TODAY to get you closer to your weekly goal?

4. Work on TODAY’s ONE THING for your FIRST four hours

Spend the FIRST HALF of your day working on your ONE THING. No interruptions, no distractions, no emails, no phone calls, no meetings. Just laser focused work on your most important task. Your morning is spent on your most important thing. The afternoon is left for emails, phone calls, and meetings. By working on your ONE THING first, you are sure it will get done. Things left for later have a chance of not getting done.

“Until my ONE THING is Done –Everything else is a Distraction”

Why this makes me happy

This process is not just about getting stuff done and being more productive: It’s about having meaningful days; being motivated and happy; working on important things that have a real impact; on things that truly make a difference.

Since I’ve started to use this process I’m more engaged at work, more motivated, less stressed out, and happier. I get to devote uninterrupted time to important meaningful projects that will have a huge impact. If I “run out of time” during my day, it’s the unimportant things that get dropped.

The Productive vs The Unproductive Day

Do you ever feel like you’ve been SUPER busy all day, yet did not get anything accomplished? Those are the days where you DID NOT work on your one most important thing.

The difference between a PRODUCTIVE day and an UNPRODUCTIVE day is how much time you spend on your ONE THING. If you work on your ONE THING first, your day is already productive and rewarding by the time lunch rolls around. It doesn’t matter what happens the rest of your day.

The Myth of Multitasking

It is a myth that you get more done by doing many things at the same time. If you want huge success, you need to be very narrowly focused. If you try to do two things at once you won’t do either well. Chasing too many rabbits leads to catching none.

“Do fewer things for more effect instead of doing more things with side effects”

Multitasking is a form of self distraction. When switching between two tasks, there is always a reorientation phase, and that’s wasted time.


The 80 / 20 rule

Not all things matter equally. Not all tasks are created equal. You need to focus on those that matter most and that produce the biggest results: If 20% of you activities result in 80% of your results, then you should be spending more of your time on those activities.



The Importance of Only ONE Thing

There can only be one most important thing. Many things may be important, but only one can be the most important. Not a few things… Not two things… ONE THING!

What is my ONE THING?

If today you (or your company) don’t know what your ONE THING is, then your ONE THING is to figure that out.

Family, Friends, and Life Outside of Work

Following this process means spending a large amount of time focused on a single usually “work” related goal. That often means less time for your family, friends, and other priorities. It is very important to ensure you are spending quality time with your family and friends during your evenings, weekends, and vacations.

“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 these 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 and integrity – are made of glass. If you drop one of these, it will be irrevocably scuffed, nicked, perhaps even shattered.”


Following this process tends to cause some chaos. Since you have less time to do “maintenance” work, you will tend to experience a messy desk, a messy email inbox, etc… Either clean it up in the afternoon, or live with it. Those are the costs of narrow focus and great results.

“It’s not that we have too little time to do the things we need to do, it’s that we feel we need to do too many things in the time we have.”

Other Applications…

In your non-work life

The “One Thing process” can also be used at a smaller scale in your non-work life: What is the ONE thing you can do for your family that will have the most positive effect? What is the ONE thing you could do for your spouse that would make your relationship better? What is the ONE thing you could do for your parents or friends? What is the ONE thing you could change to improve your health? What is the ONE thing from a personal standpoint that would bring you the most happiness? Etc…

In your company

Your company should use this process to be laser focused on it’s most important, most impactful goal. And at a smaller scale, each department and each employee should have their long term goals with work backs to what their ONE THING for today is. If you have weekly status meetings, they should be used to help identify everyone’s ONE THING. Employee performance reviews should be about their ONE THING. Etc…

one_thing_merchBuy the Book

If you like the One Thing as I’ve described it here, and want to learn more about it, then I highly recommend you purchase the book or visit the Official One Thing site (non affiliate links)


Why Business Owners should help employees find their next job

Fresh Air Educators is a small company with a tight knit team. Turnover is low, but over the past 15 years we have had our share of layoffs.

Most businesses that operates long enough will eventually be in a situation where a team member is let go. Lay offs are a relatively rare occurrence for us and it’s not something we are particularly good at doing. Every situation is different and very stressful.

A decision to lay someone off usually comes after weeks or months of deliberation and after looking at all possible alternatives. It’s hard to do and we hate doing it.

We generally give a good severance package to give the employee more time to land on their feet (selfishly, it also helps relieve the feeling of guilt in letting them go). We also give letters of reference and offer to help in anyway we can.

But we are not great at pro-actively finding them a new job.

We often unconsciously think: “We gave them a good severance package, we gave them a good reference, we reached out to our contacts, now it’s up to them. Our job is done. Our responsibilities to the employee are done.”

Not quite. I believe that our responsibility to the employee isn’t done until they find their next job or career. When an employee leaves, we should proactively help them find their next job.

Besides being “the right thing to do” here are some specific business reasons why this is a good idea:

  • Build goodwill for future opportunities: Your past employees will have a more positive attitude towards you and your business if they feel that you genuinely did your best to help them. They are less likely to hold a grudge and more likely to help you in the future when an opportunity presents itself.
  • Strengthen relationships with current employees: Current employees will look to how you treat your past employees as an indication of how they will be treated when they leave.
  • Reduced risk of harm to the business: The faster a past employee finds a new job, the less likely they are to get into a desperate financial situation, and the less likely they are to do something for financial gain that is against your best interest.
  • Reduces the risk of violating a non-compete or non-disclosure agreement (NDA):  If you help a former employee find a new job, the risk of them working for a competitor is reduced (since they already have a job). No need to try and enforce strict non-compete or NDA’s in place.

If you are a business owner and are laying someone off, consider going the extra mile to help that employee find their next job — I think it will have long term benefits for your business.

Polyphasic Sleep for Jetlag

This is a modification on something similar I did when my daughter was born: Trying to catch up on sleep as a new parent. After having great success with that experiment, I tried the same schedule to recover lost sleep due to jet lag (also with great success).

Most recommendations for recovering from Jet-lag involve avoiding sleep at your destination and trying to stay awake as long as possible (until night time). Usually taking a nap is a bad idea because of the tendency to oversleep. What I am recommending is highly regimented naps in both frequency and duration.

The Plan

  1. Follow traditional best practices for avoiding Jet Lag.
  2. 20 minute naps every 4 hours: As soon as you land go on a dynamic “everyman” sleep schedule (20 minute nap every 4 hours) until night time and then either
    1. Sleep as long as you can (if you can); or
    2. if you cannot sleep, take another 20 minute nap and try sleeping again in another 4 hours.
  3. Repeat on the second day: When you wake up, record the time and plan on another 20 minute nap in 4 hours (and continue the cycle).
  4. Stop the nap schedule once you feel you are onto the local rhythm, but I recommend to stick with it for at least 2 days (or more if you enjoy it!).
  5. Start on the plane: If you are on a really long flight with multiple connections, you can try starting your nap schedule early by napping at airports during connections or on the plane before you land.

Very important: You are not trying to reduce sleep. You are trying to catch up on missed sleep (and future sleep you are about to miss). So don’t purposely stay up all night — if it’s night time and you can get an entire night’s sleep in, then do so. But if it’s day time then be strict with your nap schedule.


  • Take wind down time into account. It usually takes me 15-20 minutes to fall asleep, so I usually schedule my nap 15 minutes earlier and set my alarm for 35 minutes.
  • It is ok if you don’t actually sleep. Lying in a comfy spot with your eyes closed for 20 minutes will refresh you enough to help push you through another 4 hours of awake.
  • Plan your day around your sleep schedule to make sure you can get your naps in
  • Carry ear plugs and a night mask (and an inflatable pillow?) to maximize your “anywhere / anytime” nap opportunities.
  • Use the website to prep your sleep schedule even before you leave and get tips on how to adapt once you land (note: They do not have naps built into their schedule)

The Benefits and Negatives of Robot Cars

I’m a big fan of robot cars and can’t wait for them to be in mainstream use (which could be as early as 2017).  Here is a brief list of benefits and possible negatives to having self driving robot cars on our roadways.


  • Less accidents: Human error supposedly causes 93% of all car accidents (Vinh Le, 2009). Robot cars will have faster reaction times compared to human drivers. Plus as inter-vehicle communication rolls out on a wider scale, each robot car will know exactly where all the other robot cars are, how fast they are travelling, etc…. Which will allow each vehicle to take better defensive actions.
  • Less Traffic: Robot cars will be able to form a “train” caravan, following the car in front of them extremely closely, and eliminating the gap / delay that usually occurs when human drivers stop/start in traffic. Robot cars will also likely be able to drive faster due to the increased safety.
  • Eliminate Distracted Drivers: You can now text while “driving” and do lots of other stuff like sleep, watch a movie, play video games, etc…
  • Eliminate Drinking & Driving: Since you’re not actually driving, impaired driving and the associated costs would disapear.
  • Better Accessibility: Blind people could now “drive”
  • No More Parking Issues: Robot cars would just drop off passengers at their destination and go park someplace else where parking is not scarce.  They would then return as needed to pick up passengers.
  • No need to ask friends to drive you to the airport. Your faithful robot car would do it for you and then wait at home until it needs to pick you back up.
  • No need for Traffic Police: The cars would be programmed not to break laws.
  • More Bicycles? If self-driving cars are safer than human drivers it may be less dangerous to bike on the road. There may also be an opportunity to create wider bicycle lanes and better infrastructure.


  • Cyber Security: A car’s computer could potentially be compromised, as could a communication system between cars.
  • Loss of driving-related jobs.
  • Criminal and Terrorist Activities: Self-driving cars could potentially be loaded with explosives and used to drive a bomb to its destination or could be used in other criminality acts such as getaway vehicles
  • Ethics: Ethical problems arise when a robot car is in an unavoidable crash and must choose between multiple harmful actions that could lead to death. Do you swerve into the group of children or the group of adults? At what ratio of children vs adults do you pick one group over the other? Should you self destruct yourself along with your owner to save bystanders?. These choices are already made by humans every time they encounter such a situation but choosing an official course of action will be very controversial.

Related Reading…

A Story About Education…

The story of our education system begins roughly 300 years ago with The British Empire. At this time The Empire has colonies scattered across the globe: India, Africa, Americas, Australia, etc…

The Empire has the great challenge of ruling over all these colonies without computers or telephones. The best technology they have to manage this are hand-written notes on pieces of paper being delivered by ship.

The Bureaucratic Administrative Machine

The Empire builds a global distributed human powered computer to solve this problem: The Bureaucratic Administrative Machine.  They need many people to keep this machine running. They create another machine to produce those people: The School.

The School produces people that meet 4 basic requirements:

  1. They must have good handwriting (to write down the data);
  2. They must be able to read (to understand the data)
  3. They must be able to do addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division in their heads (to create and analyze the data)
  4. They must be identical and easily interchangeable (to be able to ship people between colonies and have them be instantly functional)

The “School Machine” from 300 Years Ago is Still Running…

The “School” system they built 300 years ago was so robust that it is still with us today. Still continually producing identical people for an empire that no longer exists.

Schools as we know them are NOT broken (as they are doing exactly what they were engineered to do) but they ARE obsolete. Today we no longer need identical people with beautiful handwriting that can multiply and divide in their heads.

So What’s Next?

What should be done to change our education system to be more aligned with current times? How should it be changed to prepare our children for the present AND the future?

I highly recommend you listen to Suguta Mitra’s TED talk about “Building a school in the cloud” for some of his ideas on the future of education.


How to Make Your Children Smarter: Entity VS Incremental Learning

Children tend to view their intelligence in one of two ways:

Entity Learners: “I am smart at this”

“Entity” learners believe in a fixed level of intelligence: I.e.: “I am good at math; I am bad at english”.

They believe they have a fixed level of ability and there is very little they can do to change their results.  Since success or failure implies “smart” or “not-smart”, they will tend to avoid risk of failure.

Incremental Learners: “I tried hard at this”

“Incremental” learners believe their level of intelligence is flexible and influenced by hard work. “I got it because I worked very hard at it” or “I should have tried harder”.

The learning is more important than the results. Step by step they can move from novice to master. When faced with failure, they increase their efforts or change their tactics.

Winning and Losing

Winning is still important. It is still very important. But learning is more important than winning or losing.

It would be easy to read about the studies on entity vs incremental theories of intelligence and come to the conclusion that a child should never win or lose. I don’t believe this is the case. If that child discovers any ambition to pursue excellence in a given field later in life, he or she may lack the toughness to handle inevitable obstacles. While a fixation on results is certainly unhealthy, short term goals can be useful development tools if they are balanced within a nurturing long-term philosophy. Too much sheltering from results can be stunting.
— Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning

Assume your child is playing high-school level soccer. Which is better? Winning against a kindergarden team or losing a close match against a university team? I would argue that playing against the stronger team (win or lose) will have much better long term benefits than winning against the kindergarden team. If you never lose then you are not challenging yourself enough.

If your child experiences a crushing defeat, don’t patronize them by saying that “it doesn’t matter if you win or lose”. Your child is feeling strong emotions that clearly matter to him. Your words will not resonate with his reality.  Instead acknowledge those feelings and focus on the learning: “I know you put a lot of effort into this and you wanted to win very badly. Not winning hurts a lot sometimes, but it can also help you get better.  Let’s learn from this — let’s train harder and get better for the next match. The best way to get better is to face strong opponents, and when you face strong opponents you will lose sometimes. But you will get better. And the better you get, the more you will win.”

I have seen many people in diverse fields take some version of the (incremental learning) philosophy and transform it into an excuse for never putting themselves on the line or pretending not to care about results. They claim to be egoless, to care only about learning, but really this is an excuse to avoid confronting themselves.
— Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning

What Parents or Teachers can do

The language used by parents or teachers play a big role in a child’s view of their intelligence.

Language such as “You are really good at math, but bad at English” will tend to reinforce that intelligence is a fixed and unchangeable. Children will learn that they are good at math and bad at English. They will link their success and failure  to a predefined fixed level of ability. There is nothing they can do about it, so they will not try to get better.

Focus on the learning. Re-enforce that they can change their results with effort: “You are really doing good in math: Keep up the good work! You are struggling in english: Let’s study a little harder!”.

It is never too late

It is clear that parents and teachers have an enormous responsibility in forming theories of intelligence of their students and children — and it is never too late. It is critical to realize that we can always evolve in our approaches to learning. Studies have shown that in just minutes, kids can be conditioned into having a healthy learning theory for a given situation.
— Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning


Balance Your Life by Planning your Week

What is “Balance”

I don’t like the term “Work/Life” balance because it implies that there are only two areas of importance: Work and Life. The reality for most of us is that “Life” is actually composed of several important roles: Parenting, Homeownership, Friendships, Community, “Me” time, etc….

Most of us already spend at least half our waking hours at work. This does not leave much time for the other important areas in your life.

How I Plan My Week

Every weekend I go through the following ritual to plan the coming week.

1. Review your Personal Mission Statement

Although not absolutely necessary to begin, a personal mission statement gives you guidance and is a reminder of what is important to you.  If you don’t already have one, take some time to write one. Every week review your mission statement and update it as necessary.

My Personal Mission Statement:

To find happiness, fulfillment, and value in living I will strive to:

  • Make a positive difference in the lives of others;
  • Spend more quality time with friends and family;
  • Simplify my life; work less; have more “perfect days”; and keep an open mind;
  • Do great things; strive for excellence; and inspire others.
  • Apologize sincerely when necessary.
  • Remember that life is short; be grateful; relax and enjoy the moment; Memento Mori.

2. Identify & Review your Roles

Achieving “balance in life” isn’t about getting a 50/50 balance between “work” and “life”.  You play many more than just 2 roles in life. You should devote time to all the roles you play: Individual, Father, Husband, Friend, Employee, Homeowner, Artist, World Traveler, Adventurer, etc…

Identify all the roles you play in your life that you would like to devote more time to. Ideally you should have somewhere between 4 -8 roles identified. Each week you should make an effort to spend a little bit of time in each role.

My Roles:

  • Individual
  • Father / Husband
  • Family Member (son, brother, cousin)
  • Friend
  • Employee / Entrepreneur
  • Homeowner

Every week I review this list of roles to ensure that they are current.

Personal Renewal

In addition to the roles above, there are 4 special “personal renewal” roles that you should devote time to each week:

  • Physical: Eat healthy, exercise, etc…
  • Mental: Read, learn, etc…
  • Social: Strengthen existing relationships, form new relationships, networking, etc…
  • Spiritual: Meditate, nature, music, religion, etc…

3. Identify and Review your long term Goals

For each of your roles (except the personal renewal roles) your should define some long term goals. What are some big picture goals that would make a tremendous difference if you accomplish them? Make them as specific as possible and not too vague. Each week you should spend a little bit of time getting closer to your goals.

I review my goals weekly to make sure they are still important to me and that they align with my personal mission statement.

Some of my Goals :

  • Individual: Resume Painting; Climb Mt. Kilamanjaro; Visit the Pyramids of Giza.
  • Father / Husband: Weekly date night; 10 year anniversary trip; Build swing set;
  • Family: Help my father lose 50lbs; Family cottage trip; 
  • Friend: Help my friends identify and achieve their goals;
  • Homeowner: Renovate garage; Build a pool; 

4. Identify your Priorities and Plan your Week

One I’ve reviewed my mission statement, roles, and goals I’m ready to start identifying my priorities for the week and scheduling them into my calendar. For each of my roles I choose between 1 and 3 important priorities/tasks to work on that week.

Here is the process I go through to identify my priorities for the week:

  • Leftovers from the previous week: I always look back at my previous week to see if there is anything that I wanted to get done that I didn’t get done. I then decide if I want to bring these over for the current week or not.
  • Previously scheduled commitments: I look over my coming week to identify any previously scheduled commitments, holidays, events, etc… and add them to the appropriate role.
  • Maintenance and unforeseen important tasks: There are usually some “unplanned” things that pop up every week that should be added to my list of priorities: Things like paying bills, making required repairs to your home/car, etc..
  • Your Goals: Finally I look at the goals I defined for each role and make it a priority to do something that will get me a step closer towards achieving those goals.

In an ideal world all your weekly priorities would be centered around your goals, but often times there will be other important or urgent things that will compete for your time. Please read my post “The Four Quadrants of Time Management” to better understand the difference between “important” and “urgent” things.

Example of my weekly priorities:

  • Physical: Gym x2; Run x3; Nutrition
  • Mental: Learn a new Language; Read a book
  • Spiritual: Go for a solo Hike; Play Guitar; Meditate;
  • Social:  Go out for lunch with co-workers
  • Individual: Research VISA requirements for travel to Kenya; Research recommended training regiment for Mt. Kilimanjaro climb; Research estimated costs for trip;
  • Father / Husband: Buy flowers for wife; Spend 1-on-1 time with daughter; Start budget/savings plan for 10 year anniversary trip;
  • Family: Visit my father weekly (and call daily) to make sure he is following his Slow Carb Diet.
  • Friend: Go for drinks with friends;
  • Homeowner: Look at municipal pool regulations; Fall cleanup / maintenance

5. Schedule your Priorities

Using a calendar, task list, or other time management tool, schedule all of your activities into your calendar. I prefer to use the iOS calendar on my iPhone to schedule the time to perform all my priorities for the week. So if one of my priorities is to plan a family trip to Europe, then I will block off 1 hour in my schedule to perform the planning & research. It is ok if I don’t get all the planning done in the 1 hour block, what is most important is that I am chipping away towards achieving my goal. The next week, I’ll schedule another 1 hour block.

You can also use a task list or other time management tool, but I find putting all your priorities into a calendar helps you see how your realistic your week will actually be. It will also allow you to see where there will be time crunches or conflicts, etc…

Remember, the point is to get balance in your life, and to spend a little bit of time in all the “roles” you’ve defined.

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