Focus: What I learned from Jay Papasan’s “The ONE Thing”

The Hunter who chases two rabbits catches neither one.

-Russian proverb

A few weeks ago, my friend, Vince, and I were discussing how the most successful people and organizations have a clear focus on a simple goal. Conversely, the topic arose of how those that struggle are far more likely to be aiming at too many targets or continuously changing their point of aim. Vince reached back on his shelf and handed me a book and suggested that I give it a read. That’s how I was introduced to “The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results” by Jay Papasan.

I would highly recommend reading this book to anyone who feels they would benefit from greater focus.

Although the entire book was an enlightening (and quick) read, I was struck most by Part One which focuses on Six Lies between You and Success. Each of these contains a great idea which we should consider deeply as we are striving to reach our goals.

The six are as follows:

Everything Matters Equally

This may seem obvious, but if your ‘To Do’ list has 20 items, which do you work on first?  The most important tasks, right?  It’s quite logical that we shouldn’t attack the list randomly or based on the order in which the tasks were discovered.

Almost everyone has heard of the Pareto Principle: 80 percent of the outputs (profit, defects, opportunities) are yielded by 20 percent of the inputs (products, operations, challenges). Although the math sometimes varies by a few percent, the basic premise holds and applies across many parts of life and business.

“So what?” you ask? Well, if you could derive 80% of the potential benefits from working only 20% of the issues, ask yourself how important it is to prioritize.

Two people – putting forth the same effort – could derive vastly differing results. Randomly working on 20% of the tasks (or working on them as they are presented to you), you can expect to accomplish 20% of the results. But by focusing on the significant few you could accomplish 80% of the results (4 times as much!).

Taking time at the beginning of any project to prioritize almost always pays off.


Many people pride themselves on their ability to multitask. This is a huge issue in the modern world.

After watching the difference between those that tackle and complete one task at a time vs. those who attempt to juggle, I am convinced that multitask is a myth and one of the biggest time wasters in our society.

Want proof? Watch this video for a test of how good you are at multitasking. It is eye opening.

A Disciplined Life

Many are attracted to the idea that successful people have incredible powers of discipline and can stay on task better than most, but I call Bull. Success is about doing the right thing not about doing everything right.

Building good habits is a key to success in any endeavor. The challenge in building good habits is to lay a good foundation. Once you force the action for a period of time, it will become a habit.

How long? Well, a study by the University College of London has determined that it takes 66 days, on average, to form a new habit.

Willpower is Always on Will Call

The famous ‘Marshmallow Test,’ performed by Walter Mischel in the 1960s, challenged children to find those that could forgo one treat now in exchange for two treats later. Only 30% of the children tested were able to delay eating the marshmallow during the 15 minute test – which in itself was interesting.

Of far greater note, however, was the fact that following the kids into adulthood, those who had ‘passed’ the test scored an average 210 points higher on their SAT’s, were 30 percent less likely to be overweight, and had far lower rates of drug addiction…. Wow!

The thing to remember is that willpower is a finite human resource. There are things that build our willpower and things that deplete our willpower. If we understand and are aware of this phenomena, we can greatly improve what we are able to accomplish.

Many of us are familiar with coming home from a tough day of work and making bad choices about food, exercise, or alcohol. This is likely an example of consuming your willpower energy in one place and not having enough remaining for other parts of your life later.

A Balanced Life

Work-life balance is a term that has gained favor in the past decade or two, but if you consider the term carefully, you will see it is a myth.

Putting strong focus in any area will, by definition, limit your attention in other. We like to think and dream of balance, the noun, but in reality what we are really doing is balancing, the verb.

This is a very important distinction. Once we reject the nirvana of ‘a balanced life’ and realize that we must work on balancing, the picture becomes much clearer.

There will be times when certain aspects of our work lives or our personal lives will dominate. The key is to be aware of this and apply the appropriate counter-balances. It’s OK to go out of balance – all greatness happens at the periphery. Just make sure to realize it and provide the counter-balance.

As part of the balancing act, it is critical to prioritize what is really important. The following quote by James Patterson paints a great picture;

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

Big is Bad

The vast majority of the human race is more comfortable moving along consistently day to day with changes being incremental (at best).

Destroying this type of thinking is critical to achieving major success. Think big. Aim for 2X, 5X, 10X growth. Imagine your life and/or your business in the state that you dream it to be.

Aiming low creates artificial ceilings.

The second half of this is to take action. The difference between dreams and goals is an action plan. What resources will you need? What path will you take? What obstacles must be overcome? Whose help will you need?

Think big, act bold, don’t fear failure.

These are the keys to positioning yourself for greatness.

One of the most rewarding parts of the work I do is not the ability to help companies grow, but instead to help individuals grow with their companies.  

If you think any of the aforementioned six lies may be holding you back, let’s talk. Together, we can create a plan that will avoid these pitfalls and put you on the path to reaching your potential.


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