The “ONE THING” System for Thesis Writing

To achieve a well written thesis (or Journal paper), you have to focus on three concepts and one question.  The three principles:

  1. One thing always matters more
  2. Success in sequential
  3. Success always leaves clues

And the question is:

 What’s the ONE THING I can do right now- which will make every thing else easier or unnecessary.

 A. The Three Principles

 1. One Thing Always Matters More

To achieve a well written thesis, you have to focus on answering one key question all the time:

What’s the ONE THING I can do right now- which will make every thing else easier or unnecessary

. This deceptively simple question works because it combines both a big picture perspective and a small picture laser-like focus. If you ask this question every day and then commit to working on whatever activity will generate the most value, you’ll be making the best progress you feasibly can on your thesis (or generally, the most important work).

 “There is an art to clearing away the clutter and focusing on in your academic career. It is simple and it is transferable. It just requires the courage to take a different approach.”

 – George Anders

 “Whether you seek answers big or small, asking the Focusing Question is the ultimate success habit for your life.”

– Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

 2. Success is Sequential

Nobody achieves a well written thesis in one foul swoop. Being successful is much like a game of dominoes – you start by knocking down a small domino which in turn knocks down a bigger domino until you eventually knock down a huge domino which represents big success. To achieve exceptional thesis,, you start with small sentences to build paragraphs. The paragraphs grow into sections and the sequence of sections become chapters.

All of this means you have to make asking the focusing question part of your ongoing daily routine in order for it to work its magic. The steps in ingraining the focusing question as a habit are:

  1.  Be tenacious – remind yourself it will take about 66 days for asking this question to become a habit so stick with asking it until it becomes second nature. Be serious about getting extraordinary thesis.
  2.  Set up reminders – perhaps put up a sign at work which reads: “Until my Thesisis done – everything else is a distraction.” Use notes, screen savers and calendars to give you clues. Another reminder might read: “The one thing = Extraordinary Thesis.”
  3.  Recruit support – form a thesis support group with work colleagues and get them talking about this as well. Get your spouse and family in on the act. Help others leam how this approach works.
  4.  Use it in all areas of your life – and not just your thesis. Figure out what is your one thing in all the different areas of your life and apply it with passion.

 “Success is simple. Do what’s right, the right way, at the right time.”

– Arnold Glasow

3. Success Always Leaves Clues

” The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret to getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks and then starting on the first one.”

– Mark Twain

 What’s the ONE THING I can do right now- which will make every thing else easier or unnecessary.

As you ask the focusing question consistently and persistently, the key to moving ahead is to find and then act on the great answers you will generate. You want to research, model and then integrate into your actions answers to that question which are big and specific.

To illustrate, suppose you decide that your One Thing is you need to finish your thesis. This leads to questions which can be couched several ways:

  •  A small and specific approach: “What can I do in the coming year to improve my writing speed by 5 percent?”
  •  A small but broad approach: “What can I do in the coming year to improve my writing speed?”
  •  A big, broad approach: “What can I do in the coming year to complete my thesis ?”
  •  A big and specific approach: “What can I do today which will enable me to complete my thesis in the next 6 months?”

The big and specific question is a “great question.” In practical terms, when you ask a great question like that, you’re pointing towards a major stretch goal. Big and specific questions will usually lead to big and specific answers which move you forward.

Once you have a great question framed, you can then integrate it right into your focusing question:

What’s the ONE THING I can do today to submit my thesis in 6 months – such that by doing it, every thing else easier or unnecessary.

Embedding your great question into your focusing question forces you to identify what matters most. This is always a good thing.

As you look for an answer to your great question, keep in mind answers generally come in three distinct strengths or flavors:

Those who write great theses don’t just settle for what’s easily doable or even what they can do if challenged. They go after the highly impressive possibilities which exist. To do the same, you have to think big and aim for the stars.

To uncover the possibilities which you can incorporate and integrate into your answer to a great question, the two approaches which will be helpful are:

 “Because your answer will be original, you’ll probably have to reinvent yourself in some way to implement it. A new answer usually requires new behavior, so don’t be surprised if along the way to sizable success you change in the process. But don’t let that stop you.

This is where the magic happens and possibilities are unlimited. As challenging as it can be, trailblazing up the path of possibilities is always worth it— for when we maximize our reach, we maximize our life.”

Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

 “The Focusing Question helps you identify your one thing in any situation. It will clarify what you want in the big areas of your life and then drill down to what you must do to get them. It’s really a simple process: You ask a great question, then you seek out a great answer.”

Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

 “And here is the prime condition of success, the great secret— concentrate your energy, thought and capital exclusively upon the research in which you are engaged. Having begun on one line, resolve to fight it out on that line, to lead in it, adopt every improvement, have the best techniques, and know the most about it. The concerns which fail are those which have scattered their capital, which means that they have scattered their brains also. They have intrests in this, or that, or the other, here, there and everywhere. “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” is all wrong. I tell you “put all your eggs in one basket, and then watch that basket.” Look round you and take notice; men who do that do not often fail. It is easy to watch and carry the one basket. It is trying to carry too many baskets that breaks most eggs in this country.”

– Andrew Carnegie

 “People do not decide their futures, they decide their habits and their habits decide their futures.”

 F.M. Alexander

 “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”

– Will Rogers

 “Personal productivity is the building block of all research outputs. The two are inseparable. An academic career can’t have unproductive people yet magically still have an immensely sensible outputs. Great academic careers are built on one productive researcher at a time. And not surprisingly, the most productive people receive the greatest rewards from their academic career.”

Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

 “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”

– T.S. Eliot

 “Focus is a matter of deciding what things you’re not going to do.”

 John Carmack

B. How to Achieve Extraordinary Thesis

Delivering extraordinary thesis is a six step process:

 1. Live with Purpose

Everyone naturally wants to be happy but if you go after happiness directly, all you’ll end up with are the hollow trappings rather than the real thing. To be happy, dedicate your life and your career to achieving something bigger and more far-reaching.

The question you need to ask yourself is:

 What’s the ONE THING I can do in my life that would mean the most for me and the world, such that by doing it, every thing else easier or unnecessary.

Figure out what drives you and gets you up in the morning. If you can’t do that, at least write down something big and impressive you’d like to achieve and then map out how you’d do it. Pick the direction you’d like to move in and start heading down that path with conviction and you’ll be happy.

 “Purpose is the straightest path to power and the ultimate source of personal strength— strength of conviction and strength to persevere. The prescription for extraordinary thesis is knowing what matters to you and taking daily doses of actions in alignment with it. When you have a definite purpose for your life, clarity comes faster, which leads to more conviction in your direction, which usually leads to faster decisions. When you make faster decisions, you’ll often be the one who makes the first decisions and winds up with the best choices. And when you have the best choices, you have the opportunity for the best experiences. This is how knowing where you’re going helps lead you to the best possible outcomes and experiences life has to offer.”

Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

 “Purpose provides the ultimate glue that can help you stick to the path you’ve set. When what you do matches your purpose, your life just feels in rhythm, and the path you beat with your feet seems to match the sound in your head and heart. Live with purpose and don’t be surprised if you actually hum more and even whistle while you work.”

 Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

 “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”

– George Bernard Shaw 

 2. Live by Your Priorities

When you live with purpose, you know where you want to go. Live by your priorities and you’ll see what you need to do to get there.

 “When each day begins, we each have a choice. We can ask, “What shall I do?” or “What should I do?” Without direction, without purpose, whatever you “shall do” will always get you somewhere. But when you’re going somewhere on purpose, there will always be something you “should do” that will get you where you must go. When your life is on purpose, living by priority takes precedence.”

– Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

 The key technique for living by your priorities is to use a technique called “goal setting to the now.” This works by writing down your answers to these questions:

Goal setting to the now works because it takes your long-term goals and connects them to what you need to be doing right now to be making progress. You think big but at the same time go small and specific. You are connecting your actions today to all of your tomorrows and visualizing what it will take to get to your goals. You can also think more strategically because you have a roadmap in place.

Just make certain you write down your answers to those questions. Research shows if you write your goals, you are 40% more likely to accomplish them. Write your goals down and put them somewhere where you will see them frequently.

 “Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.”

– Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

 3. Live with Productivity

 “In the end, putting together a life of extraordinary results simply comes down to getting the most out of what you do, when what you do matters. Living for productivity produces extraordinary results .”

– Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

No matter what system you prefer to use, being productive always comes down to two simple principles:

To achieve extraordinary thesis, take your calendar or appointment diary at each planning session and time block three things in this order:

  1. Time block your time off – so you can view yourself as working between vacations. You’ll be more productive if you’re relaxed and the key to that is to have some quality down-time. Set aside time to charge your batteries and know when that will be.
  2. Time block your Thesis writing – when you will focus on what makes you most productive. Aim to schedule at least four hours a day for writing your Thesis and then defend that time fiercely. Schedule it early each day when your willpower is at full strength.
  3. Time block your planning time – at least one hour each week where you will review your annual and monthly goals and track progress. At each planning session, you ponder the question: “Based on where I am right now, what’s the one thingI need t do this week to stay on track for my monthly goal and for my monthly goal to be on track for my annual goal?”

Once you have your time blocks in place, you then have to protect them with vigor. Let others know when you’ll be available and when you won’t – they will adjust reasonably quickly. If someone tries to steal your time allocated to your thesis writing time, gracefully decline and come up with alternatives. If that doesn’t work, the four strategies you can use to protect your Thesis time block are:

  1.  Build a bunker – where you have everything you need to be productive close at hand. Perhaps schedule a carrels room, in the library for yourself or something similar.
  2.  Store provisions in your bunker – supplies, materials, snacks, beverages, etc. Have everything there so you don’t need to go out and get sidetracked.
  3.  Sweep your bunker for mines – turn off your phone, shut down your e-mail, exit or even better delete your Web browser from your laptop. Be prepared to give your Thesis100 percent of your attention.
  4.  Enlist support – let those most likely to disturb you know what’s going on and when you’ll be available. They will often be highly accommodating when they see the big picture.

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

– Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

 “Productivity isn’t about being a workhorse, keeping busy or burning the midnight oil… . It’s more about priorities, planning, and fiercely protecting your time.”

– Margarita Tartakovsky

 “Efficiency is doing the thing right. Effectiveness is doing the right thing.”

– Peter Drucker

4. Make Three Commitments

To achieve extraordinary thesis on the planned time, you need to make three commitments:

  1.  Follow the path of mastery – keep aggressively and actively looking for ways to get better at thesis writing. It’s now widely accepted you have to accumulate 10.000 hours of practice to become an elite performer in any field. If you put in four hours a day for 250 workdays a year (five days a week for 50 weeks), then you’ll be starting to move ahead of the pack. Keep working at it.
  2.  Continually seek the very best way to do things – move from being receivers to becoming purposeful. Receivers are high on energy and motivation but are often low on skills while they are learning the ropes. Move beyond what comes naturally to being focused and purposeful. Keep reminding yourself that to achieve a different result, you’ve got to do something different so power through any performance plateaus and become purposeful. Look for better models and systems you can use to unlock your potential.
  3.  Be willing to hold yourself accountable for doing all you can to write your Thesis- take ownership of your outcomes. Absorb setbacks and stay result oriented. Keep moving forward even when other things are happening all around which have the potential to sidetrack you. Seek and acknowledge reality, find workable solutions and get on with it. If at all possible, have someone you report to – a coach, a supervisor, a mentor or just a friend you respect – and stay in the driver’s seat. Own what you produce.

 “Remember, we’re not talking about ordinary thesis— extraordinary thesis is what we’re after. That kind of productivity eludes most, but it doesn’t have to. When you time block your most important priority, protect your time block, and then work your time block as effectively as possible, you’ll be as productive as you can be. You’ll be living the power of The ONE Thing.”

– Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

 5. Watch out for Four Thieves

The four thieves of productivity that you need to guard against zealously are:

  1. An inability to say “No” – which means you say yes to too many projects which take you off in the wrong direction. If you can start saying “No” or at the very least saying “No, for now” to distractions, you will automatically free up more time to work on your thesis. Saying “No” is liberating.
  2. Fear of chaos – which is actually unhelpful. When you focus on your thesis writing, other matters will get moved to the back burner which sometimes creates a sense of chaos. Make peace with those feelings – they’re natural and show you’re on the right track to submission of your thesis. Learn to deal with it. What you accomplish by focusing will more than make up for temporary discomforts.
  3. Poor health habits – which ultimately mean you don’t manage your energy well. Be careful not to sacrifice your health by biting off more than you can chew. Manage your energy levels and do things to recharge your battery often. You have to manage your energy through good diet, regular exercise and good habits so you can devote as much energy as possible to your academic future.
  4. Having a work environment which does not support your goals – which makes you less likely to be moving in the right direction. Be proactive. Create a physical environment which is conducive to where you want to head. Fill it with people who will support your efforts to be productive. Don’t sabotage your best efforts to focus on your thesis writing. Have a work environment which gives you what you need to move onwards and upwards.

 “I cannot believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. I think the purpose of life is to be useful, to be responsible, to be compassionate. It is, above all, to matter, to count, to stand for something, to have made some difference that you lived at all.”

– Leo Rosten

 6. Srart Now

To achieve extraordinary thesis, you’ve got to think big but go small with what you do. Figure out what your Thesis is taking into account your purpose and then get to work maximizing the time you spend writing your thesis.

 “Actions build on action. Habits build on habit. Succss builds on success. The right domino knocks down another and another and another. So whenever you want extraordinary results, look for the levered action that will start a domino run for you. Big lives ride the powerful wave of chain reactions and are built sequentially, which means when you’re aiming for excellent thesis you can’t just skip to the end. Extraordinary doesn’t work like that. The knowledge and momentum that build as you live the one thing each day, each week, each month, and each year are what give you the ability to build an extraordinary life.”

–   Gary    Keller and Jay Papasan

 “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

– Mark Twain

 Instead of filling your life with promissory notes titled “Woulda. Shoulda. Coulda.”, get busy living a life of no regrets. Excellent thesis is always an insider job. Get into action hammering away at the first domino which leads to your Thesis and that will start a great chain reaction happening.

“When you bring purpose to your life, know your priorities, and achieve high productivity on the priority that matters most every day, your life makes sense and the extraordinary becomes possible. your excellent thesis starts within you. You know what to do. You know how to do it. Your next step is simple. You are the first domino.”

– Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

 Read more about “THE ONE THING”     here

Notes & References:

This article is a modification of  “THE ONE THING” book review by Click here  to read the original review.

  • Keller, G. (2013). The one thing: The surprisingly simple truth behind extraordinary results. Hachette UK.
  •  THE ONE THING  book is available from through this link 

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