047: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results with Jay Papasan

Welcome to episode 47 of the Food Blogger Pro podcast! In this episode, Bjork interviews Jay Papasan, coauthor of the New York Times Bestseller The ONE Thing.

Last week, Bjork interviewed Kate Parham Kordsmeier about how she doubled her income by freelance writing in the food space. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.

The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results

If you’re anything like I am, there are always more things to do than we have time for, and prioritizing what to work on every day can be really tough. As a result, we’re pulled in so many different directions working on different projects that we find it really difficult to make any measurable progress on any one thing.

If this describes you, you are not alone. Jay Papasan and Gary Keller discovered that this was a problem that faced so many of their employees and coworkers at the Keller Williams Realty group. After Gary worked for years with his employees to help them discover the things they should be focusing on, he and Jay, a NYT bestselling book editor, came together to write a book about it, called The ONE Thing.

Today, Jay joins Bjork in an interview that is sure to change the way you are thinking about your projects and priorities.

In this episode, Jay shares:

  • How he went from Real Estate professional to book author
  • Why defining a single priority can help move you forward
  • How saying no to opportunities can be relaxing
  • How to make sure you get your priority done
  • Whether you can make yourself a morning person
  • How to know what to focus on when there are so many different areas of life that need attention
  • How to take huge goals and make them manageable for today
  • What the #1 thing is that makes people succeed

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Bjork Ostrom: Welcome to episode number 47 of the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. Hey everybody, this is Bjork Ostrom. You’re listening to episode number 47 of the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. Today we are focusing in on a really important concept. This concept is focus. More specifically we’re going to be talking about a concept called The ONE Thing. It’s actually a book. It’s one of my favorite books. I read this book probably a year ago. We’re going to be talking today with the author behind that book, Jay Papasan. He co-authored the book with Gary Keller. You might recognize the Keller name from Keller Williams, one of the biggest real estate agencies in the world. Both Jay and Gary both have a lot of experience with this idea of doing less in order to do more. I think that’s something that will really resonate with the audience, the Food Blogger Pro Podcast audience because the reality is we have a lot of stuff that we have to do. We have these long list of things that we want to accomplish.

What can happen is you can get into this analysis paralysis where there’s so much to do that you just don’t do anything. The concept behind The ONE Thing is focusing on that one thing that you need to do in order to make progress, in order to move forward. I’m so excited to have Jay Papasan on to talk about this concept of how we can focus on The ONE Thing. We’re going to talk about these concepts kind of at a high level, but I’d really encourage you to check out the book as well. You can get it on any of the popular bookseller websites or in stores and it’s called The ONE Thing. Without further ado, Jay welcome to the podcast.

Jay Papasan: Hey, thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it would be really fun to chat with you. We’re chatting a little bit before this. You said you’re in Austin, Texas. I’m in Saint Paul, Minnesota. It feels like if nothing else, we have the central time zone synergy going on which is really nice. We’re really excited to have you on.

Jay Papasan: Thank you so much, excited to be here.

Bjork Ostrom: All right. I want to kick it off with this. I know that your background is in real estate and today we’re not going to be talking about real estate, believe it or not. We’re going to be talking about a book that you wrote called The ONE Thing. It’s this concept of focus, and a concept of productivity, and accomplishing big goals. I know that ties in to real estate, but it’s not necessarily the real estate niche. What led you to kind of do this shift in focus and write more of a business book as opposed to a real estate book?

Jay Papasan: The long story is like I wanted to write book when I was 12 years old. The book thing has been around for a long time. I worked in bookstores. I got a degree in English. I worked in editing in HarperCollins. When my wife and I relocated from New York to Austin, I actually got a job in real estate as a tech writer because there was no publishing here. It’s funny. The flip it on you, the real estate became a little bit of an adventure down the side path but my mentor, partner, and co-author Gary Keller, he founded what’s now the number one real estate firm in the world in terms of the number of people that have chosen to be with it. He is in the books. I remember I’m walking through the tech department and I could swear somebody was just freelancing.

I thought I said, “That’s a book cover. Are you working on a book cover to one of my colleagues?” He goes, “Yeah. You didn’t hear Gary is writing a book?” I’m like, “That’s cool,” because I thought I’d left books behind and I ran into him in the bathroom. I said, “Gary, I hear you’re writing a book? Do you remember that I used to work at HarperCollins Publishers?” He gave me that look with his head side, cocked to the side, clearly he hadn’t. He’s like, “Come in my office.” He went in there and laid out a vision for writing this like 13 books. He had this huge vision. Long story short, he had picked up 5 books that he wanted to model in the bookstore and 2 of them were books that I’ve edited when I was at HarperCollins. One was this book called Body for Life by Bill Phillips as a muscle-building book and another one was by the soccer play Mia Hamm. It was like one of those moments where all the stars kind of aligned. You heard music playing in the background.

Bjork Ostrom: Right, a harp played by an angel.

Jay Papasan: I was like, “Okay. You know I edited both of those books.” That was kind of like the next day, I had a new job. I was writing outside of his office and we wrote the first book on real estate in about 3–1/2 months. There’s the background and the books and real estate how they mash together. We’ve written a bunch of those but fundamentally this company is kind of an education and coaching company. We knew because people kept writing us. They’d read the real estate books and say, “I’m a chiropractor.” “I sell cars or whatever and I’ve been applying your book for years.” We knew that we wanted to write a book for achievement in business people. I don’t want to go into the inside baseball, but basically Gary had gone home to write an essay for the intro to a course and he called it Power of One.

I’d been in the publishing business now 20 years. Now, I remember I read those 5 pages and I thought this is a book proposal and it’s for the book. The thing that actually is the number one thing that we do well around here which is identify the priority, and give it more time and energy than anybody else.

Bjork Ostrom: Which I think is so important and such a huge concept from the book that I took away after reading it, and to describe like how I felt as I was reading through the book. The idea of starting to understand clarity and focus. I think we all understand that, but for me what it meant is like my shoulders started to relax a little bit. It was like, “Oh, this is what it feels like to start to have clarity around focus, and to start to understand and be allowed to focus on the one thing.” Before we get too far into it, let’s take a step back and go high level.

Jay Papasan: Okay. Sure.

Bjork Ostrom: You talked about that 5-page essay. I’m guessing that was kind of the foundation for the book itself. If you were to take that 5-page essay or may be the SparkNotes version of The ONE Thing, how would you describe it to people that aren’t familiar with the book or the concept?

Jay Papasan: The big idea obviously is focus. If we call it that, nobody would have bought it.

Bjork Ostrom: Right.

Jay Papasan: Gary has this thing he gets on every time he’s coaching people. It’s like, “You’re in 2 businesses; whatever it is you do and lead generation.” That course at that time was just kind of in a very nice way letting all these real estate professionals know that as much as you love selling houses, if you don’t market and prospect for customers, you’ll have nobody to service. He was trying to let people know is that there’s like we used the metaphor in the book; a domino run. It acknowledges like if you’ve ever lined up dominoes just so you can knock over one and the whole bunch fall down. It was all our acknowledgement that there’s always more than one thing on our plates. If we line things up in the right order, then it’s amazing what you can make happen with the little bit of effort. I think a lot of people, for us is helping people see the clarity of how to line things up. How to start with your first priority, and then how that will make everything else beyond it easier?

In the business context it was if you actually have a lot of leads for your potential clients. All the other things that come after it, servicing it, choosing who you want to work with all becomes so much easier and obvious for you. That was the big idea. It’s like how do you line up your dominoes so that you can get that feeling you described? Because when you know what you’re supposed to be doing, it really makes it easy to say no to the other stuff. That is very relaxing. That takes the stress out.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah right, and your shoulders relax. Right?

Jay Papasan: Yeah. I love that description.

Bjork Ostrom: The original idea as far as I understand it comes from specific to the real estate industry. This idea that it doesn’t really matter what you’re doing if you don’t have actual leads coming in that you can work with. Your first focus, your first domino has to be the idea of getting these leads in the door that then you can take the next steps whatever that would be for real estate. I don’t know what it would be. Then you can work with those people and start to develop your business and grow your business, but without that it doesn’t really matter. That’s your one thing. Once you have that, then you can start kind of the domino effect. Is that right?

Jay Papasan: That’s right. That’s where the genesis of the idea came and we made it. We spend 5 years studying people on the arts, the sciences, business, interviewing hundreds of people. It’s more of if you look at a lot of people who are extraordinarily successful and across many fields, how do they approach this question of what’s truly the priority for what I do. Then honestly I love, if you identify what your priority is, just go one step further and make that thing a habit.

Bjork Ostrom: What do you mean by that?

Jay Papasan: If you can work for a period of time and we can go into like how many days that is. If you want to go-

Bjork Ostrom: Sure, let’s do it.

Jay Papasan: You identify. Let’s just say for a blogger. If you’re the best writer in the world, you probably know this. If you’re a food blogger, what’s the number one thing? Is it content?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Jay Papasan: Right. If you don’t have content, you can’t build traffic. If you can’t have traffic, you can’t have advertising. Whatever those dominoes lined up for, then you ask the question. If content is my one thing for driving this business, what’s the habit that I could form, the activity that if I did it every day and made a real battle made that my one thing that over time that thing would become automatic? I usually compare it to like I’ve got an 11-year-old and a 10-year-old. Then we’re almost through this process with Gus and Veronica, but we’re still fighting the did you brush your teeth battle?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, sure.

Jay Papasan: As adult, you and I don’t think about this. I can stumble into the bathroom in 5 am and brush my teeth and I don’t really give it a sliver of thought. I’m looking at my children and realized, “Wow! This is a habit that I built over several years that is now so ingrained. It’s hard to forget.” The goal here is if you work to build a habit, that habit that will then work for you and how cool as if instead of it being by default, you were really purposeful and said because this is my calling. This is the thing I really want to do. I’m going to make my most important work the thing that is the foundation for everything that habit.

Bjork Ostrom: I think that one thing that’s challenging about this, that I’d love to hear you talk a little bit more is that in order to focus on the one thing, in this case and I think it’s a great example, content creation. We’re speaking specifically to people that are interested in building some type of business around the content that they create. They know that that’s so important and it’s such a struggle to be honest for so many people to consistently do that. We know that that’s the focus but what that requires is then you don’t do other things. I think that’s a huge tension point for people. Even when I say that like in my gut a little bit, I’m like, “Oh, that means like not responding to emails may be, or not posting to Twitter.” There’s a lot of not that result from focusing on the one thing. Do you have any strategies, or suggestions, or ideas for people how they can like what are the tactics for dealing with that? Also the mental tricks or the things that they can tell themselves as they deal with this tension of not doing certain things?

Jay Papasan: That’s a great question. It’s how the rubber meets the roads between an intellectual idea and execution. I really think it’s for us it’s time blocking. You’ve identified this as your core thing. I think the first step is to make a commitment on your calendar to when you’re going to do it. There’s a study that we read in the British Journal of Health Psychology. It actually came out before we published the book, but we didn’t find it until after. It didn’t make it in the first edition and we went back and added it to subsequent printings. Basically they have 3 groups of people that were all going to exercise for 20 minutes a day.

You had one group that was just going to go do it and they were the control group. They were I think 35% successful. They had a group that was the motivation group and they read this pamphlet about how 20 minutes of exercise a day was so helpful for them. It’s the blogger. If you can just write this content, or you can create this content, it will be all these things for you. They were 38% successful. Then they had the group called the intention group. They had to read that same pamphlet on the benefits of the activity but they had to do one additional thing. They had to write a statement. They called it their intention statement, “At this time, at this place, I will exercise for 20 minutes.” When you add time, place, and activity, that’s to me a calendar invite. They were over 92% successful.

Bjork Ostrom: How interesting. Wow!

Jay Papasan: It tripled their success rate. In today’s busy world, we say yes pretty easily. “Oh, I want to do that.” What we’re saying I think is you functionally have to make space for it in your life. That means you’re not doing other things. You said so much when you ask that question. I just want to like one of the fundamental ahas for me in writing this book is when we think of focus. We think of it say yes to something. The way our brain actually works when you focus on something, you’re actually making everything else go away.

Bjork Ostrom: Interesting.

Jay Papasan: I’ve gotten down this rabbit hole the word decision actually has the same root as incise, scissors. Those are all exercise. Those are all in the same family. It means to cut away things. Deciding to say yes to something like say marry your wife, it actually means you’re saying no to all the other potential wives. Back on text we’re like, “Oh, of course it does.” That actually when it’s our most important work, why would Twitter be more important to us than the more important work? I think first and foremost, clarity. It helps us to really understand why and what we’re saying yes to. When that calendar invite, just making that simple commitment may be 15 minutes a day in the beginning to start building a habit and making a stand around that activity.

I usually tell people you do it early in the morning. We have a whole chapter about willpower being available. It is most available in the morning time. On just a simple level, if you make that your first priority, then you can feel right just the rest of the day. Now when I workout in the morning, I can have a cheeseburger for lunch and I don’t feel guilty.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, or as guilty.

Jay Papasan: If I skip my workout and have a cheeseburger, it’s a whole different emotional reaction. One of my favorite tactics of all time, let’s just say you’re writing block is from 8 to 10 am in the morning. You’re going to launch your day. I try to avoid my email. This is the business I’m in by the way. I try to avoid my email before I go into it so I don’t get caught up in other people’s priorities. My favorite little strategy is when someone says, “Hey, I’m in town. I’m only in town for one day. Can you meet between 8 and 10?” I just say, “I’m so sorry. I already have made another commitment at that time. Could I meet you at 11?” Nobody ever asked you who you’re meeting with.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, right. What is the meeting that you have from that time?

Jay Papasan: Don’t ever give it away because that’s just suicide in terms of hitting your one thing. That would be like right where I go. If you just wanted people to be affected at making that commitment, I’d say put it on your calendar make it a regular recurring appointment so that when you see 8:00, or for some people it’s a trigger like within 5 minutes of walking in my office I have to start doing this activity. They get that trigger effect. They can dive into it and every day it begin. It’s always hard in the beginning but you can get a rhythm and it will get easier, and easier, and easier.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s interesting tying back to the idea of that decision turning into a habit. One of the people that I think about that is such an ultimate example of somebody who’s committed to doing something over a long period of time is Seth Godin.

Jay Papasan: Oh my God.

Bjork Ostrom: He has this just an incredible marketing blog and somebody asked him. This was on like after he had published a post like his 10,000th post. Just an incredible number and probably one of the highest single contributor blogs in terms of numbers and content and also probably traffic. He said that he views it the same as he would view eating breakfast or brushing his teeth where it’s something that is a non-negotiable. When you view it like that, then you treat it differently than something that is a negotiable. It’s similar to what I hear you saying where you commit to it. You put it in your calendar and after a while, it becomes such a habit that it doesn’t feel like you’re doing something extra. It feels like you’re doing the norm or the habit. I think that’s such a powerful concept. The idea-

Jay Papasan: I think a lot of people hear the word habit. They kind of think it’s kind of a turn off. The other word I would just suggest to people who are listening to this is like, “I don’t want to be a robot. I don’t want to do that.” We all have routines, or in another way you might think of as a ritual. It is a commitment you’re making. I think it’s the most important commitment we can make is when we understand what are our calling is if we’re so blessed like this is the thing I really want to do with my time in my life. This is the one thing to make that happen, making that stand gets a little easier.

Bjork Ostrom: A few questions that I want to dig in to that you had covered as you talk through that stuff. One of the things I’m curious to know, so I’m a morning person. I love the idea of blocking out time and working on things in the morning. I know some people would consider themselves a “night owl.” When you think of people that are in that night owl category, combined with the ideas that you talked about with willpower and focus and focusing in on the morning. What do you have to say to those people when you run into those people?

Jay Papasan: I think that morning is when you wake consistently. If you work the night shift and you slept from 8 am to 3 pm, then morning time for you would be around 3 in the afternoon. First off, I think it’s relative. Two, except for a very small percentage of people, there is no such thing as morning people and night people. That’s just what we’ve trained ourselves to be. I know this, from my personal because I’m a writer. I’ve like books my whole life. I like movies. I like to stay up late. I became a morning person which everyone in my professional life now thinks of me as because I had babies.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Jay Papasan: What did they do? They trained my wife and I to get up early. My wife got up in the night and I was the morning time feeder. Gus my first born was an early riser. I was up like at 5:30 every day. You do that long enough, and what happens on Saturday when you try to sleep in?

Bjork Ostrom: You get up.

Jay Papasan: You wake up at 5:30 whether you want to or not because your body has been trained. I think it’s just what we choose to do but I don’t give people grief if they sleep in until 10 every day. I said great. Then at 10:00 when you first wake up, have a healthy breakfast. I think that’s an important foundation. Then if you all possible, launch your day with a series of rituals that make your life absolutely happen. We work out in the morning and we eat in the morning. I’m working hard. I’m trying to bring meditation to my mornings. I failed about 3 times last year. I tried. I’m not giving up.

Bjork Ostrom: That was actually if you want to spend more time with this, one of the questions I wanted to ask you is just kind of a sneak peek into what your routine looks like. I think that understanding the routines, I won’t use habits. The routines of people that have adopted this and have been successful in doing that is helpful. Curious, what’s your routine?

Jay Papasan: We get up pretty much every day around 5:10. Long story short, first the journey of making a habit, some of the research we share in the book is that on average it takes 66 days. I often refer to those as a 66-day challenge. If I can just do this for 66 days which makes it more fun. Then I can acquire this new habit theoretically. One of the first ones I did was a health one. I had in 2011 back surgery and before that I weighed about 245 pounds. Today, I’m at 213 as of this morning. I’ve lost about more than 50% of my body fat. It was just a transformation.

Bjork Ostrom: Oh, that’s incredible.

Jay Papasan: The first domino, I was like I played with portions. I played with diet. My wife wanted to get better shape too. I just said, “Well, let’s work out together. I think if we’re working out together that will be the thing. The key stone habit that makes everything else work.” We had small kids. We didn’t want to get a babysitter to go to the gym. That just seems stupid. We didn’t want to leave each other. What we resorted to and this is a big part of how it works now is 3 times a week, Monday, Wednesday, Friday, a trainer comes to our house. He used to show up at our door at 5 am which sucked. I just hate him. That’s even before Gus would wake up, right?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Jay Papasan: That was when I knew that if we were done at 6, we would still be done before our children woke up. We didn’t have to worry about being out in the driveway and missing some baby crying or whatever. They weren’t infants. They could have come downstairs and talk to us, but that was the whole idea. That’s still a big part of our structure and we get up early on the other days. We read. We have a big breakfast together, usually a healthy breakfast. I get the kids up. That’s because my wife owns a real estate business. I’m running the publishing business. I can’t really pick them up in the afternoon. She can. I did the morning rituals. Then we have breakfast as a family.

When I get to the office, there’s a 2-step for me. I need to do it before I get to the office, or when I get to my work space. I’m usually looking at my calendar. I’m asking the question what does my time block look like today, because to me goal setting is all about if I know what my one thing is, how much time do I need to allocate to make the progress I need to make? That’s a weekly ritual for me, and then all I have to do in the morning is look at my calendar and that’s my boss. I just try to look to that and I think I hinted at this. As much as humanly possible, I tried to avoid email. If I have to, I set a timer like a Pomodoro timer.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah sure. Can you explain that for those that aren’t familiar?

Jay Papasan: Pomodoro, I’m sure your cooks know this. It’s a kitchen timer that’s shaped like a tomato. The Pomodoro method is this idea that we can focus in sprints for about 20 to 25 minutes and really make a lot of progress without distraction. Take a 5-minute break and then go out at it again for 25 minutes. I used a thing called egg.timer. It’s a free thing that has a Pomodoro function. Then I’ll give myself 20 minutes to do all my social media and my email. I batch it so that I’m using that time clock as a way to not get lost in it. I’m trying to be really efficient with that.

Bjork Ostrom: Right. The idea of being not so common that we fill the time that we allot to work on some things. If you put 20 minutes to social media, then you’ll do 20 minutes of intentional social media. If you do 4 hours for social media, then you’ll probably find a way to fill 4 hours and I think that’s so smart to put those time constraints on it.

Jay Papasan: It’s a little bit of a habit for me now, but I still try to set the clock. I can’t remember the name of the law now. I want to say it’s not Moor’s Law but its work will fill the time. You get it?

Bjork Ostrom: Yup.

Jay Papasan: I try to get email very little time in the morning and I was trying to describe to my co-worker Jeff. He was saying, “What’s your goal there?” To me, I’m trying to send out my intentions versus respond to others.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Jay Papasan: I’m trying to send out objectives to the team or whatever. Here’s what we’re working on today or that versus being responsive to a lot of other people’s needs.

Bjork Ostrom: Does that apply to email for you too?

Jay Papasan: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay. Maybe you’ll reply to a few emails but you’re primary purpose is sending out communication via email?

Jay Papasan: Yeah. If our CEO, if Gary our founder and my partner, like there’s a few people in there that I will see priority too, but otherwise … My wife, there’s one. There’s people that I will see in priority too, but otherwise I’m flagging them. When I get done with my writing period usually around lunch, I’ll do another big batch, with a longer batch. I’ll spend a lot more time responding.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay, sure.

Jay Papasan: I didn’t really message this out to the world. I just kind of started doing it. After a while, people who work with me realized that if they needed an answer, they need to make it really clear in the email. Can you answer this first thing? Because they kind of knew that it wouldn’t come until lunchtime otherwise, or they just come by my office, or call me. You can retrain the world when the world knows that you work out at 5:00. They try to be at your door before you leave.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s interesting because I think that’s one of the biggest things that people deal with potentially is not necessarily themselves being able to focus or work on a certain things but it’s the perception of others. They’re not getting back to them. As different communication tools like Slack or just in general what people expect to get in response time for email, as that stuff changes and becomes shorter and shorter. I think there’s an increased pressure for people to feel responsible to get back to people. I think like you said if you are intentional to create those routines, then people start to learn what those are. One of the things that I’ve started to do when I have to check out for a long period time is just check in with our team and say, “Hey, just so you know I’m going to be off for 4 hours today. Maybe it’s such a huge pressure for me to feel like I need to check in all the time.”

Jay Papasan: We do it when we go … I love that you do that, so bravo. If you were to go on a 2-week vacation, you would set up an automatic reply to your email. I know people and I’ve done it. If you’re really going to be trying to tune out for a greater time, you can set up an autoresponder saying, “Hey, I will not be in my email from 8 am to noon today. I apologize for the inconvenience. I will be checking and returning messages at noon today. I just trained about 100 people to do that and they were all shocked. This is the thing, the moment we set expectations with the people we worked with. An autoresponder is setting expectations for when I will hear you and respond to you. Most people, it’s not about the immediacy. They just want to know that they will be heard and have an expectation for when you’ll respond.

Bjork Ostrom: Right.

Jay Papasan: It doesn’t have to be right now.

Bjork Ostrom: I think consistency is such a huge piece of that, that it’s not 5 minutes one time and then 3 days the next. It has some type of rhythm to it. It is what I think is important.

Jay Papasan: Social media, Slack, a lot of those aren’t designed with that in mind. I actually just assigned one of my interns. I was like, can you go figure out? I know I can do this for Twitter but can I do this for Facebook messenger? How do I create an auto-reply to set expectations so that people don’t think I’m being a jerk because I don’t want to check every single bucket, every single day? I know as a business person, I need to kind of control my real estate so to speak in those areas so that someone don’t just grab jaypapasan.com and start a competitive business. It’s a little bit of attention between the 2 of me trying to set expectations and signaling to the world that, “Hey, I only check those buckets like LinkedIn once a week. I can’t be there all the time.”

Bjork Ostrom: One of the things that I want to talk about is this idea of the one thing as it … You mentioned buckets right now in regards to social media and different channels and things. The one thing in regards to the multiple different buckets that we balance in life. I know a lot of people that listen to this have a family. They’re trying to grow their business. For a lot of people in the food world, but we have a lot of people that listened that don’t have anything to do with food and they just want to listen to podcast because they enjoy it. They have their family. They have their business. They might have a part-time or full-time job as they’re trying to do their side hustle. There’s the exercise piece.

What happens is I feel like it has the potential for all of these different focus items. All of these different one things to pop up. Then you have multiple one things. Is that how you have to look at it? Each bucket has one thing that you’re focusing on at that time? Or would one bucket kind of rise up in terms of importance and that’s the one thing that lead domino be in front of all of them? How does that work?

Jay Papasan: This is one great question. When people really start to internalize it, they think about what will this look like for me? It always comes up. We address it on page 114 of the book and there’s a graphic that’s got 7 circles. It’s the 7 circles of your life where we think you should be asking the focusing question which we haven’t really revealed. It’s not like I’m spoiling the book. It’s kind of the heart of the book. What’s the one thing I can do such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or necessary? Long story short, when you ask that question in an area of your life, most of us kind of know the answer and are kind of guilty for not doing it, or we just don’t trust our answer.

We acknowledge that although this is a business book and primarily we want people to ask that there, there are these other areas. For Gary and I, and I think everybody is to themselves we felt like we limit it to 7 buckets. I don’t think it’s appropriate to ask the focusing question for what movie we’re going to watch on Netflix tonight.

Bjork Ostrom: For most people.

Jay Papasan: That’s going to be a little OCD unless you’re a movie critic, right?

Bjork Ostrom: Yes.

Jay Papasan: For us, it started with your spiritual life. If you don’t know why you’re here, you might be postponing a question you’ll regret later. If that domino is in good shape, then your physical health will be the next place. If you don’t take care of your body, where are you going to live? The subtitle of our book is the surprisingly simple truth behind extraordinary results. All of these priorities, spiritual then physical is based on that. If you’re going to achieve big things, you need energy. Usually big things don’t happen overnight. It’s more of a marathon. Maintaining your physical health, a lot of people sacrifice that way too easily. It’s just very dangerous. That’s where burnout and a lot of things happen.

The third one is personal life. I think for whatever reason, guys in general in my experience are a little bit better about having a hobby. It’s really important for people to think about what is it that I do just for me so that I can just have that time? I personally love to read. That’s my pastime. It always has been. There are other things that I do, but making time a habit around that; then relationships, then your job, your business if you have one. The difference between job and business, if you own Southwest Airlines, you would be the owner of the low-cost airline. That was their one thing. That drove all of their strategy. What’s your job in that company and how does it relate to it?

Garry Keller my partner is the founder of this real estate company. He’s not the CEO. He’s not the president. He kind of sees his job as setting the vision and being the lead coach which is why he writes books because that’s what visionaries do. His job description relates to that. Then finally finances. It was actually was the lowest priority in terms of where you would start. We kind of walked through that how we would approach that question. I usually tell people, “Ask the question. What are the areas of my life that if they weren’t working, would really make me unhappy?”

Bjork Ostrom: Interesting. It is so often, it’s those first dominoes or those first circles that you talked about.

Jay Papasan: Spiritual life, physically health, and personal life, and key relationship is right after it. I have had some working moms and dads come up to me and really argue how could I put my hobbies above my children?

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Jay Papasan: I usually recited them the line that they hear when they’re waiting for the airplane to takeoff. When the oxygen mask deploys, do you put it on yourself first or your kids first?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, right. You put on yourself.

Jay Papasan: The reason is if you don’t take care of yourself, you may not be there to take care of them. I encourage people, it doesn’t mean you need to play golf 36 holes on Saturday and Sunday and not see your family. I’m talking about do you have something that’s just for you so that you have that place to relieve stress. That you have that ability to really decompress which is what hobbies do for people. They get into flow. Some of the happiest times that people report is when they’re actually doing their hobbies. It also lowers their stress which is longevity health. It’s alignment of a lot of things.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. That allows you to be a better parent, and caregiver, and available to those that really need you as oppose to if you’re to flip flop always or maybe you’d feel deprived to that and be at a deficit in terms of your well-being, or centeredness, or general happiness and therefore wouldn’t be as effective at doing that.

Jay Papasan: I think you’ve probably seen … I’ve seen people who’ve done that and then end up resenting those relationships.

Bjork Ostrom: Right.

Jay Papasan: They take a victim attitude and say, “It’s because of you I had to give up my life.” That’s not the role model we want to do for our kids.

Bjork Ostrom: Right. The other thing that I appreciate so much of what you’re talking about is this idea of the marathon in the long term and how important it is to commit to something long term. We work in a niche where there’s a lot of people that want to start something and have a really successful, really quick. Maybe people want to transition out of their full time job and they love the idea of working for themselves, and they want to do that as soon as possible. People get burnt out so quick. I think that long term mindset is something that’s so valuable. One of the questions that I had as it relates to that idea of long term versus short term and the one thing, is how do you know if your one thing is too big or too small? If I pick something that’s going to be my one thing, but it’s this massive idea and I don’t really know how to wrap my head around it. How do people approach kind of focusing in on their one thing and having that be the appropriate size?

Jay Papasan: There’s the one thing being their big goal they’re trying to achieve or their one thing meaning like why am I here? I just want to get clear on the question.

Bjork Ostrom: You bet. The one thing meaning the goal that they want to achieve. The thing that their working towards.

Jay Papasan: Got it. We have a section of the book which was really great for me because I learned so much interviewing my partner on this. It’s that goal setting to the now. One of the challenges we have if you’re trying to do the marathon, the really big and I would just say, “First off, you can never think too big.” Because when you ask a big question like how do I get a million dollars from my blog or a million dollars from my food truck in net income a year, you have to start looking for answers that are really huge. Even if you fall short, you’re going to go a lot further than if you were asking the question, “How do I replace half my income with this endeavor?”

We would always tell our kids to think big and I would say, “It opens up more doors than you can imagine.” Every time I think I’m thinking big, I look up 3 or 4 years later and go, “Gosh, I was thinking so small.” I know this from a lot of entrepreneurs when they challenge themselves on this and then they stick to it. They always look back and go I should have thought bigger. I usually tell people shoot for the moon. The goal setting of the now operates like this. You have a someday goal. It might be that thing that feels almost untouchable. Then you ask a series of questions to move this thing is in the future which science tells us has very little impact on how we behave today.

A big goal in the future doesn’t have much emotional impact today. It just feels too far away. We want to walk it back. I would say, “What’s the one thing that I need to accomplish in the next 5 years?” That’s the first time frame. If I did that thing, I would feel like I was on track for that someday goal and most people can guess that.

Bjork Ostrom: Can we do an example here because I think this will be helpful for people?

Jay Papasan: Sure. Yeah, let’s do it.

Bjork Ostrom: I feel like for a lot of people, as it pertains to business and listening to this podcast would be working on their blog or their whatever it is. Wherever they’re creating content, YouTube, let’s say blog, maybe it’s a podcast that they’re doing, to be doing that full time.

Jay Papasan: Got it.

Bjork Ostrom: Somebody’s coming to the table and saying, “This is what I want to do.” What would you say to that person? For a lot of people that’s a pretty big goal, but would you say hey-

Jay Papasan: That means they’re earning their living from it, right?

Bjork Ostrom: Yup.

Jay Papasan: You get to be that person and I’ll be the coach.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay.

Jay Papasan: Tell me if I’m correct. I’m a southerner. Is that Bjork?

Bjork Ostrom: Bjork, yeah, yeah.

Jay Papasan: Okay. I just like I had to just get it out there for the first time and it’s on recording. Here we go, now Bjork.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, I know for sure.

Jay Papasan: What would you have to accomplish in the next 5-year? What’s the one thing that if you did that, you would feel like you were absolutely on track for achieving that goal?

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. My one thing would be working on my blog full time.

Jay Papasan: You’d be working on your blog full time in 5 years. Great! In one year, we’re going to back that up. What would you have to have accomplished by the end of this year to feel like you were on track for that 5-year goal?

Bjork Ostrom: I would say that I would have to have systems in place that allowed me to consistently create content and promote it without feeling burnt out.

Jay Papasan: Got it. That’s a really sophisticated answer because I kind of know what you’re talking about. I like that. Great! We’ll back it up again. What would you have to have accomplished at the end of this month? One month to feel like you are on track for that one year goal?

Bjork Ostrom: I would say that I would have 4 to 5 conversations with people that are doing working full time and learning from them what their schedule is. Then reverse engineering that and applying it to my life, and then kind of building that outline?

Jay Papasan: You’d have to have 4 or 5 conversations with people who have achieved your goal? Then do those other things?

Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jay Papasan: Awesome. What would you have to accomplish this week to feel like you’re on track for that one month goal?

Bjork Ostrom: I would have to make those connections; send the email, make the call, reach out on Twitter those people and see if they’d be willing to connect, or maybe if they have a resource that already exist that they could point me to.

Jay Papasan: Cool. What would you have to do by the end of today to feel like you’re on track for that one week goal?

Bjork Ostrom: I would write down who those people are and build the draft to that email that I would be sending out, and maybe run it by somebody to see if it makes sense to them and if they would have any recommendations for changing it.

Jay Papasan: Okay. That’s the process.

Bjork Ostrom: Cool.

Jay Papasan: Now the whole point here is I don’t know the further out you get, I don’t know how accurate that is but it’s all about course correction. You want to start with action, really focused action today. That’s you know is lined up as best you can imagine towards your goal. The challenge most of us have as entrepreneurs is we see all the things that we could be doing. It’s really hard to know the handful that we should be doing, much less the one where our focus should be. There’s this trick when you work backwards from a goal, it’s like looking back on your life. You think about looking forward. There’s a million places you could go, but if you look backwards in time, you only went down one path.

Bjork Ostrom: Right.

Jay Papasan: You’re playing with that but you’re doing it from the future perspective. I’ve interviewed so many entrepreneurs when you say, “How did you arrive at that. Whether they’re conscious of it or not, they’re kind of doing this walk backwards from the future thing and it really gives them focus. At the end of the first week, let’s just say your one-week goal was off. You would know that and you would be course correcting towards the end of your month. At the end of one year if that was too small or whatever, you would be course correcting before year 2 on your progress to your 5 year goals.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Jay Papasan: I think that’s kind of fundamentally how we could take a really crazy audacious goal and have something kind of concrete and manageable to work on this week or today.

Bjork Ostrom: I think that’s so great. The idea and part of it answers the question I was going to ask is finding clarity around what that focus point should be. Here, you give the example of starting with a really big goal that you have and then working backwards. I think is a great example of how you can get there and maybe asking yourself those same questions like what is your … Would you recommend 5-year goal? Is that kind of what you say?

Jay Papasan: Five years is about as far out as most of us can imagine, any kind of accuracy. Go beyond that, it’s just way crystal ball time.

Bjork Ostrom: Yes.

Jay Papasan: I just say beyond that, it’s a someday goal. Maybe you just start with the 5-year goal. I’m fine with that. My wife and I set out with a someday goal of being network millionaires when we wrote the book The Millionaire Real Estate Investor. I’ll be real quick. We set a 5-year goal of having identified and had purchased 5 rental properties; on our act of purchasing 10. The one year goal would be to or just one. We thought 10 properties would get us there. One year goal is like we have to buy one. Then what we have to do this month is say 1/12th of what we thought the down payment would be. This is back ways, but back then we just felt like if we could save an additional income of about 1,500 a month we would be on track for that big goal.

The first 2 years like I did like $10,000 worth of freelance. We were so focused on that we meet our $1,500 that a lot of times we actually blew past it. We actually hit those goals a lot faster than we thought we would. We acquired the properties a lot faster because we just were focused on that little activity especially when it comes down to numeric goals like with money, and savings, and activities. You can come and work backwards and you start down that path and you get smart really quick.

Bjork Ostrom: I think what it also helps do is re-adjust the goals where it helps to put in perspective what that number means. You can say millionaire in 5 years for instance, but it’s like unless you really dive into that and start to reverse engineer what that would take in order to build up to it. It’s really hard to understand what that looks like week to week and month to month. I think when you break it down and take those small steps forward, it can really help clarify that which I think is great.

Jay Papasan: It becomes a plan.

Bjork Ostrom: For sure.

Jay Papasan: Otherwise it’s just kind of wishful thinking.

Bjork Ostrom: Right, for sure. The example that I can tie back to that I think is a good example for the work that we do is we knew that we wanted to start this site for people in food space. We’re food bloggers and we had a lot of people ask how we made the transition into doing that as a job and kind of build a career out of it. We knew we wanted to start the site. It was this huge thing where there’s content. There was this, the podcast. We would knew when to start a podcast. We want to have all these different elements of it. It was almost just overwhelming. As I looked at it and stepped back I was like, “What do we need to do?” The small step that we needed was to actually like build a website.

The first thing that we needed to do was get somebody to do that. I listened … It was a handful of podcast about membership sites. Then I sent an email to one of the guys that had been interviewed, talking about how he built, designed, and developed a membership site and said, “Would you be interested in helping us do this?” It was just such a small step but it was that small step that was the first domino that moved us forward in what is now like it’s a business that we have a team and we’re building. It goes back to those really small steps along the way and how those add up over time.

Jay Papasan: I love that example because just the sending out that email, and now you’ve got a phone call lined up with somebody. As a professional, he’s going to give you a quote. Then you have to decide can we afford that quote, or should we get another? It just starts things falling. There’s a momentum. I usually coach people, “If you’re going after something big, you can start really, really small.” Just experience the momentum because that will give you confidence. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of this guy BJ Fogg. I ran into him at South by Southwest. He teaches people how to build habits. He announced … He’s this little kind of frail looking guy, a scientist. He said, “He had done 77 pushups today.” I was thinking, “That’s a lot of pushups.”

Bjork Ostrom: Right.

Jay Papasan: He had come up with this crazy formula where every time he had to take a pit stop during the day, and he said on average that’s 7 times a day. “I have to do 11 pushups.” He goes, “Just so you know, I could only do one in the beginning. I was doing 7 pushups a day.” I think that just experiencing that, “Okay, I can do one.” Then, “Wohoo! I got it done.” Then tomorrow, I’ll see if I can do 2. Enjoy that progress and I just think most people don’t realize how fast it will ramp up. It just ramps up enough. It will be scary for most people. It’s okay to start small, feel the success so you don’t get discouraged and then just stay with it.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. One of the last questions that I was curious about Jay, I know that after writing this book and speaking all around the world, and all around the US on this topic that you have a lot of stories and you hear from people that have experienced success because of this concept of The ONE Thing and focusing in on this. Then seeing extraordinary results because of it. What are some of the common traits that you see with those individuals that are able to successfully implement this?

Jay Papasan: Wow! That is such a great question. I think even … It’s the first time someone have asked me that particular question. I’m going to think about it. I don’t want to just blurt something out.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay. That’s great.

Jay Papasan: I think I’ve got a sense. I think that the ones who stick with it, I’ve talked to a lot of people who started new habits. There’s this kind of 4-hour work week thing where a lot of people, I’m using that. I don’t mean to use that in a derogatory sentence but I think of a lot of guys I know that listened to that. They’re always trying to come up with these life hacks. You think it’s faster and quicker, but I sometimes ask the question, “Why was that important to tackle it all?” The stories that matter to me are the ones that are about the deeper meaning in life. I’m thinking about a guy who heard me speak and at that time of my life, I was walking my children to school. I had made that my one thing. It was a big moment for me in my life because everything was going on but I made a stand around that little step. Even if I had to drive in the rain and park away, so we get to hold hands because I was like, “Until they won’t hold my hand any longer, this is something I can’t get back. I will regret not doing.”

He wrote me and he said, “For the last 6 months, I made a stand around walking my daughter to school and it’s changed everything else in my life.” I think that they find an emotional anchor. It might be something trivial. It might be something about … I said trivial. It sounds trivial but like walking your kid to school, how can that change your life? I think what people do is they realized because they started with something that’s emotionally important. They’re actually going to commit to it and do it. The moment they take back control, they learn that they can say no to the world and yes to this thing. It’s very empowering. What I see is like an awakening. It’s like holy cow! I can actually take control of my time and the things I’m giving up that I’m not getting to do, which is the language you used before you give them up, don’t really matter that much anymore.

I think that would be, if you’re using that question like a great coach, you share with your audience. If you wanted to start down that path, that’s why we have those 7 circles. Maybe it’s a spiritual habit, or a physical habit, or a personal habit, or a key relationship. Something in those first 4 that’s very meaningful to you that will give you the confidence, and then you piggyback on that. Then it’s the next domino and the next domino.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome. I feel like a great note to end on. Jay, where can people follow along with what you’re doing? I know that you speak often and obviously you’re an author. Where can people find you, follow along? Then where can they find the book?

Jay Papasan: Sure. They can go to the1thing.com with a number 1. It’s the1thing.com. It’s got everything about the book and everything that we’re doing there. Luckily, Jay Papasan which I’m sure is in your show notes on your blog, it’s so googleable. We were talking-

Bjork Ostrom: Similar to Bjork Ostrom.

Jay Papasan: Yeah. I’m going to be easy to find. I accept invitations on LinkedIn. I can’t so much on Facebook but I respond to queries. Just as long as people know on Twitter, Facebook, all those social places. If they want to reach out to me, just be patient because like I said I don’t check those buckets every day. I do try to get to them. That’s where I often hear back from the readers.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it. Jay thanks so much for coming on the podcast, really appreciate it.

Jay Papasan: Thank you. I love what you’re doing.

Bjork Ostrom: Hey, thanks a lot. That’s a wrap for episode number 47. One more quick plug to check out The ONE Thing. If you just googled The ONE Thing book, you’ll be able to go to that website. Check that out may be first from the website. You can also get it from stores like Amazon, Barnes & Noble. Anywhere that books are sold, you’ll be able to find The ONE Thing. It’s one of my favorite reads from the last year. I’d really encourage you to check that out and really encourage you to apply those concepts in your life, focusing in on that one thing at a time; the one thing that can help that domino effect to keep things progressing forward so you can achieve those big goals. Jay thanks so much for coming on to the podcast, really appreciate your insights, your knowledge, and your willingness to share that with our community. That’s a wrap for this episode, until next time. Make it a great week.

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  1. I loved the book when I first read it and have read it many times since. However, Bjork, you really helped to clarify the concepts even further in this podcast with your great questions. I have listened to Jay on other podcasts but came away this time with a lot more insight and learning. Thank you. I will be listening to this again and again 🙂

  2. Another great podcast, I especially like the examples which are discussed. I just happen to be reading the book ‘the power of habit’ at the moment which fits with this podcast perfectly as well. I would highly recommend this book as well for people being interested in this type of thing.

  3. This was probably the best podcast I heard in a while. I did listen to him in Portfolio life as well, but Bjork’s questions were much more helpful to break down Jay’s vision.
    I just bought the book as well. Looking forward to applying it to my business.
    Well done, Bjork!