The most conflicting book you’ll ever listen to

I recently listened to the most conflicting (yet insightful) audiobook on the planet. It’s a big call I know, but hear me out.

The ONE Thing, written by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan, explores the benefits of prioritising a single task at a time, dismissing the notion that multi-tasking is an enviable skill or a skill at all. It argues that if we are to contribute anything meaningful to the world and master a particular skill we must focus on one thing at a time, with all of our energy and efforts, before moving onto another task.

It’s slightly controversial but raises some valid points. And if you’re anything like me, it’ll make you nod your head in agreement as you realise you’re guilty of trying to master 17 different things in the space of 45minutes instead of focusing on just one at a time.

I found it liberating in the sense that it teaches the reader (or listener in my case) that it’s okay to say no. That, in fact, it’s absolutely necessary to say no to things that distract you from achieving the goals you want. Keller and Papasan point out that if you try and do too many things at once (a trap which a lot of us fall into) you will face one of two destinies. The first, most likely scenario, is you won’t do them all. On the way to yogalates, you’ll remember you forgot to do your 30 minutes of creative writing in the down time you had between your two hour gym session and guitar lesson. If by some miracle, you end up completing all your activities, the second most likely scenario is you’ll hit a plateau and end up being average at all of these things, instead of proficient in one.

Ultimately, the book delivers a similar message to a number of other, more well known titles, including Essentialism and The 4 Hour Work Week which can be distilled down to

here are some ideas on how to get sh*t done.

Put another way, one of my favourite humans on the planet, Derek Sivers, said: “Don’t be a donkey” and be so torn between drinking water or eating food that you end up dying of starvation and dehydration. Sivers believes you can do everything you ever wanted, you just need to break these dreams down and focus on one thing at a time before moving on to the next.

On face value, all of this is great and I am all for living a more productive and satisfying life. But, as my title suggests, I also found this book conflicting. About 10 minutes into listening to the book I started feeling this overwhelming sense of guilt. You see, the main benefit I find with audiobooks is it allows you to dramatically increase your consumption of books. You can put these bad boys on 1.5X speed (or 2X speed if you like to live dangerously) and listen anytime, anywhere.

So here I was sitting in traffic with The ONE Thing playing and it dawned on me that by listening to this audiobook at the same time as driving I was literally exhibiting the behaviour the authors deem so unproductive and ineffective. Not to worry, I thought. I’ll listen to it when I get home while doing the dishes. But wait, that’s multitasking, isn’t it? Well, what if I go for a walk around the neighbourhood with my headphones in? I guess that’s technically multitasking too.

So if you’re considering listening to this book, perhaps look into renting an empty room and learning levitation so you can float, motionless in the air, while listening to the soothing sounds of the narrators Timothy Miller and Claire Hamilton.

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