Gary Keller — How to Focus on the One Important Thing (#401)

Photo of Gary Keller

“My life is better when I’m spontaneous after I’ve done my most important thing. Being spontaneous before that, that’s where it becomes a distraction and does me harm.” — Gary Keller

Gary Keller (@garykeller) is the co-founder, chairman, and CEO of Keller Williams (KW), the world’s largest real estate franchise by agent count. In 2019, KW, which also ranks number one in units and sales volume in the US, was named by Fast Company as the “most innovative company” in real estate.

In 2015, Gary began driving KW’s evolution into a technology company, now focused on building the real estate platform that agents, buyers, and sellers prefer. He is competing with multi-billion-dollar, venture-backed companies using his own money. Gary is the bestselling author of The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, The Millionaire Real Estate Agent, The Millionaire Real Estate Investor, and SHIFT: How Top Real Estate Agents Tackle Tough Times.

You can find Gary’s podcast, Think Like a CEO, on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you typically get your podcasts.

Please enjoy!

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, StitcherCastbox, Google Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform.

You can find the transcript of this episode here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

#401: Gary Keller — How to Focus on the One Important Thing

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Want to hear another episode with someone who’s an expert in making the most of the hours in the day? — Listen to my conversation with Getting Things Done guru David Allen, in which we discuss next action decisions, the two-minute rule, extra-sensory perception, coping with overwhelm, recovering from broken agreements, and much more. (Stream below or right-click here to download):

#384: David Allen — The Art of Getting Things Done (GTD)

QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.



  • Connect with Gary Keller:

KW Realty | The ONE Thing Website | Think Like A CEO Podcast | Twitter | Facebook


  • Gary tells us about the summer his father had him shadow an accountant, a lawyer, a banker, and a realtor. What did he take away from this experience? [06:30]
  • How did an infuriatingly bad interview for an insurance company secure the trajectory of Gary’s real estate career? [09:57]
  • What series of events — including completing a list of Herculean tasks as a condition for employment, navigating sneaky policy changes by management on Christmas Eve, and getting a six-figure raise when all he wanted to do was quit — eventually compelled Gary to strike out on his own and start what would become KW? [12:02]
  • Gary and his partner Joe Williams have never borrowed beyond the initial $44,000 they needed to launch KW. Since this is somewhat atypical of businesses trying to grow, why did they not take on debt to grow faster? [25:07]
  • After ony operating for two years, KW became the largest real estate office in Austin. To what does Gary attribute this early success in such a competitive industry? [27:20]
  • Gary says he plays a game of “red light, green light” when making financial decisions for the company. I ask him to recall a time when he saw a red light and how he did a post-game analysis. [30:13]
  • Does Gary feel that the resulting need for his partner to shut a company down was handled well, or — in retrospect — should it have been handled differently? [31:12]
  • Most business partners have agreements by which they run their businesses. So why does Gary prefer to call them disagreements, and what are the biggest questions that need to be answered in these documents? [32:29]
  • What is a buy-sell agreement? [35:26]
  • Why separate counsel is particularly important between partners whether you’re founding a marriage or a business. [36:08]
  • How this hard-won lesson helped when his current wife’s mother-in-law tried to clean out her dementia-suffering father’s estate, and what we’ve both learned about having power of attorney documents ready well before they’re actually needed. [38:13]
  • Gary explains how he redefined franchising through regional ownership, and how it’s just one of the many ways a business can grow without having to borrow money — as long as you don’t make the same mistake that Dairy Queen made at a crossroads in its history from which it never really recovered. [43:02]
  • An interesting franchising aside: The McDonald’s French fry story. [50:27]
  • Gary talks about the year he took off from the business in ’89, the circumstances that led up to it, and the franchise document crafted over the course of that year that Gary considers “the most valuable asset of the company.” [53:15]
  • Even though KW is heavily investing in technology, Gary still uses a month-at-a-glance paper calendar and a pencil for his own scheduling purposes. A story about an impromptu calendar fight with a well-known musician in an airport explains why. [1:04:17]
  • Gary explains his movie analogy for blocking time to get things done in a day. [1:11:03]
  • What is the focusing question (as outlined in The ONE Thing), and what is it really designed to do — as well as keep you from doing? [1:14:12]
  • Some real-life examples of how someone might use the focusing question. [1:17:09]
  • An example of how Gary used the focusing question to resolve a business decision in 1994. [1:22:03]
  • What Gary means when he says “A clear path to a lesser goal is the problem,” why The ONE Thing is really “the 80/20 principle on steroids,” and why you don’t have to maximize every minute of every day in order to get maximum results. [1:23:38]
  • How does someone go about prioritizing life’s important categories not easily answered by the focusing question? [1:27:51]
  • How Gary used the focusing question to ensure the relationship with his sometimes acerbic mother went as smoothly as possible. [1:29:51]
  • How frequently does Gary exercise, and at what time of the day? What do his workouts look like? Who are his fitness prophets, and how might you adapt the focusing question to find your own? [1:32:22]
  • Finding true north and how I’ve used “What would Matt Mullenweg do?” as my own focusing question of sorts when I’m in situations that require patience and calmness. [1:37:06]
  • To avoid potential time-sucks that might negate the benefits of cultivating a life around the focusing question, is there anything to which Gary categorically says no? What’s his preferred language for doing so? What scripts does his team use to fend off most correspondence from the unknown? [1:38:53]
  • Want to avoid the awkwardness of talking yourself up in front of a crowd when you win an award? Easy solution: send a proxy! [1:46:40]
  • What would Gary’s billboard say? [1:47:49]
  • Why is thinking big and aiming high so important to Gary? [1:48:32]
  • As a lifelong habit hacker, what has Gary found to be most effective for developing and sticking with new habits? [1:51:32]
  • As someone who politely declines just about any such invitation, why did Gary agree to do this interview? [1:55:25]
  • Closing thoughts. [1:56:53]


The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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32 Replies to “Gary Keller — How to Focus on the One Important Thing (#401)”

  1. Great episode. It’s driving me crazy but can you list the link to exact monthly paper planner Gary uses? I’ve been thinking of going back to analog with my planner.

    1. Hi Tim. Great question. We are in the process of finding out. We will email you and add link in show notes once we have an answer. Thank you!

      UPDATE (12-19-19): We have verified with Gary’s team that The ONE Thing Planner found on the KW website is modeled after Gary’s personal At-a-Glance planner and have included links in the show notes/links. Thanks for the question (and for the info provided by other listeners/commenters)!

  2. Not my favorite episode. Keller was a little hard to relate to. He also didn’t follow Tim’s prompts or questions as well as I had hoped.

  3. The gum chewing was too annoying. Please tell guests not to chew gum! I couldn’t listen to anything he said. I had to shut it off!

      1. Please people, don’t be entitled c*nts. Two awesome people spilling the beans of their successes (and failures) sharing a lot of lessons that are invaluable to any human being. And we are essentially eavesdropping the whole conversation for free. (except for our voluntary time commitment to listen this.) Be grateful that you get to listen this, man. I seriously do and am ever so grateful that TIm produces these podcasts.

  4. At the 75 minute mark: “What’s the one thing I could do, such that by doing it, everything else will be either easier or unnecessary?”

    Worth far more than the price of admission.

      1. I loved this episode. This quote reminds me of Tim asking, “what would this look like if it were easy.” Another gem. Grateful to Tim for all of the preparation he puts into these interviews.

  5. Gary talks about why he does HIIT and mentions doing steady pace can cause your arteries to become more stiff and brittle. Does anyone know of any evidence to back this up?
    Thank you to Tim and team for the excellent interview you content just keeps getting better.

  6. I had to stop listening because I suffer from misophonia. I’ll also take this opportunity to say that anytime Tim or a guest has a “gulp” of something to demonstrate they are pausing for a drink, I want to vomit.

    Misophonia is a disorder in which certain sounds trigger emotional or physiological responses that some might perceive as unreasonable given the circumstance. Those who have misophonia might describe it as when a sound “drives you crazy.” Their reactions can range from anger and annoyance to panic and the need to flee.

  7. Really enjoyed this episode, and it has inspired me to take a look again at what is most important, and also how I can streamline my process. Thank you. Great website update too, btw.

  8. Please could Gary upload a sample screen shot of his monthly paper pencil calander, would really help to visualise – thankyou 🙏

    1. Though not a screen shot of Gary’s monthly planner, we have included links now (in Selected Links from the Episode, above) to both The ONE Thing Planner found on the KW website and an At-a-Glance planner similar to what Gary uses, after which The ONE Thing Planner is modeled. Hopefully helpful!
      Thanks for the question!

      1. I am also looking into it. My guess is since he has been using in the 80s/90s it should have what is standard in staples and office depot.

  9. Loved this episode Tim / Gary, thanks for so much! I was really surprised because to be honest I didn’t know who Gary was (yes i know hehe) Saludos desde Peru and Venezuela! Cheers!

  10. Hi Tim – This was a tough one. This show was the most ANTI-Tim Ferris show ever. I was nervous when you gave him such a reverent introduction because you had a different, uncomfortable tone in your voice. I wasn’t sure if it was 1) because of his presence in your industry or 2) you knew his history and were taking a risk presenting him to us or 3) you truly respect him and his journey. I’m going with #1 because I like your show and it’s gotten me through the entrepreneur swamp, which for the most part, I’m convinced is not quicksand or the La Brea tarpits complete with braying mammoths and mastodons. I have tried 3 times to finish listening to this episode because I was so hoping he would be inspirational:

    Start: His parents filled out his college application and he went to the school they chose.
    Start Try #1: He believed everyone should support him because he was hired.
    Start Try #2: His “everyone else’s smelly food in the lunchroom” comment was condescending and Orange Man-like.
    Start Try #3: “I was successful because I did everything by the book.” When you asked him to clarify which book and he didn’t expound on that, he obviously didn’t care about the book or the industry or building business relationships, or even this audience.

    This was the Revenge of the Rich Nerd. Period. No humility, empathy, team building. Fist bumping with the Orange Man.
    I thought I’d see if I could find something, anything to find him palatable. I’m an entrepreneur and eat out of nervousness.
    He returned to run his company this year after “collaborating with his CIO over the years”; can we say Micromanager?!
    They partnered with an artificial intelligence company called, based in TX, 24-person management team comprised of 23 caucasians+1 asian, 83% men/17% women. I…just…can’t.

    We can be brave entrepreneurs without smelling like the emperor’s new clothes. And yeah, I’m from California; San Francisco, no less. Thought I’d throw you with the tarpits comment. Thanks for all the other great shows! Let’s go back to keeping up the good work!

    1. Your comment has made me cringe so many times. Stop with the TDS. Stop with the judging by the diversity quota, this guy has positively impacted millions of lives and has given back well over a billion dollars. Your shallow comments reflect a backwards mindset. Good luck.

  11. I love all things Tim Ferris. Except this episode, which was actually difficult to listen to. Tim is an exceptional interviewer and even he couldn’t get Gary to answer his questions or, follow his lead ins. Made it through 25 minutes of Gary’s nonstop bragging before I turned it off.

  12. I have been listening to your podcast for years so THANK YOU for all of your work. I would also like to add that the podcast just keep getting better – this is my favorite one so far. Keep up the awesome work!

  13. Hey Tim,
    Another great talk that really gives pleasure to listen to. Thanks!!!

    #1 quote: “Work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four balls– family, health, friends, integrity– are made of glass. If you drop one of these, it will be irrevocably scuffed, nicked, perhaps even shattered.”

    When starting a partnership or relationship, take in consideration doing a disagreement document!!

    Find your Prophets to guide you in life!

  14. Brilliant podcast. I’m a big fan of Gary (and yourself of course)
    I was wondering if either of you could provide any insight into creating an ‘operations manual’ or how you have recorded processes in order to train/inform team members?
    I’ve read/heard you mention it several times Tim – I’ve looked into Loom and other tools – and was hoping you might be able to provide some insight on where to start, a process of creating such a thing and maybe some more tools you use?
    Enjoying your work!

  15. Here’s a great read about Keller’s book:

    [Moderator: link removed.]

    I picked it up and it’s a full of gems.

  16. Great episode, Tim. Given that Gary’s relationship with Williams ended so early, why did the company still maintain the Williams name?