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

“Think big. Aim high.” – 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!

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#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]