Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Divine Providence and Monkey Mind

Written by: on April 2, 2024

“Your Brain at Work” [1] by David Rock is a fascinating and thought-provoking book. The author’s exploration of neuroscience and its implications for improving workplace performance and personal effectiveness reminds me of another brilliant book called “The One Thing” [2] by Keller and Papasan, in which there are many similarities. I recommend that the duo are an incredible combination as companion books.

Rock demonstrates that the capabilities of our brain can significantly influence our capacity to make decisions, which in turn can lead to improvements in productivity and changes in stress levels, either magnifying or lessening them. Using the lens of a fictional couple, Emily and Paul, Rock illustrates how understanding the brain’s functions can enhance decision-making, increase productivity, and reduce stress. The book is structured around a typical day in the characters’ lives, providing readers with scenarios demonstrating how to apply neuroscience principles to professional and personal contexts for a better outcome.

Rock introduces the reader to the prefrontal cortex, the area responsible for higher-order thinking tasks such as decision-making, problem-solving, and controlling emotions, but reveals that it also has limited capacity. This insight is crucial, highlighting why multitasking, a common practice in today’s fast-paced environment, often leads to decreased productivity and increased stress.

“The ONE Thing” by Gary Keller focuses on the principle that success is achieved not by doing more but by doing less, specifically by focusing on the one most important task that will make everything else easier or unnecessary. Keller believes multitasking is a myth, calling it a “Monkey Mind” [3] that leads to decreased productivity and satisfaction. The book encourages readers to ask themselves the focusing question: “What is the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” [4] By identifying and concentrating on their ONE thing, individuals can achieve more by working smarter, not harder. Keller’s book is less about the science of how the brain works and more about the philosophy and practical application of prioritising for maximum efficiency and fulfilment.

Both books address the pitfalls of multitasking but from different angles. Rock uses a scientific approach to explain why our brains are not built for multitasking, highlighting the cognitive limitations that lead to decreased efficiency and increased stress. Keller, meanwhile, offers a strategic and philosophical perspective, arguing that focusing on the most critical task leads to greater success and satisfaction.

While “Your Brain at Work” provides a detailed understanding of the brain’s function and how to leverage this knowledge for better productivity, “The ONE Thing” presents a more straightforward, more actionable strategy centred around prioritisation. Rock’s book is suited for readers interested in the neuroscience behind productivity and the practical implications for day-to-day life. Keller’s work, conversely, appeals to those looking for a straightforward methodology to improve their focus and achieve their goals.

I was introduced to “The One Thing” approximately ten years ago. I had been very busy, playing many varied roles, but lived and led in constant frustration. It seemed that the harder I worked, the less I achieved. I could not understand why my frustration and stress were increasing. Perhaps it was Divine Providence, but Keller’s book arrived on my desk at the perfect time. As I read it, I realised Monkey Mind was distracting me. I sighed audibly in relief at times, as the book gave me a greater understanding of “Smarter, not Harder working.” In turn, I gave the book to the senior team of the church and asked them to read it over the following fortnight, after which we would meet to discuss the book. Over the next 14 days, my phone was pinging with messages from the team, declaring how helpful they found it. 10 Years later, the book still plays a central role as we ask the fundamental question in all our strategy meetings, “What is the ONE Thing we can do, such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

I now hold down two full-time jobs, sit on the board of several entities, and I am also undertaking Doctoral Studies with Portland Seminary. When it gets overwhelming, the combination of “The One Thing” and now with “Your Brain at Work” are guaranteed ways of making progress and finding relief in the midst.

Rock’s metaphor of the “stage” [5] explains how the brain prioritises tasks, suggesting that it can only have a limited number of “actors” (tasks) on this stage at one time is helpful. I am constantly amazed by my ability to forget things, and Rock effectively explains why. This also correlates with Keller’s writing. Individuals can enhance their cognitive performance by understanding how to manage these actors effectively. For instance, one can optimise brain function and achieve better outcomes by focusing on one task at a time, allocating specific times for different activities, and reducing interruptions. It sounds simple, but the temptation to be distracted in a distracted world is immense. In certain strategy /leadership meetings that I host, we place a box in the boardroom and ask all attendees to place phones in a box for the duration of the meeting, explaining that intermissions will be included, for people to visit the restrooms, and of course, check their phones.

“Your Brain at Work” and “The ONE Thing” offer valuable insights into increasing productivity and effectiveness. Rock’s neuroscience exploration provides a deep understanding of why specific strategies work, while Keller’s focus on prioritisation offers a clear, actionable path to success. Together, these books complement each other by offering a comprehensive view of improving personal and professional performance through understanding the brain’s workings and applying the principle of focusing on the most important task.

If you enjoyed “Your Brain at Work,” you will love “The One Thing,” and your teams will possibly enjoy it more.


[1] Rock, David. “Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long.” New York: Harper Business, 2009.

[2] Keller, Gary, and Jay Papasan. “The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results.” Austin, TX: Bard Press, 2013.

[3] Keller & Papasan, 43-47.

[4] Ibid, 102.

[5] Rock, 7.

About the Author


Glyn Barrett

I am the founding, Lead Pastor of !Audacious Church in Manchester, England. I was born in Manchester, but moved to Australia at the age of two. My wife and I were married in Australia and began married and ministry life in England 28 years ago. After serving as youth pastors for 12 years, we moved to Manchester to pioneer !Audacious Church. As a church we now have 7 locations. 3 in Manchester, Chester, Cardiff (Wales), Sheffield, and Geneva (Switzerland). In 2019 I became the National Leader of Assemblies of God in Great Britain. We have over 600 churches in our movement and have planted 50 new churches since May 2022 with a goal of planting 400 new churches between May 2022 and May 2028. I am the European Lead for MM33, which is the church planting ministry for Assemblies of God Global and also chair Empowered21 Western Europe. I'm happily married to Sophia, with two children, one dog and two motorbikes. I love Golf, coffee and spending time with friends. Looking forward to meeting you all, and creating new friendships.

14 responses to “Divine Providence and Monkey Mind”

  1. Adam Cheney says:

    I appreciated the way you mapped those two books together and walked us through the differences. It is a great idea to put all the cell phones away for some meetings. They really are very distracting.
    I also appreciate the focus on one thing, not multitasking. I recently sat in on one of my daughters undergrad classes with her at Wheaton College. She is a senior there. She sat taking notes, browsing the internet shopping, texting different friends on different apps on her computer and “writing a paper.” She had at least 10 windows open on her computer that she was navigating through the entire lecture. When I asked her about the lecture later, she couldn’t recall any of it. Yet, she was not the only one who felt the need to multitask. Every student was the same. I was blown away at how inefficient they all were as they thought they were getting so much accomplished.

    • mm Glyn Barrett says:

      Yes mate – so true. It’s amazing to take a picture from the back of the church while preachers are preaching. How many people are on phones, missing out on what God wants to say? If I were the Devil, I would get people to do that too,

  2. mm Shela Sullivan says:

    Hi Glyn,

    Thank you for your post and appreciate the comparisons between the “The One Thing” and “Your Brain at Work”. I too enjoyed have read reading The One Thing and enjoyed it. Do you only focus on one thing every day?

    • mm Glyn Barrett says:

      Hi Shela, sadly, no, but when it comes to problem-solving, the One thing really helps. The One Thing cuts away the noise of the many issues that need addressing and empowers you to do one thing that makes other things unnecessary.
      When I am in a decision-making moment, and there are many things to do, One thing makes everything else easier. It’s a worthy question to ask every time you feel overwhelmed by the busyness of life.

  3. Noel Liemam says:

    Thank you, Glyn, for your post. When I was reading your post, I was reminded of how some people talk about the benefits of multi-tasking and how it helps our brain. I could not recall the sources if there were any. However, you point out in your post of inefficient multi-tasking is. Thanks for dropping in the other book, I might have to check it out. Thanks again.

  4. Christy Liner says:

    Hi Glyn! In a world when there is always more to do capacity to do it, focusing on the ‘one thing’ is a great strategy.

    Regarding multi-tasking, it seems like it depends if you’re doing system 1 or system 2 thinking. I find that multi-tasking with a combination of system 1 and system 2 seems to work well. For example, system 2 problem solving while I’m on a walk. I wonder if the research on multitasking is really referring to system 2 multitasking vs. a combination of the two. In fact, when I do the combo, it seems that system 2 thinking can even be improved over doing system 2 in isolation.

    What do you think?

    • mm Glyn Barrett says:

      Hey Christy. Yes 100%. The focus of System 1 and 2 is a brilliant intersection with the One Thing. In many ways, system 1 alone doesn’t allow for the One thing principle to be put into action effectively. You actually have to sit and THINK about the ONE thing you will do. System 1 operates too quickly. System 2 creates the space to contemplate the One thing that makes everything else easier.

  5. mm Jennifer Eckert says:

    I agree that multi-tasking kills accuracy and efficiency, not to mention mental energy. When you began implementing “The ONE thing,” what was that thing, and how did you silence your head from the other tasks that you were accustomed to doing?

    • mm Glyn Barrett says:

      Hmmmm – well, the ONE THING that helped was a whiteboard or a notebook that enabled me/us (team) to write down everything and then extract from the many things the one thing that makes everything else easier.

  6. Diane Tuttle says:

    Hi Glyn, The One Thing is a book I will want to read. Thanks for sharing it. I also think I am going to try having everyone physically putting their cell phones away as a symbolic reminder to not be checking them during a class or meeting. As you listed the vaious positions you hold and endeavors that are ongoing for you, my question is how do you give your brain, body and soul a chance to reenergize? Peace.

    • mm Glyn Barrett says:

      Hi Diane, the book is a worthy read, and the practice of putting away cell phones works!!!
      Regarding energy and being refreshed, I love and work in compartments in my head. The benefit of that is I can shut off pretty quickly. I play golf with my son. Drink coffee with my wife. Take my daughter shopping and “play” with my friends. Life is too short to play hard without enjoying the planet God gave us. I travel overseas 10 days a month and always make the most of every trip, visiting sites and making new friends. It is all a refreshing exercise for me.
      Thanks for the question and the pastoral concern too.

  7. Chad Warren says:

    Glyn, thank you for your post. I appreciate the introduction to Keller’s work and the “One Thing” concept. You spoke about Keller and Rock’s concepts working together fruitfully. Would you give any particular warnings to someone seeking to implement these strategies together? Are there ways you see conflict between the two approaches?

    • mm Glyn Barrett says:

      I think living by “rigid” principles, apart from scriptural ones, can tie us in knots. The harmony of both books and the strategy created therein should be the servant, not the master. In other words, it should never become the law of the Medes and Persians. It should act as a technique for making the complexities of multitasking demands earlier. But it should also be dispelled if it becomes too demanding in the process.

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