I’m not sure when I first discovered this concept.
Maybe it was when I first found Buddhist wisdom.
Or maybe it was when I read the book Getting Things Done
and fell in love with the possibility of productivity systems.
Or maybe…and I promise this is the last maybe…it was when I combined the two and came across the fantastic Zen Habits
In reality, it was probably a combination of everything I learned up until that point.
Because all great sources of wisdom that resonated with me had something in common.
They advocated for doing only one thing at a time.
One thing. At a time.
Sounds simple, right?
It’s not, and you and I both know that.
Because simple does not mean easy.
But it’s the simple stuff that will most profoundly change your life.
How to Implement the Strategy in Your Life
The next time you have something you need to get done, I want you to use this strategy.
And the task at hand doesn’t have to be anything special.
It can be cleaning the dishes or calling the bank.
But when you do whatever you decide to do, you must change your approach.
Because multi-tasking doesn’t work.
There’s plenty of research to show that your brain and body suffer when you’re doing multiple things at once.
It’s a major reason we humans feel exhausted and like we’ve accomplished next to nothing at the end of a long day.
It’s probably because what we’ve actually done is complete a bunch of half-tasks instead of whole tasks.
We did a lot of stuff, but we didn’t fully complete that stuff.
So, this is what I want you to do:
1 - Identify the task at hand - Seems easy enough, right? Wrong. Before you can complete a task, you need to choose that task with your full intention. It’s not a waste of time doing this. Knowing what you’re doing, without a shadow of a doubt, is half the battle. Take a few minutes to clearly define the task you are about to complete. This will help you focus.
2 - Set a timer
- I’m a big fan of the Pomodoro Technique.
Believe it or not, it takes time to get used to doing one thing at a time. I’ve found that setting a 25-minute timer tricks my brain in the weirdest of ways. My brain thinks, Hmm, I can do this for just 25 minutes. No sweat.
If I don’t have a time limit for my tasks, my brain starts to worry if the task will ever be over. And then it starts to think about all the other things I need to get done. Before I know it, I’m anxious and extremely unproductive.
3 - Do the one thing - By now, I hope you understand how hard it is to just do one thing at a time. But it gets easier with practice. Give your full attention to the task. If you’re on a computer, minimize or close other windows and tabs. Shut down your email. Even if you think you can focus on multiple things at once, your brain will suffer because of it. If you’re washing dishes, completely immerse yourself in the task. If you’re paying bills, set your focus completely on what’s in front of you.
In Conclusion - A Big Takeaway
The big takeaway for me was that the more I used this strategy, the more I realized that most of my tasks didn’t take as long as I thought they did.
What was actually slowing me down was my anxiety.
I was sinking in quicksand of my own making.
Focusing on one thing at a time is what got me out of it.
Giving my full attention to one task at a time completely changed my life.
If that seems dramatic, it’s because it is.
I thought my life was out of control.
But then I realized that it was all about my distracted, anxiety-increasing approach.