Reflections on a month of doing one thing at a time

Every month I set myself challenges and for September on of these was to do one thing at a time. So far I have found it GOOD.

It is halfway through the month and I thought I would share some of the impressions so far.

First I should clarify 2 things:

  • I am naturally a person who wants to do multiple things at once. Pausing and changing my behaviour has been challenging.
  • I have ‘failed’ numerous times at this exercise so far, but I am much more mindful of not multitasking.

I took these pics yesterday evening. I had enjoyed a productive workday and was spending the late afternoon with my daughters and some friends on the beach. We were doing one thing only – enjoying being outdoors surrounded by such beauty.

Work Productivity

Although I was at first sceptical of any increase in productivity, as the month has drawn on I notice that I have taken some big steps this month. I have done a few things which previously I put off.

Previously I felt overwhelmed by all I had to learn. I started courses and stopped halfway. I tried to learn too much, and took little action.

I am started to believe that doing one thing at a time increases productivity.

Sense of Calm – People

Doing one thing at a time creates a sense of calm.

I am a yes-person and tend to take on too much.

This month when someone has asked me to do something, I may still reply in the affirmative, but I explain that I will do it once I have finished what I am doing.

I have applied this to my work, my children, husband and friends. Not once have I had to explain that I am doing a challenge. Everyone has simply accepted.

At the end of the day I have energy left over, and can be kind to others, because I have been kinder to myself during the busy day.

Sense of Calm – To-Do List

This month when I look down my To-Do list, I choose only one thing to do in that moment. Additionally, I try to choose the most important thing at that time.

As far as I can see, my productivity has increased, and not decreased, which was my fear.

I am a busy person and a hard worker. But hard work is different to smart work. This challenge this month is teaching me how to transition from being a hard worker to being a smarter worker. For me –

  • smart work means doing the stuff that really matters. It is the work that counts towards reaching your goals.
  • hard work means busily ticking items off my To-Do list making it seem that I am being productive. This way of working easily becomes an exercise in list checking. It becomes too easy to lose focus on what I am trying to achieve with my work.

I have found that limiting myself to focusing on one thing at a time is a calmer way to get things done and does not detract from ticking off the items.

Further, if I don’t get through all items on the list, it means I have not prioritised them, so there is no great loss. It is a lesson in letting go.

Being Present

Being present is an overarching focus of mine. Like many people, I balance work, running a home, and caring for 2 children. To do things well I believe that it is necessary to focus solely on one thing at a time.

I have noticed that my children (6 and 9) are mostly understanding that when I need to work, I need to concentrate. I explained that the more interruptions I have, the longer my work takes.

I have noticed how I am able to be more available for my children when I do one thing at a time. Having compartmentalised work and time spent with them, it seems to me that my undivided attention when I am with them, is having a positive effect. This month my laptop is closed and my phone is charging elsewhere when I am with them.

There is nothing like doing one thing at a time to highlight present moment awareness. It is a simple exercise in mindfulness.

Doing one thing at a time has slowed me down. It has forced me to consider my actions.

At times when I have been busy and flustered, I have been able to remind myself of the challenge and put everything down. And breathe. And then pick up one thing only to continue.

Setting myself this challenge has increased my present moment awareness. I am continuously having to stop myself from checking my phone, or email, or jumping between work tasks, or replying to someone while I am reading to my daughters.

It is making me mindful in my phone use. I realise how often I pick up my phone to make a note, send a message, take a photo. I constantly interrupt myself.

Tools I have used

I am relying on a handful of tools to help me to do one thing at a time. Habit change is hard, so I am trying to make it as easy as possible for myself. If I set up my environment to support me in this challenge, it can facilitate a positive outcome.

These are some of the tools on which I have relied:

  • Breathing. When I get busy multitasking, I stop and take some deep breaths. It helps to reset me and to return to calm.
  • Physical movement. I stand up and go outside to take breaks. I move away from my laptop and phone. I look up and out into the distance. I stretch. These all help to break a pattern of behaviour, and to bring me back to the bigger picture. This is also like a reset.
  • Simplicity philosophy. I try to live simply. It can help to remind myself of this theory when my actions are not reflecting it. When I start multitasking and being busy, it has been helpful to bring myself back to my reason for creating this challenge for myself. I can then try to match my actions to the philosophical framework of simplicity that directs my days.
  • Extreme ideas. Driving with music off. This is an example of an extreme measure of trying one thing at a time. Nothing extra while I drive. My senses are freer. My mind is freer. My eyes and ears and mind all have an opportunity to scan and it is restful.
  • Phone notifications off. To prevent interruption and help me to keep my focus on the one thing, I have now disabled all phone notifications. It is a better way to live.
  • Phone upside down when working. Another extreme example, which works. I simply turn my phone over and check it every hour or so.
  • Browser tabs closed. Yet another tool to help me stay focused, I now close all tabs other than the one I am using. It prevents my jumping across to something else. It helps keep me focused. It aids concentration and prevents dilution of my attention.
  • Live training panelist. Part of the SFM training involves regular informative webinars. I have committed to being a panelist this month further to support my challenge to do one thing at a time. This means that I am on a live zoom call with my camera on me for everyone to see. It also means that I can not do anything other than participating in the training.

In Conclusion

In conclusion I would highly recommend this way of living.

I am in the business of being mindful of the life I live. I believe we have the power to create much of our lives. We simply have to decide we want to do so. We have to make changes to our behaviour – sweep out the stale old patterns and be bold enough to try new ways.

Setting challenges is a way for me to make changes. Writing them in a blog is a way of holding me accountable.

This one thing at a time challenge has been very powerful. So much so that I will definitely be continuing to live like this.

I am so inspired that in time I want to create habit change support groups for others who wish to live their own versions of simple beautiful lives.