Monday, August 8, 2011

Do One Thing At A Time

A frequent topic of conversation at the talks I give, and also among some of my friends, is how to motivate yourself to get out of bed in the morning when you're feeling so awful and weighed down by the size of your Must Do list for that day.

Others may not experience that feeling until they open up their e-mail Inbox and see the long list of messages requiring action and response.  But no matter how you become aware of the mountain of work ahead, the physical reaction usually is a tightening of the neck and stomach muscles, followed by a sense of fatigue and dejection. 

(There may be some fortunate individuals who love everything about what they do - who thrive on being busy busy and don't start off their day with a sigh. I’d envy them, but have not yet made their acquaintance.)

For most of us the internal clock is ticking away the time we have to get things done, and our nagging inner voice keeps reminding us of what still lies ahead, suggesting various consequences for failure. They are all terrible. This is obviously not the way to live a reasonably happy life, and if this resembles yours and you have had enough, then here is a proven way to change that.

Draw a little on Eastern philosophy, and “when you are doing the dishes, do the dishes” - meaning that you should focus only on what you are actually doing at the time. Banish all thoughts of what still needs to be done, or that there is a need to hurry. In this way, we can slowly break old habits of thinking and working. (If this sounds hard, remember, practice makes the master!)

Doing “one thing at a time” will improve your performance, reduce mistakes, increase your focus, slow your heart rate, and significantly lower the wear and tear of stress on your body. Plus, you’ll find that there is something organic and satisfying about focusing only on the task at hand.

My mother once met a southern gentlemen visiting for his son's graduation at the University of Pennsylvania (where I was also graduating).  He was experiencing some anxiety about the general speed of life in the Northeast. Expressing his preference for the slower pace of the South to Mom, he said, "You know, we do get it done."

So will you. You will be amazed, once you are in the flow of “one thing at a time,” at how much you do get done without feeling run down and exhausted by it.  But the simple fact that we can really only do one thing at a time seems to somehow get lost when we allow ourselves to think about all the day’s work at once.

So, on waking in the morning, remind yourself that you have a new way of dealing with whatever comes.  If you apply your efforts to thinking this way, it can truly change your life, no matter what size your mountain!

Good luck with your goal!

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