Elizabeth: Just One Thing


Even without a calendar for confirmation, the crowds at my local gym and the counter full of snacks in the kitchen at work, left there by those who have cleared out their cupboards to get rid of temptations, are a clear indicator of the start of a new year.  The crowds will die down in a few weeks and someone will eat the treats, but maybe a few of those good New Year’s intentions will stick.

Here on the blog, now that we’ve shared our own ideas for 2017 – my watchword is Joy – it’s time to move from planning to doing; hopefully in a way that will make those plans stick as well.  That presents a bit of a challenge, when there are a lot of things that need to be done.  How to choose?

At the day job, we’re big on To-Do Lists.  We have lists in spreadsheets, and project plans, and calendaring applications – lists that only ever seem to get longer and longer, no matter how many items get crossed off.   A long list of tasks can be daunting, and studies have shown that trying to multi-task can often make things worse instead of better.

This year, I’m trying something new.

I have a post-it on my wall at work that says Just One Thing.  It’s a note I jotted down from a management training session I attended about increasing happiness in the work place.  The idea presented was that focusing on one thing at a time and doing it well increases employee satisfaction and makes for a happier, healthier workplace.

Whether that’s true or not, I do know that I am happier when I don’t have a lot of tasks hanging over my head, whether it’s at work or at home, just like I’m happier and more productive when I’m not surrounded by a lot of clutter.  What I’ve also found is that To Do lists actually seem to foster a kind of procrastination.  I gravitate toward the tasks I want to do and skip over the others, even if they could be easily accomplished, making the remaining list less and less appealing.

My solution?  A marker and a stack of index cards (and not just because I was cleaning house and found I had a life-time supply of each in my desk).

Each card has one word (or one idea, if necessary on it), relating to what I need to get done written on it.  For example,

  •                 Dentist
  •                 Laundry
  •                 Deposit

Since I have an abundance of cards, they’re colour coded so I know if the task is work-, home-, or writing-related.  Time-constrained cards move to the top of the piles, but otherwise, they’re just in whatever order I thought of them.  When it’s time to do something, I pick a card and take care of that task.  When that’s done, I toss the card in the recycling bin and pick another.

When it’s writing time, if I don’t have something already in progress or if I get stuck, I pick a card from the writing pile and go from there.

So far, the process is working pretty well for me, though it’s only been 10 days.  I’ve taken care of several lingering tasks, which is joy-inducing and have cleared out some mental clutter, leaving more room for creative thoughts.

Now, since I’ve taken care of several cards today, I’m going to go pull a card from the “reward” pile.  I’m hoping I get a “read” card, since I know just the book from my TBR pile that I’m in the mood for.

So, how are you moving from planning to doing?  Any successes you want to share?

8 thoughts on “Elizabeth: Just One Thing

  1. (-: Ten days of nothing for me, but four days of writing morning pages per Julia Cameron’s book. So, I definitely know it’s not that I can’t write; it’s just that I’m unsure I can write well. We’ve been so busy at home that I’m just thinking of this as a fertilizing period — some time when all the input of the past year gets turned into proper mulch, and can be distributed as needed.

    I’m happy to hear you are making progress, though! I’ll definitely try the “just one thing” on a memo when I get back to a normal schedule again next Monday.

    • Four days of writing morning pages is great – anything that results in words on the page sounds like a good thing. Who knows what kind of new stories and/or ideas might come out of your “fertilizing” period. Glad you are finding Julia Cameron’s book helpful.

  2. I think I’m going to try this. It sounds very doable! Great idea! I know when it comes to writing I have a long laundry list that needs to get done.

    I’m toying with the idea of “clocking in” like a regular job. I struggle with having enough time to do everything on my list. My day job and commute take up a lot of my time and I find by the end of the day I’m exhausted and have problems focusing on writing related tasks. I know it’s possible because when I can actually sit down and freewrite about my WIP I come up with many ideas.

    • Janice, I totally hear you on the day job / commute / exhausted by the end of the day problem; I face the same thing. Scheduling set writing times has helped with that in the past, but it takes a lot of vigilance. I manage it during the November NaNo writing period, but then tend to slack off. I’m working on improving in that area now.

      I know if I really want to get something done, I’ll make time to do it, but otherwise, other things just seem to suck up all the available time. Good luck on your “clocking in.” Let us know how that works for you.

  3. I had a strange occurrence last week, and as much as I’d like to replicate it, I don’t know why or how I did it. I had two pairs of pants that needed buttons, so they’ve been sitting on my “mending” pile for about a year. This happens to me all the time. Then usually after two years, I put all the items in the “mending” pile in the donation bag for the thrift store. Last week, I sewed the buttons on the pants. Why did I do that? I almost never complete small, boring tasks that can be put off indefinitely. And it wasn’t because I was out of pants.

    I like this idea of the index cards, because I’ve always been a big fan of doing just one thing at a time. That way, the task gets done. But I also like the idea of the rewards pile. Per Joss Whedon, just getting the idea of solving a task should get a reward!

    • Kay – I’m all in favor of motivation through rewards. Cupcakes used to be my reward of choice, but this year, I’m tending toward winnowing down the TBR pile instead. Yay for getting the buttons sewed on the pants – whatever the motivation was to do it.

Let Us Know What You Think

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s