It took more than a week to write a blog post about “doing one thing to prevent overwhelm.” Whether it’s a holidays thing or “life during a pandemic,” it feels easier than ever to lose focus, get distracted, and put things off. In order to prevent overwhelm and avoid getting stuck, try to focus on doing one thing.
The Concept of “One Thing”
Whenever clients feel stuck, I introduce the idea of “one thing.” Sure, you will do a large number of things on any given day. But do you do the right things? Can you identify the most important things? If your to-do list always contains more than ten items, where should you invest your time?
If you already know the most important thing you need to do today, great! What do you have to do to complete it? Your one thing may be as big as spending a few hours of quality time with a child who is struggling in school, or as short as taking three soothing breaths before you ask your boss for a raise. What do you most need today? A nap? Completion of a task? Movement? An exercise from Kristin Neff’s book, Self-Compassion?
One of my clients decided to set aside time to make an important phone call she’d put off for weeks. Another keeps a full water bottle handy to diminish dehydration. A third, who snacks frequently during the day, added a few nuts to each snack or meal to increase satiation. Mine for today was to launch a blog post about The One Thing and I’m (happily) minutes away from hitting “publish.”
How to Identify What’s Important
To identify your daily “one thing,” first write (or type) your long list of to-dos, especially if worrying about it is causing you to lose sleep. Keep the list somewhere safe so your brain can relax.
The Eisenhower Matrix
Next, narrow today’s list to the top ten. Place each item into one of four quadrants, known as the Eisenhower Matrix: those tasks that are 1. Important and Urgent, 2. Important and Not urgent; 3. Unimportant and Urgent, and 4. Unimportant and Not urgent. Focus on the important “do” and “plan” categories only.
Look at the items in quadrants one and two. Identify THE MOST important and urgent thing in each. Is there something in the planning quadrant that will help you save time in quadrant one? What do you need (time, resources, conversations, manpower) to do your one thing? Of the tasks you come up with, what first step can you take in the next five minutes? the next hour? Do you need someone’s help?
Do Today’s One Thing to Get Unstuck
Take that first step. That’s today’s one thing. The beauty of finding your one thing is this: once you get started, you build positive momentum. You teach yourself that even when your list is 75 items long, you just made progress. How do you climb a mountain? ONE STEP AT A TIME. How do you get unstuck? The same way, one step at a time. When you are stuck, your top priority is to move, to take a step forward. Any step. Get out from underneath that huge “overwhelm” boulder.
This Week’s Top Priority For Me
To identify what my “top priorities” were this past week, I looked back over what I did. The cliche, “Hindsight is 20-20,” definitely applies: it’s easier to see the path you were on than to know which path to take forward. I find it a useful way to discover your values and priorities.
Thursday mornings I volunteer at the Zoo. Last week Friday (a rare sunny December day in Seattle) I prioritized being outside and did some long-overdue yard work. On Saturday I focused on spending time with my daughter; we volunteered at a school fundraiser to get her some community service time. Sunday, family day, we tidied the house and decorated for the holidays. I returned my focus to client sessions and writing group meetings on Monday. Tuesday I spent the day on my fiction. And Wednesday (today) I focused on clients and non-fiction, this blog post.
I see now that every day my “one thing” changes — which is perfectly fine. I no longer focus 100% of my time on work to the exclusion of exercise and self-care. And as my client load increases, I no longer focus solely on leisure (hikes and volunteering) approaching the start of a new year.
As for my goals, even though my blog is a few days later than planned, I’ve found that using the idea of “one thing” has provided me a balanced foundation in wellness, health, family, contribution, and sustainability. If using the “one thing” idea works for you, I’d love for you to leave a comment and share with our “getting unstuck” community.