What If You Just Did One Thing at A Time? Really Just One Thing.

img_1041I’m not a multitasker.

I can really only do one thing at a time. You could call that Unitasking, or Monotasking, or my favorite—being human, since no one can really do more than one thing at a time—but whatever you call it, it’s how I work best. One thing. One topic. One (writing) file open. Alternatively, all cooking at any one moment. Or all helping-with-Halloween-costume. Or all talking-on-the-phone/Facetime.

I would prefer, to be honest, that you not even try to talk to me from the back seat while I am ordering an Icee from the Burger King Drive-thru.

Because my brain just can’t deal. I can’t do both, I can feel it switching, word-by-word, between (among!) the children who are all talking at once and whether I want Cherry or Cola, and what size (medium, mixed, since you asked). Between the thing in my hand that I was carrying from one room to another and whatever you’ve just stopped me to ask me (yes I will make Rice Krispie Treats for your Halloween dance and where was I going with this flashlight again?).

It’s kind of painful, really.

From a work perspective, I’ve really honed in on this. An ideal day, for me, is just the one thing on the agenda: work on this chapter or that article. Some days I split in half: half book, half book-promotion-projects. No more toggling back-and-forth. You can hear me riff on this with Jess Lahey in the current episode of our podcast, #AmWriting with Jess and KJ (find it on iTunes or Audioboom)–I feel so much more productive when I can keep my mind in one place for hours.

This is a huge shift for me. When I was writing and editing Motherlode (I’m on book leave from Well Family at the moment), every day was one long toggle–what should I write? Who am I editing? What’s the illustration? Is the production done? Facebook? Twitter? What else should I write? I don’t think I thought about any one thing for more than 40 minutes at a stretch (I did spend much more time than that on the things I wrote, but never in a single chunk).

It feels good, finding my ability to focus again. It’s reminded me that I actually need that in real life, too; reminded me to ask my children not to interrupt, to let me finish what I’m doing, to finish what they’re doing, to—can we even do this?—finish one thing before starting in on another.

I can’t always manage that, of course. But when I find myself in that “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” mode of trailing through the house or my laptop, following up on every misplaced item or email or shiny object, I try to regroup.

To find the one thing.

And do it.


2 Responses to “What If You Just Did One Thing at A Time? Really Just One Thing.”

  1. Bill Williams says:

    I get it. You, as a shiny thing, just popped up on my desk and it will now be a little longer before I start on necessary work that has a Monday deadline. But the picture of your notebook shows your non-linear connections. I know you prefer to stay with one, but your distraction is also your gift: your ability to connect Rice Krispies treats and chores and ice hockey and haying. You want to shine one beam of light with that flashlight you are holding for some important reason. In fact, you hold a prism and illuminate life for us all in new and beautiful and laughable, and most of all – relatable – ways. It’s your contest between singular focus and the multitude of shiny things, your desire to follow the singular glimmer against the lure of the kaleidoscope around you – that contest – that is your life and makes you a delight to follow