Do One Thing – Really Well

I’ve recently been reading Power of Less, The: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential…in Business and in Life and I think it’s a great book. Babuta is the author of the Zen Habits blog. Power of Less is all about how to do fewer things in a more directed and clear way in order to achieve more balance and happiness in the meantime.

How do we do this? Well, according to Babuta, we focus on one thing at a time. He discovered this process when he was an overweight smoker with piles of debt. Rather than get overwhelmed by the number of changes that he needed to make, he decided to focus on one: quitting smoking. It was his entire focus. After he mastered that, he felt so encouraged by his success that he moved on to the next goal: his health. He broke each goal down into manageable components, and accomplished each one slowly and steadily-and thoroughly. This kind of change lasts.

It’s exactly the opposite of what I call “New Year’s Resolutions Syndrome,” which is when someone (it might be you) goes into a flurry of activity for about three weeks, determined to completely overhaul everything about one’s life-all at once. Of course, this pace is not sustainable, and once the first wave of excitement wanes, the hopefulness turns to hopelessness-or, at the least, inertia. Giving up. The worst part of the syndrome is that it creates a story that we use to inform our future decisions. In this case, the story becomes “well, I’d like to make changes, but I never follow through.” We pull out these old stories every time we’re thinking about taking a risk or making changes, and they shame us into giving up. It’s an extreme example, but I think that it’s a metaphor for how a lot of people live on a daily basis.

Well, what if you’re not weak in character or determination, but you’ve just been using the wrong approach? Putting too much pressure on yourself? What if this is just about having an open mind and facing this in a different way? Just take a deep breath, and let’s go at this from another angle.

So here are your choices: you can a) multi-task frantically, rushing around and getting a lot of things a little bit done, or you could b) be calm and grounded and do a few things well and deliberately and with greater success. Ok, so assuming you choose the latter, here are some tips:

1) Instead of starting your day by checking your email, start by meditating, praying, or doing yoga. You’ll start the day centered, instead of reactive. 
2) Write down your most important goal for your life. Read it every day before you start work. 
3) Schedule work related to your goal FIRST and build the rest of your day around it. For instance, if learning to paint is your top priority, schedule time every day to do it. Maybe on certain busy days, you’ll have time to paint and you won’t have time to do housework. So what? Your world won’t collapse. And it may be that you only have 10 minutes a day to work toward your goal. So what? Little steps turn into big changes over time. 
4) Every day when you start work, write down the 3 most important things that you want to accomplish that day. Do them first. 
5) If you’re working hard on a project and feel stuck, step away and take a walk. You’ll clear your head and figure out the solution with less effort. 
6) Ask yourself several times during the day, “Is this really necessary?” In other words, are you spending all your time, energy and money on people, things and activities that deplete you, instead of enhance your life? 
7) Only answer email once or twice a day. Don’t react to each email as it comes in. Remember, you have choices.

I think it comes down to this: paring down to what is absolutely necessary in life. When we take away the chaos, the frenzy, the busyness, we are left with what we love most. And, suddenly, there is a spaciousness of time and energy that can be used in ways that make our lives better.

Heather Jassy, MA CCC, is a personal coach, therapist, and founder of Empty Space Coaching.