Just One Thing

Monday, April 7, 2014

I've been experimenting with a new maxim. Instead of creating lists of all the things I need or want to do I focus on accomplishing at least one project-based task every day.

I've found that making lists doesn't really help get anything done. All it does it make me anxious about the myriad things I haven't yet done. A list is only useful when I have multiple items that I'm in danger of forgetting (or a list of activities that need to be done in a specific order). I really don't need to add "spackle and paint the kitchen walls" to a list. Every time I go into the kitchen I'm reminded that it needs to be done. Instead I've decided to focus on those things that I actually did manage to accomplish.

So: one project-based activity a day. This excludes my professional work and routine household chores. I do the former most of the day as a matter of course; and going grocery shopping doesn't improve my living situation, it only prolongs it. Examples of my current projects are: installing a new ceiling fan in the kitchen, rebuilding the upstairs porch, having a new garage built. And a "project-based activity" is anything that moves a project to completion, e.g.: removing the old ceiling fan in the kitchen, installing mullions for the porch windows, making a phone call to a contractor.

There's no reason for me to do only one thing a day. If I have the enthusiasm I can spend an entire day doing project work. The problem is that, more often than not, I lack the motivation to do anything. And staring at a big list of all the things I haven't done does nothing to motivate me. This experiment allows me to, on those days where I don't feel like doing anything, focus on doing just one small thing. Make a single phone call. Deal with one piece of bureaucracy. Move one pile of dirt. Having done that one thing I can then slack off the rest of the day guilt-free. Although I've found that after doing that one small thing I'm usually willing to do one more small thing.

And, in this way, everything will get done.

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