Getting Focused: Choose Your One Thing

analog catch locations distraction dopamine focus Prioritization productivity

As you might remember from my previous newsletter: back in June I was waking up and asking myself: "What are all the things I need to do today?" and this meant I was starting my day feeling harried and already behind schedule. So in July, I started asking myself instead: "What one thing does your body need this week to stay healthy?" and "What one thing matters most today?"  In the beginning, the latter question freaked me out. But I now, it's become so important that my husband and I began incorporating this into another new ritual: a daily morning walk. We bundle up, head out for a walk at 7:30am, ask each other, "What's your one thing today?" and give the other person time to verbally process and think through what that might be for them. Sometimes we pick something that is house-related, like "I'm going to commit to get three quotes on the gutters!" and other days it's work related, like "I am going to finish recording the anxiety video!" This practice is loosely based on the book The One Thing, and feels even more important this week, because I am ready to get back to my usual productive work days.

Now, if you're thinking to yourself: "That sounds so luxurious, to pick just one thing you get done today", I should clarify that you are not committing to accomplishing only one to-do item for the day. Instead what you are doing is clarifying what is the one thing that matters most, above all others.
focus desk pad with task list
Why this was game changing for me:

  • It taps into the power of dopamine: Even if I had accomplished 20 things one day, I found myself still focusing on the 5 things I didn't when I was trying to fall asleep. This meant my brain was not getting a healthy dose of dopamine at the end of the day (the happy neurotransmitter that you get when you feel a sense of progress). Now that I have this new practice, I regularly get the dopamine I need as I close my day, because the I absolutely accomplished my one thing! 
  • It acknowledges that days go haywire: Fun story - last week I realized one morning at 10am that our water heater had been leaking water all over the basement, where the store merchandise is!!! And that morning I had said my One Thing was to schedule a call with my coach, because I guessed I would need it for my mental health (and this was before I knew about the water heater). So even though I spent most of the day dealing with the aftermath of the water heater, I ALSO carved out time for my One Thing. By 8pm that night we were still pumping water out of the basement with a water hose, but I felt calm because I had also scheduled that call with my coach, a call I needed even more now :) 

If you find the idea of picking ONLY ONE thing that matters most incredibly stressful, here's some thoughts: 

  • In this very overwhelming world we live in right now, not everything can matter equally.  Yes, everything in your life matters. But getting comfortable with daily triage, ie that only one thing can matter the most is healthy.  It's scary at first, it feels unproductive/ selfish/ lazy/etc -- until you realize it IS the skill that all badass people eventually master.
  • When I'm having a particularly hard time choosing just one thing, I remind myself about back when I worked in urgent care (as in, a clinic full of very sick people needing medical attention) where I learned this hard truth: every human in that waiting room mattered, but to deliver the best care, my job was to help decide: in what order do they matter?  Because a heart attack is different than a sprained ankle. And by the end of the day, we usually got to every single person in that waiting room, but on some days when all hell broke loose, we for sure got to the life-threatening cases. This may sound like an extreme example, but I know that to your brain, when you're in the weeds of your hectic day, it can feel like a crime against humanity if you don't get to every email or answer every slack request. So remember, if urgent care clinics do it every day, you can too. 
  • The discipline of daily triage is a habit, so like all new habits, pair it with an activity that your brain will find rewarding (like we did with our morning walks) or a habit you already have (like while you wait for the tea or coffee to brew). 
  • Don't do it alone! I've been searching the world over (thanks internet!) for desk pads and notebooks that help you every day with daily triage skills. Check these out, and text or email me if you'd like more shopping support :) 
four different prioritization desk pads

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