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Doing One Thing At A Time

Date: Wed, 24 Feb 1999 16:53:11 +0800

The human attention is a marvelous thing. Almost any problem will give way if we focus our attention on it for long enough. Often our troubles are due to refusing to look at a problem -- and the usual reason we won't look at a problem is fear. Fear becomes unnecessarily generalized if our attention wanders from subject to subject. We look at something we don't particularly want to do or we have a thought about something that we want to evade, so our attention passes on to the next thing... and so does the fear.

Sometimes this generalized fear builds up to such an extent that we cannot move forwards on anything. The best solution to this sort of generalized fear is to split what we are afraid of into chunks and then concentrate on one of them.

To give an example: it is morning and you have an important meeting that afternoon which you have to prepare for. The phone rings and it's someone who needs something urgently but you have a number of important tasks which are piling up. Suddenly you are seized with panic and can't seem to do anything. What do you do?

I'm sure you have often found yourself in this sort of situation or something comparable to it. The best solution is to make a list of everything you have to do. Then grade all the items MUST DO, SHOULD DO and COULD DO and pick one of the items on the MUST DO list to start working on. You will find suddenly the problem seems much more within your grasp.

What you have done is first of all quantified what you have to do. Just the act of writing down everything on a piece of paper reduces the anxiety level. And then by prioritizing the items, we can start work on the first one secure in the knowledge that we are doing the most important thing first. By focusing on just this one item we are far more likely to do it efficiently than by rushing from one thing to another.

A good principle is to focus on one thing at a time. Whatever you are doing, be doing just that one thing and nothing else. That applies just as much to our leisure activities as to our work. You will enjoy the trip to the cinema with your family much more if your mind isn't still with your work.