One thing at a time


I can’t remember where I read this advice, and I really wish I could. It was in a book about calming your days, feeling more at peace, dealing with technology better. The advice was do one thing at a time.

I have been watching myself lately and I haven’t been following this advice.

I have been playing solitaire on my phone while watching TV.

Scrolling through Facebook while eating breakfast.

Listening to a podcast and playing solitaire while eating lunch.

I realised this was really a problem for me when I caught myself trying to play solitaire on my phone while I was reading a book. It doesn’t work.

On Sunday night I decided that I wanted to relax and just watch the program I was watching on TV. The program was Grand Designs (I’m a bit of a tragic) and you’re not going to get much out of that if you aren’t looking at the screen. You don’t see the houses.

I sat back on the couch and I watched.

It was difficult. I wanted to distract myself with my computer or my phone. But I kept at it. And it was refreshing, it really was, just to let my brain do one thing at once.

I think I need to push myself on this one.

I need to eat when I’m eating – not watch TV, not read, not scroll through Facebook. Just enjoy the food, taste it, smell it, really appreciate what I’m eating.

I need to watch TV when I’m watching, and read when I’m reading.

I need to remember to turn the wifi off when I’m writing and allow myself to sink deeply into the writing process (I am a bit better with this one).

Sometimes it’s good to do two things at once – some tasks work well together. I like listening to podcasts while walking because the story keeps me going when I would otherwise get bored and head for home. But at the same time, sometimes on my walks I need to turn the noise off and just let myself think.

I’ve been doing some data-entry work lately and listening to audio books has been great to keep me on-task. But it can’t be a book I care deeply about because if I have to think about the work at all then I miss what the narrator is saying. However, I think that the multi-tasking in that situation has worked well.

This world is so full of distractions that it is difficult to concentrate on one thing for any length of time. But I think that’s a muscle worth developing so I’m going to work harder to simplify.

Some good books on this subject are Single Tasking by Devora Zack, and Deep Work by Cal Newport. Also, at the end of Women Food and God by Geneen Roth there is a list of rules for eating which includes:

Eat without distractions. Distractions include radio, television, newspapers, books, intense or anxiety-producing conversations or music.

How about you? Do you love to multi-task? Are you addicted to distractions? What do you think about doing only one thing at once?

5 thoughts on “One thing at a time

  1. Great blog Ruth!
    I think the book was The Brain that Heals Itself. He says the brain really can only focus on one thing and switching between tasks uses a lot of energy and makes each task less efficient. … Or something like that 🙂
    Love you


    • Yes, that’s another great book. 🙂 The Brain’s Way of Healing by Norman Doidge if anyone is interested. It’s a great read following on from The Brain that Changes Itself by the same author.


  2. I agree with John – great blog. But I will always knit while I read or watch telly – somehow knitting helps use up excess energy and helps me concentrate on what I Am doing. I have tried recently to slow myself down so that I dont have to rush everything that I do. Instead of getting as much done in as quick a time as possible, I try to enjoy a gentle tidy up or leisurely stroll. I guess slowing down makes you
    More mindful – or perhaps I am just getting old!


    • I agree, slowing down is wonderful and a way to be more mindful. It’s completely counter-cultural so I find that I have to keep reminding myself that slowing down, seeing the world, tasting the food, all of it is a good thing.


  3. good call for me to examine my practices of screens and other multiple activities… perhaps I’ll return to knitting with TV rather than solitaire or sudoku!


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