Friday, November 4, 2011

do one thing


I have a tendency to freak out. I wake up late, look at the clock and something tells me that if I rush, if I go into panic mode, that will somehow fix things. There is not one shred of evidence that supports this feeling and never has been, yet it felt to me like common sense. Turns out, it's the opposite of sense.

The realization of this came to me on my old commute. I used to drive 37 miles to work. About 30 miles of that drive were on the highway and I was often running late so I was often driving like a maniac. On those drives I would hold the wheel tight and pray that I wouldn't be pulled over. By the time I got to my destination I was tired, worn down, still frantic, and -- get this -- still late. I did the math one time and found that by going 75 on the highway versus 65 I saved about a minute and a half. In other words, it made no difference.

I was surprised by the lack of difference, by the fact that panicking and rushing around was making no noticeable difference on the clock and it wasn't making my life any better. I was also surprised, happily this time, to have made the discovery.

The next day I drove to work at or below 65 miles per hour, arrived at almost exactly the same time but felt energized and happy. Go figure.

This morning, I rolled out of bed at 6:18, a full twenty-five minutes later than I should be getting out of bed. Between the bed and the shower I started to rev into panic mode. And then I heard myself whispering this phrase:

Do one thing.

I stood under the shower and wet my head. I washed my hair. When I was done with that, I rinsed. When I was done with that, I washed my body. Then I rinsed. I turned off the water, dried my body, put on clothes, walked downstairs. At each moment, I was thinking only of what I was doing in the moment, finishing each thing, then moving on to the next. And at each moment, I was trying to enjoy something about what I was doing.

So I came to work and had a bunch of things to do. I was only five minutes behind my usual schedule now. For some reason, I had fallen out of the "do one thing" mantra and found myself rushing from thing to thing and getting frantic again. In the middle of grading some student work, I kept thinking about how much I wanted to be typing my 750 words and posting it. I stopped reading the kids stuff for only a moment and wondered what I would write. And I thought again, "do one thing."

Thus, I'm standing at my computer, typing about how I get through life. As I have been typing about doing one thing, I have been interrupted by two different colleagues who have wanted to talk about something to me. One was frustrated with our administration. I'm not surprised. The other was telling a funny story from his class last night. I stopped what I was doing, reluctantly and listened to them. But it was good that I did. I couldn't be writing this and listening to them. I worried that stopping to talk with them would put me behind, make me lose my train of thought, but then I did one thing. I listened, talked to them, and let them go on their way. It was then that I returned to this and found that it was all waiting for me.

There is no such thing as multitasking. Even in computers. A processor can do one thing at a time. If there are multiple tasks to be done, the processor switches back and forth between them at an incredibly fast rate or the two tasks are shunted into two different processors. My brain processes one thing at a time. Writing this. Talking with colleagues. Grading student work. When I try to do them all at once, it's a big mess and it's a source of more tension.

I'm beating a dead horse now, right? Sorry about that.

I'll end with this thought: writing is a good teacher of the do one thing mantra. I can't write two different stories at the same time, can't compose two different poems. The only words I can put down are the ones that go with the thought I'm currently having. If I want to write 750 words, I have to focus on doing that one thing. And now that it's done, I have the world open to me.

Write on.