The Beauty of Focusing on One Thing at a Time

The Beauty of Focusing on One Thing at a Time

For the past one month, I’ve written four articles regarding the Things You Should Consider If You’re Thinking of Leaving Your Job in order to start something of your own. You can read them from the links below:

1. 10 Things You Might Hate About Working for Yourself
2. The Practical Guide to Finding Your Purpose in Life (in 7 Steps)
3. 5 Steps on How to Use Fear to Find Your Purpose
4. At Which Point of Your Life Should You Consider Yourself Successful?

The things I shared in the articles above were derived from personal experiences and advice from various sources, compiled into what I hope is in a digestible form. I wrote them so other people thinking of making a similar move can learn from my mistakes by really thinking things through before making as huge a decision as leaving their jobs.

This final article under this heading will concern the people who are currently or will be embarking on their solo journey. My one advice to all of you: Do one thing at a time.

 

But there’s so much work to do

I get it. Even as I write this, I have about 27 different things I should get on right now. I need to build more buffers for my articles. I need to shoot at least four videos, edit and share them with the right people. I may or may not need to change the name of my website to something that is not so prone to misspelling and I need to sort out some codes regarding Google AdSense to get extra income. I won’t even get into the more urgent ones I have on my list.

When you’re starting out, you have all these grand ideas about what to do and when to do it by. You pressure yourself into doing everything as soon as you can so that reality can catch up with this image of perfection you’ve conjured up in your mind. Heck, you even have a schedule of tasks to complete by so and so date.

Just two weeks into it though, your relatives start asking questions. “So? How’s business? You get any clients yet?”

One month into it, you get a call from ex-colleagues. “So? How’s it going? What are you up to nowadays? Making money yet?”

Most of them are innocent questions from people who are genuinely curious about life on the other side. But it irritates you anyway because you’re thinking, “What the hell? You think I can make a business take off in one freaking month?”

I personally went through this and I know another friend who got harassed just one week after making her move. She literally had people asking her if she had interviews lined up. After one week.

When barraged with questions by curious onlookers, you might have spilled a thing or two about your plans which were met with skepticism (which you immediately regretted). When you finally said goodbye, they left the meeting with their curiosities sated, but you left the meeting with a bit of a damper on your enthusiasm.

Your first instinct might be to work harder and faster to prove (to yourself more than anyone else) that you can get this thing off the ground.

Don’t.

Take a step back and consider that you are one person.

The last thing you want to do is to burn yourself out because if that happens, no one will cover for you. Willpower and enthusiasm are finite resources and they can only be renewed with adequate rest. Use them sparingly and wisely.

You can do this by doing one thing at a time.

 

How do I get anything done by just doing one thing?

The first year after quitting my job, I suddenly had 24 hours a day all to myself. I wanted to do so many things. I wanted to write personal finance articles, I wanted to travel and blog about it, I wanted to build a website, I wanted to sell things online. On top of that, I wanted to spend more time with family, learn a new language, get reacquainted with my guitar and exercise more often.

I was stuck in this multitasking limbo for months until I couldn’t take it anymore. Then, there was a period of depression when I felt so tired and completely useless. It felt like I was working so hard and yet nothing was working and getting done.

I then stopped doing anything for a while. After spending a considerable amount of time watching movies and bingeing on unhealthy food, I’d had enough of feeling sorry for myself and finally took some time to re-evaluate all the things I considered important.

I came up with the following: God, Health, Family, Friends, Money.

General things I know, but I was lost and I couldn’t even come up with a specific list of things to do. If I had, they would have run a few hundred pages long consisting of all the ‘potential’ things I could do.

I didn’t want potential. I wanted to do one actual thing. And I wanted to do that one thing well. It was my way out of this horrible rut. Since I wasn’t getting anything done anyway, why not try and do just one thing right?

And so I had to choose from my list of important things.

  • God – I hadn’t killed anyone, so God should be on okay terms with me.
  • Family and friends – Last I checked, they love me still, so that’s good.
  • Money – Was not coming in and I had no idea where to start. But all things considered, I had food and shelter, so I wasn’t in dire straits. Money could wait.
  • Health – I was not sick, but I could do so much better.

I could choose to improve my financial state or I could choose to improve my health. After a lot of thinking, I decided that there’s no point working myself to the ground if I won’t be healthy enough to enjoy the process. So the next morning, I put on my running shoes and went for a one-hour-walk around the neighbourhood.

When I came back, I felt slightly better, so I did it again the next day. And the next. And the day after.

At this time, I wasn’t doing anything remotely productive. I wasn’t writing articles or coming up with new ideas. I wasn’t networking or reading books. But whenever I felt that nasty self-doubt creeping up on me, I would push it away by thinking, “At least today I took care of my health by exercising.”

Every day, my body became stronger and I felt better and better about myself. Then, the most amazing thing happened. It created a ripple effect.

 

The ripple effect

Exploring the trail with my close friends. Someone was actually sleeping in a hammock up in the trees.

 

For some reason, on days that I exercised, I always felt like eating healthier food. Since I was exercising every day, I ate more vegetables and fruits and took a liking to blending my own fruit smoothie. I found the process calming and it made me feel like this awesome, healthy person. With exercise and better nutrition, my moods and self-esteem improved. I laughed more and went out with my friends more. I was a nicer person to everyone and even made some new friends. I also found I had more energy, physically and mentally, so I spent my extra waking time doing something I’ve always loved – reading books.

In the past, reading made me feel guilty because I felt like I could be spending that time getting one of my several hundred tasks done. But I was so done with multitasking, so I would spend hours and hours just reading in silence.

With reading, I came up with many good ideas on how to approach my new life. I was also getting adequate sleep, so whenever I needed to use my brains to do heavy thinking, the thoughts came easily and with clarity. Whatever I was read, I could always somehow relate them to how to make my life better.

It seems easy (and almost immediate) when I put it this way. But for all the things in the four paragraphs above to happen, they took more than six months of consciously focusing on one thing at a time and doing that one thing right. I hit some roadblocks along the way of course. I tried many new things that didn’t work. But the point I’m trying to make is, when you focus on doing one thing, and you do it really well, it is inevitable that it will lead to better things. This is because once you discover that something doesn’t work for you, you can quickly drop it and move on to things you’re better at.

And when I say ‘do something really well’, I don’t mean you need to produce perfect work. Doing something really well means consciously and deliberately giving it the best you have at that moment in time. Don’t compare yourself to people who have been doing it for years. Just focus on what you can learn.

For instance, when I chose to start exercising, I didn’t immediately go running. I just walked. As I walked, I tried my best to enjoy my surroundings. The fresh air, the birds chirping, the green leaves around me, the strength of my legs, the steady beating of my heart. They are all things to be grateful for. If I had compared myself to all the fitness buffs out there, there would be no room for learning because I’d spend so much time envying them.

Just pick one important thing and focus on it for a week or a month and see where it leads you. For me, focusing on my health has made all the difference in the world.

And the best thing? My exercise routine is now a habit. It no longer takes a lot of effort for me to spend one hour on a treadmill every day, then washing my sports bra, pants and socks while I shower and hanging them up to dry. Counting calories now require less effort as I get better at estimating portions. Choosing to eat healthier things and forgoing chocolate takes less willpower than before. Sometimes I don’t even think about it. I just do it.

When something becomes a habit, your brain goes into autopilot mode. In my case, my brain is free to work on other difficult things because exercise is no longer difficult. Exercise is now my habit. If I don’t do it, I will feel uncomfortable.

With my brains freed up, I went on to tackle something more difficult – like finding my niche in this world.

You want to do one thing well? Don’t think about all the work ahead of you. Just do it.

If you’re beating yourself up mentally, stop. If you’re lying down, sit. If you’re sitting, stand up. If you’re standing still, put one foot in front of the other, then another and before long you’ll be walking. If you’re feeling ambitious, go outside and enjoy the sunshine (or rain, whichever you prefer). Just do one thing. If baking cookies can make you feel better, then bake cookies and share them with loved ones. When you give one thing your all, that could be your catalyst to better things in the future. This is why I love this approach so much. You can start with anything.

 

What if after focusing on one thing, I find out it’s the wrong thing?

The appeal of multitasking is you imagine that you’d be able to find the ‘right’ thing for yourself sooner. Theoretically, this is correct.

But when you spread yourself thin across many things, you sacrifice depth.

Depth is important because if you don’t go deep enough, you won’t know what would truly work for you and what wouldn’t.

If I had not spent 10 days completely immersing myself in a photography course and being pressured to use various functions on my camera every single day, I would not have known that photography is much too stressful for me to pursue as a career.

I busied myself with making travel vlogs of the locals instead of taking artsy photos :p Click on the photo if you want to see the video I made!

 

If I had not forced myself to do one live video on Facebook every single day for one week, I would not have known that I rather enjoy coming up with topics and elaborating them in a certain way.

If I had not started a travel log website, I would never have found out that travel writing is too restrictive for me and I would never have landed on self-improvement as my subject of choice.

Knowing what is wrong for you is every bit as important as knowing what is right for you. It’s not enough to know what you like. Before I committed to pursuing one task at a time, I was under the delusion that I could pursue any of the following routes as a career – writing, travel blogging, graphic design, photography, drawing comics and video making to name a few.

After spending enough time on each of them, I’ve narrowed the list down to exactly one career option: Writing. And this article you’re reading right now? This is nowhere near perfect. But if I don’t get these articles out every Wednesday, how am I supposed to know what works and what needs improving? I get lots of feedback about the length of my articles and the way I present my points and while I take them into account, the commitment is to publish at least one article every Wednesday, no matter what. No matter how crappy I feel. No matter how unimpressed I am with my writing.

This is me taking things one thing at a time. Once this becomes a habit, I will then be able to add more articles into the mix.

Just remember, you don’t have to be perfect at any of them. Life is a journey of continuous learning, not a competition of who-is-more-perfect. You just have to commit yourself to a period of execution. Don’t worry if you think it’s not good enough. Just do it. My live videos were horrendous and my pictures on my photography trip hardly won any awards. My writing could be miles better. But the things I did let me understand how I felt about them.

The concept of focusing on one thing at a time doesn’t only apply to finding your vocation. It can be applied to almost anything. Are you a physical journal kind of person or a digital calendar kind of person? Would you benefit from bullet journaling or would a stream of consciousness journaling work better for you? Should you exercise first thing in the morning or in the evening when your energy is running low? How many hours should you spend a day reading? Should you work on weekends? Should you work three part-time jobs at the same time?

When you work for yourself, you will have so many unanswered questions. Take time to tackle each of them properly. Don’t jump around doing 10 things at one go. You’ll forget how you feel about each individual task and you might trick yourself into thinking you’re okay with all of them. If you had spent some time properly testing it out, you might feel differently. You might even find better ways to improve the way you do things.

In the end, you want to find the best way to get about things. If you invest some time now getting to know yourself better, you can save so much time in the future once you have a good routine going.

You know all those articles about how successful people spend their days? Some of them wake up at the crack of dawn and go for a run. Some take long walks and some read for 10 hours a day. These incredible routines don’t just happen in one day and they definitely don’t work for everyone.

A good, effective routine is unique to each individual person and needs to be earned through trial and error. The more you know your preferences, the more effective you will be.

Don’t be afraid of going down the wrong path. Remember, knowing what’s wrong for you is as important as knowing what is right for you. If something is wrong for you, you can easily drop it with certainty and never waste time revisiting that route again.

 

Conclusion

Just google ‘multitasking’ and you’ll find numerous articles talking about how multitasking is just deluding you into thinking you’re doing many things when in fact, you’re doing a small percentage of everything but completing none.

When you work for yourself, there are a lot of new things you need to learn to do by yourself. Learning new things takes tremendous cognitive effort. It could be a completely new subject like building your own website. It could be something nerve-wrecking like making new friends at a social event. It could be something tedious like creating your own company and getting your accounts right. All of them require incredible focus and determination which can zap your energy quicker than a Hummer can drink fuel.

Whatever your tasks may be, you’re not doing yourself any favours by stretching your brains and willpower too thin. I know it feels counter intuitive, but choose the most important thing and stick to doing that until you’ve done enough to be good at it or until you don’t have to worry about it for a good amount of time.

The beauty of it is, when you focus on doing one thing at a time, you finish it quicker. Once finished, you are free to move on to other things on your list. Don’t think for one second that choosing to do one thing at a time means letting go of everything else on your list.

If anything, taking things one thing at a time will ensure you get to do all of them.

 

I would like to end this with an announcement. The Durian McFlurry is all it’s hyped up to be. Good God it was AMAZING!


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