Tuesday, 31 July 2012

The art of doing one thing at a time

For the past nine months or so I've been dealing with some health issues that have affected my day to day life in some interesting, and also annoying, ways. A fairly protracted bout of Glandular Fever (insert joke about pashing random people here - go on do it - you know you want to) led to some crazy food allergies and what could potentially be Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. While I'm still unsure about the diagnosis, the fact remains that life is different from how it used to be.

Sometimes these differences manifest themselves in good ways. For example, I don't seem to need to wash my hair as much these days. SCORE. I also have a damn good reason for staying at home on the couch when it's cold and rainy outside, and any normal person would be doing the same, fatigued or not. I've learned how to say no - simply because I've had to. As a born people pleaser this is a particularly hard lesson to learn, but it had to happen. I've been met with waves of compassion when I was at my sickest, and been lucky enough to have others share their experiences of being sick with me, and also their advice. 

The advice has been key because in this, the age of Dr. Internet, there have been times when I have felt suffocated by all the information that is available. And of course the subsequent agendas of those posting the information. Take supplements! Don't take supplements! Google searches on CFS and which treatments are the best are really a dangerous road to go down. I've learned my lesson there (mostly). It seems like instead of making people feel empowered and hopeful, the internet does exactly the opposite. It can create some wonderful forums for wallowing, self-pity and doom-mongering. No thanks.

The overwhelming advice I've received, from both Dr. Internet and Dr Real Life, is that pacing is key. It's taken me a while to really take this on board and apply it to all aspects of my life. For a while, I thought it was just about staying home and not socialising as much as I used to. Cut to me, sitting on my couch with the television on, my laptop in front of me and my iPhone beeping away at me, making sure I was up to date with all my Words With Friends games. And I wondered why I was going to bed each night feeling wired and my energy levels were plateauing, if not getting worse.

If only life was this, right?

I was chatting to a good friend recently, and she mentioned that these days companies and workplaces are focussing less on multi-tasking and more on doing one thing at a time. That this was a new trend, in how we work and live our lives. This got me thinking - when do I ever do one thing at a time? When does anyone? And how would our lives change if we did? We all fear that drop in our productivity, but really, how much does multi-tasking actually help us, other than to make us feel like we're on top of things, but in fact we are constantly stressed and overwhelmed. For so long, being so busy and doing a hundred things at once was seen as a badge of honour and a sign of importance - maybe we're finally letting that go?

Interestingly enough, people who multi-task aren't any more efficient than those who don't, according to this blog post, that Click Training and Consulting kindly directed me to as I was writing this very post. Thanks internet - maybe you're not so bad after all.

So I'm trying something new. When I sit on the couch to watch a movie, I just watch the movie. It surprised me how difficult that actually is. No laptop and no Words With Friends.  When I spend time with friends and family, my phone stays in my bag and that time is devoted to them. Writing this blog post right now is all I'm doing. My phone is in the other room and the TV is off. At work, I write my "to-do" lists and work through them systematically, one thing at a time. 

When I remember to do these things - suddenly I feel like I'm in control, like I'm managing. Am I magically cured? No, probably not. But I do feel like this un-multi-tasking business has its perks. Plus, I'm more than happy to let someone else win the busiest person competition - it's not a title I'm particularly interested in, thanks anyway.

Interested in reading more about doing less? Check out this post from Sarah Wilson. Actually, check out her blog in general. It's pretty great.


  1. I like the idea of 'tilting' that Sarah Wilson talks about. I haven't had a word for it before, but you're always more productive when inspiration strikes you need to seize it and not put it off until later!

    Also, there was an opinion piece in NYTimes a few weeks back that I liked on this too:

    "Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day....I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter."

  2. Thanks lovelies.

    I have SO much time for Sarah Wilson and am constantly sending people links to her blog posts. It's funny, I was in a strategy update at work today, and the concept of "tilting" was spoken of a lot, but in the sense of tilting your business to where the money is. I guess we have a new corporate buzz word...

    I also read that opinion piece in the NYTimes! Thanks iPhone app! The "hedge against emptiness" idea is really pertinent in today's connected-but-disconnected world, in my opinion.