September 14, 2015

"One Thing at a Time"


Today, I turned 30 (happy birthday to me!).

I'd been wondering about ways to mark this year, whether with a list of 30 things to accomplish before next September or some big goal, but I felt like anything I chose would be kind of arbitrary and forced because I didn't really have anything I was really dying to check off my life list this year.

Then, when my parents were visiting for Labor Day, my mom and I started talking about Gretchen Rubin's podcast Happier and a recent episode where she and her sister had discussed one-word (or just a few words) themes for the year. My mom had picked one, but I hadn't come up with anything that seemed right to me.

Yesterday while I was at church, a phrase popped into my mind and I immediately decided that it would be my guiding principle for the next year.

"One Thing at a Time." 

I tend to be a prodigious multi-tasker. I also tend to do things very very fast (except running. There I am very very slow).

These characteristics have served me really well for a long time. In college, I took a full load of classes while also working three jobs (I was a writing tutor, a history teaching assistant, and an administrative assistant in the integrative biology department). When I quit my full-time job as an office manager to go back to grad school, they ended up having to hire two people to take over my work load. It also means I can make dinner without too much sweat most nights.

But in the last six months or so, I've noticed myself starting to fray around the edges.

I struggle to ever relax because I have work projects on my mind all the time. I start something - unloading the dishwasher or the laundry or writing a blog post - and then find myself having an extremely difficult time staying on task. Five dishes put away and then I'd throw away a napkin and take out the garbage and then grab a few library books to stick in the library basket and then make the bed. And the dishwasher sat there half empty.

That feeling where you go upstairs to grab something and then stand at the top of the stairs thinking, "What did I come up here for?" was plaguing me all the time. I'd stare at my computer screen or my phone or the kitchen counter and wonder what I was planning to do.

I've felt like I was bouncing from task to task to task without doing a very good job at any of them. More and more, I felt like I just wanted time to close my office door and spend a few hours with my girls or go for a walk without thinking of all the audiobooks I should be using my walk to plow through (at double speed).

I've felt so busy all the time and what I want most of all is to not feel busy all the time. To not make my girls feel like I'm just always go-go-go, to not feel like I don't have the time to exercise, to not feel like I don't have time to quietly plan out the next day before I go to bed.

I feel like I have a lot of good things going in my life right now - a good marriage, three little girls at super fun ages, the ability to homeschool and let Ella go to public school, a blog and writing career that I find really enjoyable - and I feel like I have the time to make them all happen, but not all at the same time.

And so, this year, my main focus is on being present on whatever I'm working on.

If that's reading through my own stack of books, it means putting my phone in another room so I don't keep getting yanked out of my book to look at Instagram.

If that's eating lunch with my girls, it means sitting down and not popping up twenty times to switch the laundry or grab the mail or look at a catalog on the counter.

If that's writing a blog post, it means closing all the other screens on my computer and writing straight through until I'm done so that every post doesn't take me 2 hours to write.

Multi-tasking has been a big help to me for the last three decades, but this year, I'm ready to shelve it (except when I'm listening to an audiobook while I fold the laundry because the laundry doesn't need or want my full attention).

Okay, and I also am going to learn to French-braid my own hair this year.

33 comments:

  1. Love this, love you. Happy birthday!!

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  3. Happy Birthday! Good luck. I admire you for making this your goal for the year.

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  4. French braid your OWN hair? Wow. I didn't even know that was possible. I can't even regular braid my own hair. (Though it is extremely curly, which makes it a bit more difficult.)

    Happy birthday! I hope you did something very fun and very single-mindedly. Not a word, but whatever.

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  5. Happy birthday!!!
    I think it's a great idea to slow down and do only one thing at a time. But I also think that you have always done a great job writing blog posts because this is still my favorite blog ;)

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  6. Happy Birthday! Can't believe you are in your thirties now, been reading your blog for so long ! Have a wonderful happy day - and enjoy the one thing at a time business, will watch your progress with interest :) xx

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  7. Happy birthday! That is an excellent goal! I often find myself running between multiple things too, usually because I feel like I'll forget something if I don't do it RIGHT NOW. Definitely a good reminder!

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  8. Happy birthday! I've been toying around with a turning-30 list, and so I'm glad you have pointed out how arbitrary it can be (it was feeling that way to me but I didn't know THAT'S what I was feeling). I hope your guiding principle steers you well.

    As for French braiding your own hair--I learned to do the braid "inside out" first on myself (where the strands are tucked under instead of over and the braid seems to stand up, resting against the hair). I think it's harder to braid inside out on other people but WAY easier on myself because I can let go of one of the strands and it sticks out in the air instead of falling with all the unbraided hair. I braided inside out on myself for 10 years before I figured out a regular french braid on myself. Also, it can be helpful to have another person oversee your progress and to stay away from mirrors. I'm starting to doubt that ANY of that made sense, but maybe you'll find something useful in it!

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    1. I completely agree. The inside-out (or dutch braid) is way easier to do on your own hair. It is easier to braid without a mirror. And, you have to position the braid so that it works with your hair. For instance, I almost never do a french braid straight down the back of my head because my hair hates to not be parted.

      Happy birthday! All you just-turning-30 ladies are making me feel old. 30 feels like so long ago.

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  9. Happy birthday! I just turned 30 on Saturday and I've been thinking about things to do this year. This is a really interesting idea!

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  10. Happy birthday! I turned 30 on Saturday as well. I can absolutely relate to the feeling of having too many things running through my mind and not quite being able to catch up with any of them... While I feel truly blessed for the life I have, I need to learn of ways to really enjoy my day-to-day life while still feeling like I am a productive and capable person. It is a balancing act! I will spend some time today thinking of my own theme for this year to hopefully help make that happen. Thanks so much for the idea, and I hope you have a great birthday!

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  11. Happy birthday! I can really relate with this post! It's surprisingly difficult to slow down and take it one thing at a time when you have been going, going, going for so long. I forced myself to do that for a weekend about a month ago and it was amazing and I didn't feel quite as exhausted at the end of the day! Now I just need to figure out how to incorporate it into my daily life.

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  12. I can French braid my own hair, so I'm pretty sure it's something you can do. I say this because I don't really do anything with my own hair, not only because of laziness but also because of a lack of skill, so if I can do it, you probably can too.

    Also, turning 30 was really not something I was happy about. I feel like I'm finally adjusted to it and okay with it now that I'm nine months in.

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    1. Ha! Me too, Sherry! (Are you a January birthday, too?)

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  14. Happy Birthday! I love that you're a September birthday, too!

    I love this! I seem to do too many things at one and can't handle it, so I get sloppy!

    I'm 28 in a week, so I'm on my way to that big three-zero. I think I'll come up with a theme for this year. I think follow-through. Last year, I'm now realizing, was "determined". I was determined to get my health on check. I was determined to rest and get well after my ectopoc pregnacy. And I was determined to read my Bible daily.

    This year, follow-through!

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  16. Years ago, I was part of a small group working our way through a book about Benedictine approaches to Christianity. One of the things we talked about was multitasking, and how pursuing things mindfully is a core idea of the Benedictine community. I was with them up to a point--until someone extrapolated and kept insisting that even laundry deserved mindfulness. Nope. Sorry.

    Also, happy birthday!

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  17. Oh wow, I can relate (except to the part about being a full-time student while working three jobs--you're superwoman!). I actually have a planned blog break beginning next week in order to take a step back and figure out why I'm feeling undone almost all the time. I love your theme for the year. Happy birthday!

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  18. Such a great theme for your next year! I'm sure its something that we could apply apply to our lives to be a little better! I hope you have such a great day with your sweet family. Happy Birthday!

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  19. Dang, Girl. You make thirty look GOOD. Barcelona is not the same without you.

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  20. You and Camp Patton are my absolute favorite people on the interweb. Gosh, I just admire you. Even as real as you are, I have wondered how you keep it all together and make teaching look flawless with your children. I think reading blogs have a natural tendency to make you picture only amazing things. Loved your thoughtful post today. I'm LDS too and gave a talk in sacrament yesterday with a main theme that "Eternity comes one step at a time"...so I totally get what you're saying. I hope the next 525,949 minutes of the next year provide you lots of happiness and peace. Happy Birthday!

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  21. Live this reminder. Thanks! I miss you!!! Happy birthday!!

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  22. I like this a lot. Happy Birthday to the only person I know who loves goat cheese as much as I do!

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  24. This describes me to a T ! I am such a huge multitasker... and an overachiever. Always on the go, always with a million projects and ideas on my mind, always feeling busy (and stressed out) and unable to relax. I must admit I kind of like it that way, but just like you, sometimes I wish I could just sit on the couch and not feel like I'm "wasting" my time. Or sleep in without feeling guilty... or enjoy every task on its own, and not be absent minded while doing three or four other tasks at the same time. This year I've been trying to live by the idea that "if I'm going to do it, I'll do it right and I should enjoy it... or not do it at all". Because the truth is, no one is asking me to do all of these. Most of the time I do it 'cause I want to. So if I WANT to do something, it should make me happy, or it's not worth my time. For the record, I'm still struggling with it all, but I am getting better. ;)

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  25. I do the same thing! And am left feeling unaccomplished and things half completed. I've also been making an effort to do one thing at a time, and not move on until it is complete. Looking forward to hearing more about this.

    Annie
    Sweetbananie.blogspot.com

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  26. I turn 30 in April, have three little girls the same ages as yours, and have also recently felt like everything is constantly left undone (or at least halfway-done) in my life. I sort of thing part of it is the three kid thing, but also definitely due to m personality. Loved all your ideas of how to be present and focused, and I also agree about learning how to braid. I've got three girls--I should probably learn that essential skill :)

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  27. I'm totally like this. It's so hard to not feel like there is always something I should be getting done. I get it from my parents. The difference is that I'm pretty good at shoving things aside and just relaxing or reading. I don't think they know how to just slow down and be! And then it all piles up again and I get super overhwlemed. Good luck with the next year! I'm really trying to do the same.

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  28. You've got this!
    Also--so many comments I won't bother to read if this has already been said, but I learned to french braid my own hair by laying on the bed with my hair falling off the edge, and braiding it sort of upside down. Tension is the key.
    Can't wait to see your beautiful braids!
    xo

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  29. I've often felt the same way. I think it's that third kids that leads to the frayde edges feeling. Sounds like a great motto.

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  30. Happy Birthday! I love your blog.

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  31. This is a great reminder! I hate when I'm reading and keep pulling out my phone. Silly!

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