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One Thing at a Time

One Thing at a Time

Two books arrived in my mailbox; three more downloaded to my Kindle. I had listened to a podcast whose message I appreciated and felt moved to send them a comment.

My confidence at getting any of it done was mediocre. But as a junior high kid, I read seven books per week without breaking stride except perhaps to limp slightly as the ungainly lumps of book shifted on my back on the way home. 

How is it we adults get to be so overloaded? My thirteen-year-old self offers some answers.

Asking that of myself as a personal question, answering with brutal honesty, it came to me that overload(ed) is something we feel, not something we are. Sure, with the accumulation of years comes the accumulation of information, responsibilities, interests enmeshments involvements relationships that require attention and curation.

But the flip side of the theory that we learn more slowly as adults because our "hard drives" are already more full up (and likewise react more slowly because more of our RAM is taken up) is what the best brain coaches say: that in order to remember, first one must forget. Forget one's preconceptions, forget the self talk, forget trivial factoids that you don't need to remember.

I love the self-determination being an adult grants, but feeling "overloaded" should make me question whether I deserve that independence. My seven-books-a-week thirteen-year-old self had school, chores, and several out-of-school activities also, all of which were obligations, but all of which also were structure surrounding me. My book-reading and other extras were like the lumps of book in the bag--bulky, but contained.

As adults we get to create our own structure to get extra reading in, write reviews, be of service, and generally add value (while still sleeping and getting our day jobs done). People in regular employment and/or who have kids have a bunch of structure built in, which is why many people say they get the most creative work done in periods of their life when they're otherwise very busy. For people like myself who are blessed to be self employed and single, we get to create our own structure/book bag. If I do this first, everything else happens more smoothly.

The other thing that helps is a sense of play--of recreation, and yes, that does mean "create over again," which is something inherently creative. I read so many books because it was fun and delightful and relaxin and stimulating all at the same time. I learned, but I also relaxed my brain. When I approach extra reading, writing a review, writing a blog post even though I'm tired, as something fun and playful, it all seems to get done faster.

The third lesson from my kid self is "one thing at a time." I was raised to be singleminded, and fierce focus came naturally to me. Multitasking wasn't even a thing; I think I started hearing the term late in high school, where it was used semi-jokingly, and in the context of multiple windows on a computer. Working on computers was what taught me to multitask, and I found it to be a two-edged sword. I could get into "flows" where I'd accomplish multiple tasks passing from room to room picking up transposing moving tidying, or have all the courses of a complex meal ready at exactly the right or the same time. On the other hand, I could write a sentence, then go edit a bit, then post on Facebook, check my email...and end up feeling frustrated and ineffective. What I came to realize is that in both these scenarios yes, I was working on multiple tasks but no, I wasn't ever doing anything simultaneously. I was doing one thing at a time but shifting from one thing to the other. In fact, the meal preparation displays were so flair because I'd managed to conceive of the whole meal as a superordinate single task and sequenced all the elements in such a way that everything would be ready when needed. 

The research now is also saying that so-called multitasking is actually rapid switching. It's also said that a bunch of energy is lost in each switch. But do we really need a scientific study to tell us that? If you think about it, common sense will tell you that switching from one activity to another involves a loss of momentum, a few moments to get your bearings in the new activity.

I've always known that linear time doesn't "really" exist, and even if this has helped earn me certain diagnoses I think it's a deep truth. However, linear time is also currency, and we need to know how to use it.

About the Author

Ela Harrison

Ela is a wordsmith and herb lover who has lived in many places and currently resides in Tucson, AZ.

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