So he says, 'Why don't you try doing just one thing?'
There's definitely something there.
I often get this feeling that I'm trying to do a hundred things at once, but failing to do any of them well or at all. I don't think it's a particularly unusual feeling, though I do have a propensity for overestimating what I can achieve in any one time frame, and I do beat myself up pretty hard when I don't do the million and one things I thought I could in that little window.
Sometimes this is a good thing. Feeling like you should be doing more, achieving more, helps propel you to always be bettering yourself. To take those little steps that inch you forward and keep you going when you feel a bit stuck. And there's no harm in bursts of ambition where you go guns blazing into a whole mess of projects and initiatives and find you can actually achieve more than you thought, just for a little while.
But it's when you forget to turn that off that you start to slow down, the un-ticked to-dos pile up and you get that feeling of failure. And that's no good for anyone.
What's important and what matters
And so to that little nugget of wisdom - why don't you try just doing one thing? - which while perhaps not entirely original, is still incredibly powerful. Because when you've forgotten to stop, that little idea is anything but obvious.
But which one thing should you do? It's not so easy suddenly switching from thinking everything is important and urgent to saying, you know what, I'm just going to let a bunch of stuff slide. All those things that weighed on me, and started to crush me? I'm just going to shrug them off.
Obviously it doesn't work like that.
Slowly though you can start to separate what's important from what actually matters to you and to recognise what seems urgent, but can actually wait, as opposed to what will help you achieve what you want to get done so you stay happy.
A cold (wet) dose of reality
While I don't advise this particular psychological route, something happened to me recently that really helped separate the important from the 'what matters'. I can't go into great details right now for legal reasons (ooh er I know) but basically, just over a month ago, I ended up in the river, along with my phone and my laptop. Everything got very wet. I was bruised and my electricals were broken.
I had access to only slow and clunky technology - enough to do my work on but any more and I started to go cross eyed. I was shaken and very short of time due to things that needed taking care of.
All of a sudden I really could only do what really mattered - I didn't have the time or resources for anything else, and it was really liberating. One thing at a time. And each thing had to be the one that would have the most impact at that time.
I've tried to maintain this measured momentum ever since.
Working with words takes many guises
So yes. I have been a little quiet on here, but this is not an apology for that. Because this blog is about exercising my words and my writing and there were other ways for me to do that, which mattered more over the last few weeks.
- First (and most proudly) I got my first review in print in the Oxford Times.
- I rested and took time to properly recuperate (physically and mentally) from my river ordeal.
- And I read. Lots. (Well, for me it's been lots), and tonight I finished a particularly moving book, 'Stoner: A Novel' by John Williams.
Telling you about 'Stoner' is what matters most right now
'Stoner' was so good, in fact, that it seemed vital that I share its wonder with others and pass on a hearty recommendation to read it.
As the sleeve says 'William Stoner enters the University of Missouri at nineteen to study agriculture. Later, he becomes a teacher. He marries the wrong woman. His life is quiet, and after his death his colleagues remember him rarely' and yet the story is, at the same time, about everything. It is deeply resonant without any sentimentality and while sad, does not ask for your pity.
It's one of those books that makes you feel as though you need to contemplate 'things' when you finish it. To wonder what you're expecting of your own life, and whether you have it in you to make more of what is, essentially, the compromise of living.