One thing at a time

Stepping stones in water

We all feel the tension and stress as too many things compete for our time and attention.

It’s being stretched too thin. Buffeted from one task, meeting, engagement or demand to the next. Left with no time to absorb the complexities and nuance of each situation, let alone try to solve it.

The phone in our pocket never stops buzzing:

“Darren has uploaded a new photo.”

“How to make your life better with this one weird trick.”

“You won’t believe how these 10 celebs look after a diet of kale and weasels.”

It’s no wonder that we feel the need to manage these competing demands by tackling a few of them at the same time.

I’ll write the report while I check some emails. I’ll eat lunch while I read the treatment. I’ll finish the proposal while I’m in the meeting.

We double and triple up on simultaneous activities because we think they make us more effective. In fact they have the opposite effect.

Multi-tasking is hugely damaging to our productivity because it comes with such a bevy of hidden costs. It feels like you’re getting more done, but that’s just because your brain is struggling under the burden of all the things you’ve loaded into it.

Multitasking forces us to pay a tax in attention and will power, let’s call it The Brain Tax.

When you switch back and forth between tasks, you pay The Brain Tax.

When you hold more than one subject in your RAM at the same time, you pay The Brain Tax.

When you start something and then leave it incomplete while you move onto something else, you pay The Brain Tax.

Anytime you’re not doing and then completing one thing at a time, you’re paying The Brain Tax which erodes your concentration, efficiency and effectiveness.

If you want to get a lot done, then focus on one thing at a time. Start it, finish it and then move on to the next thing. If you’re worried about the landscape shifting while you’ve got your head down, then do a quick sweep of your priorities between task.

You’ll get more done. You’ll be more effective. You’ll feel better about what you leave behind.

We can’t do everything, but we can certainly commit to one thing at a time.

Killing Goldfish

This blog originally appeared on Medium:
Killing Goldfish

I’m a talker. Always have been, and, I suspect, I always will be.

If you know Game of Thrones, I suspect The Hound would hate me.

Being a talker comes with a great sense of productivity and I think this sense is one of the reasons I’m drawn to it.

This sense arises from the fact that speaking makes it easy to manifest thoughts in the real world.

A simple sentence and *poof*, the cerebral is made actual. The idea or thought is now in an external and highly shareable format.

In many respects: something from nothing.

It’s even a piece of cake to move from one discussion point to the next quite swiftly. Take and idea, speak about it, bring it to life, and then move on — your work is done.

It’s easy to see how this can feel like an amazing use of time and energy.
But what, I’m ashamed to say, I’ve only just realised, is how false this sense of productivity is. It’s not speaking that actually brings these thoughts to life. It’s not speaking that manifests these thoughts in the real world — it’s action.

I guess there’s a reason they say “talk is cheap”.

Talking about an idea might present it to the “real world”, but only through action will it achieve any of its potential. Only through action will it start to interact with the system of the world. Only through action will the idea make an impact.

For 36 years I’ve walked around thinking that I’ve been giving birth to ideas and setting them free into the world. What I’ve actually been doing is taking goldfish out of a small, private tank, putting them on a table to show people how marvellous they are, and letting them drown in the air.

Because that’s what happens to ideas without action: they die.

Talking might get the goldfish out of your personal tank so you can show another person or two, but it’s only action which gets it into a larger, more public aquarium, where it can grow and flourish.

It’s not difficult to see why my particular pattern of behaviour was easy to establish — action requires more effort than talking. It requires much more energy to build a public aquarium than it does to just scoop a fish out of water and leave it to flap about on the table.

Action requires energy, focus, resource and intent — but in the end it’s worth it.

So this article is the first aquarium. It’s not particularly well crafted, or beautiful, but hopefully it holds water. Hopefully it holds fish.

Hopefully it stands as a tiny, idea-filled monument to action, and my desire to not spend the next thirty-six years, killing goldfish.

Delusion Smoothie

If self-delusion were an Olympic sport, I’d be on the podium with a gold medal around my neck, fist in the air like a Black Panther. I’m not black, or a panther, but that’s kind of the idea in this sport.

I can convince myself that a dawdle is a jog, that a light dusting is an adequate clean, and that reading xbox360.ign.com for 20 mins each day should be considered “work” because in 2005 I wrote two jokes about video games.

This is why I love breakfast, it’s the ultimate meal for hardcore delusionists. So many foods that in years gone by would have been firmly entrenched in the “only occasionally” section of the food pyramid, that would have been locked inside the sweet, fatty apex that crowns the foundation of boring root vegetables, fruit and lean meats; have somehow worked their way down to the more acceptable sections in what must surely be nutritional voodoo, pure and simple.

Smoothies, muffins and banana-bread (aka milkshakes, cup-cakes and banana-CAKE) have all been making appearances in the AM, littering the desks of office-workers around the world, too strapped for time to eat a bowl of muesli at home before work.
Is it any wonder that we’re living in the fattest countries on Earth? Not when we’re all jamming cake and milkshakes into our face-holes before the clock has even struck nine.

Now a normal, socially conscious person might feel the urge to speak out against this madness that we’re engaging in, but I freaking love it. Back in the eighties I use to have to subtly sneak an extra spoonful of brown sugar, past my Mum and onto my Weet-Bix each morning in order to satisfy the sugar craving that will ultimately cripple me with type two diabetes; but now I just say “I’ll have a banana smoothie please”.

Everybody loves smoothies, and rightly so, they’re amazing. Some love the fruity taste, some love the cold freshness of the milk, but I best love the moment that I spend each morning, deluding myself that a drink with ice-cream in it is the cornerstone of a healthy breakfast. Yum!

– Fatty Valentine