What If Your “Number” is One?

In one of the Just Whelmed Wee Weekly Workshops, I share with subscribers that they need to know what their “number” is – as far as how many tasks or people are the right number for staying “just whelmed.”

One of the subscribers sent me this question:

What if your “number” is 1????  Recently, I devoted every single day to ONE task (until I completed it–well, for the most part, by the 3rd day, I had to move on to other things) and it was great.

I knew what I was supposed to be doing each day, I felt very accomplished when I left each day, and was motivated to finish it quickly so that I could get to the other things on my list (again, by 3 days I was over it).

Because of time constraints–at that time, I had about 4 hours each day to work on it–I really could only focus on the one thing.  This was at a time when I did not have other commitments, e.g., classes to teach, students to advise/assist.  However, during the school year, on any given day as I have already mapped out I have 3 hours most days to “work”.

Therefore, based on this recent experience, I have determined that my number is 1.  Although during the school year, commitments/deadlines are more pressing and it is not a matter of just working until you get it done (for example I’m thinking of prepping for a lecture that is going to be given on a certain day per the syllabus).

Not sure if my question is even clear here, but what do you do if your number is 1–how do you work with that in the real world?

Any assistance/thoughts are always greatly appreciated ;)”

Here’s my response:

I think you have your answer!  You know your number is 1 and that when you exceed that number, you begin to feel somewhat overwhelmed.  During the academic year, we generally aren’t able to think about only one project – and yet we can get closer than we think.  The world around you wants to pull you into the swirl of too many projects, very little focus, and lots of general foolishness (none of which anyone needs to be paying attention to, but…)

Since you know that your number is 1, the more you can protect your focus to go toward that 1, the better you will feel and the more positively productive (and ‘just whelmed’) you will be.  A few suggestions for doing that:

1. Determine your “1” time each week – and you could even call it that.  Designate your “1” time in your calendar and protect it as if your life depended on it.  In some ways, your academic life does depend on it.
2. Keep a place where “everything else” goes.  Maybe that’s what the file is called, i.e., “Everything else.”  At the beginning of the week or whenever you are doing your weekly planning, look at “everything” and figure out which 1 is going to come out and be the place focus during your 1 time.  Keep everything else on that list, in that folder, or in that notebook.  It will be there (since I’ve yet to have anything magically get itself done, darn it!)
3. Resist all attempts from others and your own brain to distract you from your 1 time each day.  The more momentum you can build up, the better and more peacefully productive you are.  Enlist others’ help if needed, for example a family member, colleague, coach, or other trusted person.  Tell them how you want to be accountable and what help you need.

I wish this were easier (as in magically easy).  It’s not easy, but it is easier than we imagine it might be.