How to Increase Productivity with Just One Thing

How to Increase Productivity with Just One Thing


If you read my guest post on over-commitment, you won’t be surprised that I’ve been overwhelmed lately. My vacation was restful, but I returned home to a number of tasks I had put off until I got back. Another problem was that while on vacation, I fantasized about all the things I wanted to accomplish this summer. As I considered all my options, I had no idea what to do first.

Options for Prioritizing When You’re Overwhelmed

I thought about using Mark Forster’s the Final Version or Smart Pad to work through my to-do’s, but my anxiety wouldn’t let me. I thought about using Covey’s Quadrants, too, but I still felt the number of tasks to complete would be too large. I Googled “how to prioritize when you’re overwhelmed.” Mostly what I found was the usual advice–make items with a deadline a top priority, delegate when possible, yadda yadda. Nothing clicked until I found a post from Just Ask Kim (note: some cursing here) who said that we don’t have to decide the priority of everything:

Don’t worry about the rest of the list, it’s not even worth your time to number them. All you care about at this moment is knocking out #1.

She goes on to say that when we’ve identified our number one task, we have to focus on it like a laser.

Just One Thing

Kim’s post reminded me of a well-known Bible account, but made me think about it in a whole new way.

40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:40-42)

I had always thought the lesson here was that Jesus is what we ought to be focusing on. Rather than trying to get things done, we ought to be spending time in Bible reading and prayer. This interpretation is very hard on poor Martha who is understandably concerned with eating! The traditional interpretation cannot be the whole meaning of Jesus’ words, however. Scripture makes it clear that we are not to give up working and just wait on Jesus’ return. Of course, our number one priority is always to serve the Lord, but isn’t that what Martha was doing? So what was the problem?

Jesus tells Martha that she is worried and upset about many things. Boy, can I relate to that! How about you? I’ve been worried and upset about the many things that I need to get done, or even that I’d just like to get done,  and it isn’t a pleasant feeling. Like Martha, I can get mighty crabby. So what’s the answer to Martha’s and my dilemma? Just pray more? You can never pray too much, but you’ve got to get to work, too! What struck me as similar between the Just Ask Kim’s comment and Jesus’ response to Martha is just one thing being needed. My aha moment was this:

When we focus on more than one thing at a time, our productivity, peace, and patience will be diminished.

My Experience With Just One Thing

A couple of years ago, I wrote about my decision to quit using a to-do list for all but the time-sensitive tasks or things that I would otherwise forget. I remember that time as one of the most productive and peaceful of my life. I started using a typical to-do list again because I was starting a new job (that I no longer have) and figured that I had so much to do that I had to use a to-do list. Looking back, I can see that I didn’t do myself any favors. When I wasn’t using a comprehensive to-do list, I focused on just one thing at a time. I didn’t worry about what I would do after I finished a load of laundry or get upset when my husband made a request that wasn’t on an arbitrary list. I just went about my day doing the one thing that was needed at the time.

I have been re-experiencing the benefits of focusing on just one thing and I can’t rave enough. My productivity, self-discipline, sense of well-being, and family relationships have improved dramatically. Before you decide to give it a try, you might want to consider the following:

  • Focusing on Just One Thing doesn’t mean you ignore your calendar or time-sensitive to-do’s. Checking your calendar will be one of the “one things” you do.
  • Focusing on Just One Thing doesn’t mean you chuck your routines or your schedule. In fact, I’ve been better able to stick to my routines as I’m not thinking about all the other stuff I have to do.
  • Focusing on Just One Thing doesn’t mean you have to throw away your project lists if you need them.
  • Focusing on Just One Thing doesn’t mean you can’t delegate. You may recognize one thing that needs to be done and can decide to assign it to your child as a chore or ask for personal or professional help in completing it.
  • Focusing on Just One Thing doesn’t mean you can’t plan. Again, planning may be the one thing you are choosing to focus on.
  • Focusing on Just One Thing doesn’t mean you don’t work on goals or projects with a future deadline. Again, it’s one of the “one things” you will focus on.
  • Focusing on Just One Thing means that you do not worry about what you’re going to do after the one thing you’re doing. The only exception to that is if you’re planning. Otherwise, enjoy your meal, your conversation, your family, and even your work without the angst about what comes next.
  • Focusing on Just One Thing means you do not have to prioritize your to-do’s. You don’t even have to write them all down! Just ask yourself what the “one thing” is and do it–even if that’s checking your list of tasks you would otherwise forget. It’s not necessarily doing the most important thing, because who knows what that is?  Barak Rosenbloom blogged about this low-stress approach to using a calendar on Time Natives.
  • Focusing on Just One Thing means that you’re open to something else taking over as the one thing: your child gets hurt, someone comes to the door, or your husband needs you.
  • Focusing on Just One Thing means you are sensitive to the Lord’s leading. As I’ve been focusing on just one thing, I have heard the Lord saying, “This is the way. Walk in it.” What a blessing to know that I’m not too distracted to hear Him for a change!

Are You a Mary or a Martha?

I used to think Mary was the “spiritual” one and Martha was a control freak. Not anymore! Mary has learned the blessing of focusing on just one thing and Martha needed to learn it. Which one are you? Do you know any Mary’s?

If you give Just One Thing a try, I’d love to hear your experience!

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The Most Important To Do

The Most Important To Do

Because I’m a Wonder Woman, I have a lot going on. Maybe you can relate. On a regular basis, I wonder what’s most important in my life, my week, and my day. Should I be spending more time:

Unfortunately, the answer always seems to be YES. They all seem to be important, worthwhile activities. And although I have written about the JOY method for prioritizing my time, the truth is I still struggle on a daily basis with what’s important.

The Bible records the question of a man who was an expert in the law who wanted to test Jesus, but it’s a question I am asking in all sincerity. What’s most important?

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a]38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:35-39)

I have discovered the power of asking a simple question of my bickering children. I don’t tell them what they said was wrong, against the rules, or punishable. I simply ask, “Was what you said loving?” The question has never failed to elicit an honest response. No matter how upset the guilty party is, there is a hanging of the head and a repentant, “No.”

What’s Most Important?

As I’ve struggled lately to determine which to-do’s are most important on my long list, I find that asking myself, “What’s the loving thing to do?” gives me clarity and peace. I look at my husband who’s wondering what’s for dinner while I try to improve my blog design and I know the loving thing to do. As I wonder how to increase my blog readership while quickly scanning others’ posts, I know the loving thing to do. I see my children playing ball outside while I fret about me, me, me, and I know the loving thing to do.

I’m finishing this blog post as I hear my husband and children making plans for active fun. I know the loving thing to do.

What loving thing do you know to do right now?

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The JOY Method for Deciding What to Do

The JOY Method for Deciding What to Do

After sharing one way of deciding what to do with our time, I wanted to share a second way that works for me. JOY stands for Jesus, Others, and Yourself.

  • Jesus  
As Jesus is the One Who has given us all of our time, we ought to give Him the first fruits of it. For me, this means regularly having devotions the first part of the day. Spending time with the Lord became very easy for me when I chose to spend the time in a way I enjoy. I like variety, but right now, I read several devotionals, then a chapter of the Bible or two, and end with prayer. 
Putting Jesus first doesn't just mean giving Him our time; it also means asking Him what He would have us do with our time. I have come to enjoy my alone time with God so much that I can get a little cranky when my husband crashes the party! But I know that Jesus' desire is that I devote my time to my husband as well because the O in JOY is for 
  • Others

We know from Jesus' example that we are to put others before ourselves. If I have done what I know the Lord would have me do, then I can ask myself what my husband would have me do. I can even ask him directly! Fortunately, my husband and I are on the same page about what needs to be done for the most part. Some days, however, I must admit that he would rather have me do laundry when I'd rather be reading. You single ladies, take note!

After doing things that would please my husband, I can decide if my children are in need or would be particularly blessed by something I could do. Some mornings, breakfast is all the blessing I can muster! But on other days, I may decide that I've put off doing a craft or just playing with them long enough. I have a large family, but I need to consider the needs of other family members, friends, and co-workers as well. Any commitments I have made to others should come before my to-do's.

  • Yourself

Finally, we can think about ourselves. You might be wondering how on earth we can be all things to everyone who needs us and still have time to do anything for ourselves! Some days that's a real challenge for me. But here is the blessing.

First, spending time with the Lord and giving to others is the best thing I can do for me. My energy and mood are renewed. Second, God can guide us in what to do for others and when. He doesn't expect us to run around serving everyone. Sometimes the best way to serve others is to allow them to depend on God or learn to meet their own needs. He gives us the discernment we need when we need it. Third, some seemingly selfish activities are actually serving the Lord and others, too. For example, my husband loves it when I exercise and the kids love having an energetic, less-stressed mom as a result.

How can we use TODAY, TOMORROW, and TOWARD together with JOY for deciding what to do on any given day? Here's how your to-do list might look:

  1. What would Jesus have me do today?
  2. What do my husband, kids, friends, co-workers/boss need me to do for them today?
  3. What do I need to do for me today?
  4. What would Jesus have me do today to prepare for tomorrow, next week, or next month?
  5. What would my husband, kids, friends, co-workers have me do to prepare for tomorrow, next week, or next month?
  6. Who do I need to do for myself today in advance of tomorrow, next week, or next month?
  7. What goals or dreams would Jesus have me work toward today?
  8. What goals or dreams would the people I love and work with want me to help them work toward today?
  9. What goals or dreams do I want to work toward today? 

Some days, you may spend all day on #1, but you won't be sorry like you would be if you just web surfed the day away. Give the JOY method a try!  

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