I meant to write here all week, but then I did other things. Namely, slowing down until I was just doing one thing at a time. I’ve been exploring this since I began to muse about productivity last week, and part of my work right now is about finding my true velocity, between rest and motion, between production and inspiration, between input and output.
I’m taking the time to notice the impulse behind my actions, and am finding that though there is a tremendous difference between action and reaction, I think the lines become blurred. Isn’t this true for for most of us? We’re so caught up in the doing of every day, that stress, exhaustion, and the standards of productivity we hold ourselves become the incessant refrain in our heads, do more! Do more! All we can do then, is react.
Yet we also know somewhere in our heart of hearts, that doing more isn’t the answer. Doing less is. Animals know this. They only exert energy when necessary. They run hard, climb wildly, mate with gusto, devour voraciously, chase, sprint, dart. And in between they come to a full stop. They rest unambiguously. The secret to our power is leverage. What lights us ablaze is a wholehearted alignment of soul with action. It’s the right conditions and then the striking of a single match.
Animals have no trouble at all with doing one thing at a time. But we perpetually trying to do more. We say maybe when we mean no. We take on more because we’re afraid that whatever we’re doing isn’t enough. We scatter our attention because the heat of single-minded purpose threatens to consume us. And also, we’re terribly undisciplined. We’re hedonists at heart, the lot of us, perpetually falling in love with whatever’s yet to be done.
This isn’t a new conundrum, though certainly it’s more of a Western predicament. And it’s certainly become more complicated since the world has gone digital and we have at our fingertips a perpetual black hole of distraction and possibility. In cleaning my studio I found a page I’d printed out with Henry Miller’s Commandments for writing. The first one? Work on one thing at a time until finished.
One thing. One thing. One thing.
In doing less I'm able to achieve more, and my energy feels well spent. Progress becomes more effortless, and work becomes restorative and gratifying. Still, attempting to do one thing has had it's side effects, particularly in the form of communication lapses, and for the first time in my life I think some of my friends and newer acquaintances might think I am genuinely a flake because of the volume of un-replied to emails in my inbox, the texts left unanswered. But even that, is a story I've invented. Their expectations, and mine, around perpetual and convenient communication, and the the fear that I'll disappoint someone terribly if I break either of those rules.
But really, what I’m learning is that if I don’t react, if I’m not always at the ready to respond, if I’m less accessible, it doesn’t mean they end up getting less of me. Instead, the opposite is true. I’m able to show up with greater concentration and energy, bearing pineapples and little boys to make a messy meal, or to sit over sandwiches and catch up face to face instead of exchanging a flurry of partialities by text.
What about you? When do you spread yourself too thin? And conversely, when do you make time to focus wholly on just one thing?