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My New Rule: The Power of One (wherein I attempt to be slightly less manic)

The piece below originally appeared in this month’s Creative Times newsletter.

The Power of One

For many months now — or is it years? — I’ve been on a quest. A quest to slow things down. A quest to stop running around like a maniac from calendar item to calendar item. A quest to breathe more and do less. And I’m pretty sure you know what I’m talking about.

After being over-booked and over-worked for way too long, with too many days like this one, I finally realized that I have to stop overestimating the bandwidth of any given day. I have a bad habit of continually anticipating more time than I actually have, not leaving room for the significant amount of unexpected and last-minute requests and events that force me to shoe-horn my “regular” work into the margins. I decided to take drastic action with my schedule.

At the beginning of this month, I enacted a One Thing Only rule. This means that I only schedule one thing on any given day. There are still all of the regular activities — kids, domestic life, errands, hours of laptop-based work — but any kind of one-off that gets written in my calendar has to stand alone. This means that if I have a client meeting in the afternoon, I don’t schedule anything else for that day. If I decide to schedule morning coffee with a friend, I leave the afternoon unbooked. If I have a dentist appointment just after lunch, the rest of the day is locked down. Crazy, huh?

It hasn’t been easy. I still look at my planner and say “Well, on Thursday I only have a 30-minute coaching call at 11:00. I can fit an hour-long editorial conference call in at 2:00, right?” I mean, who wouldn’t do that? But the truth is, that with two or more events scheduled in any given day, reality eats up the rest of my schedule. I end up losing the hours of actual work time that I’d planned on. By the time I crawl into bed, I’ve been busy all day but I haven’t crossed off even half of the action items on my list. As a freelancer and a coach, I don’t get paid without billable time — and I don’t get billable time unless I’m at my desk, uninterrupted, doing my work.

Working for yourself means that you have the luxury — and the potential curse — of managing your time in the way that works best for you. If you’re a fulltime employee at an office, your time isn’t entirely within your control. There are days when you sit in endless meetings and feel like you didn’t get a moment of actual work done. Is there any way you can creatively apply the One Thing Only rule to parts of your workday, or at least your time away from the office?

In time, as the anxiety about being less scheduled recedes, what takes its place is a greater sense of calmness, focus, and satisfaction. You really can do more with less.

I’ll be writing more about the power of one in next month’s issue of the Creative Times. If you’re motivated to try this, or have already enacted a different plan for reducing your busy-ness, please share.

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20 Comments Post a comment
  1. I enjoyed this story in your newsletter Miranda. I does sound like a really workable plan in theory! I definitely tend to get overbooked, but that’s unfortunately the nature of my day job. And as we know though, theory doesn’t usually apply to our crazy multi-tasking to the hilt lives. :-) What I try to do is schedule so that I’m not commited to more than one additional evening event per week. I teach one night a week, so that knocks out one night automatically, but the responsibiltiies of the day job often require me to present a workshop to an evening class, so that’ll add in a second night. I’m pretty good about not going past that. If a faculty member has a request for a week I already have class and another presentation, I gently nudge them to another week. Of course, there are those times when a request comes directly from my dean or the campus president; then I have no choice but to overschedule and see very little of my family that week! One day, I will win the lottery (yes, I do still believe in that fantasy!), and I won’t have to work 40-50 hours a week. Oh, and then there’s that art stuff I do on top of my day/night job. :-) I’ll admit that’s been taking a back seat lately, and I’ve been missing it greatly.

    January 30, 2013
    • Yes, Kelly! It’s impossible to have a “rule” like this with a job like yours. Sounds like you’re doing as well as you can with trying to protect your time. I’m rooting for your lottery win — the world needs more Happy Shack!

      January 30, 2013
  2. K. Woll #

    I love this, and I am applying this rule starting today. What a practical suggestion for keeping things simple and keeping some space open in the day!

    January 30, 2013
    • I’m so glad this resonated with you, K! Come back and give us an update :-)

      January 30, 2013
  3. I love love love this idea and am in desperate need of something to help lighten the load. I like most of the rest of the world’s population seem to spend my life spinning on my head…. this year I have really started to try and organise myself to within an inch of my life in the hope of squeezing out just one drop of me time… maybe this is the answer I have been looking for :D

    January 30, 2013
    • Wonderful, Bonne Maman! I hope this strategy is the glue that holds all your organizing efforts together. Let us know!

      January 30, 2013
  4. I recently wrote on my blog about how powerful it has been for me to take things slow. So I completely understand where you are coming from.

    January 30, 2013
  5. Reblogged this on Songbird Studio.

    January 30, 2013
  6. You’ll know how timely this was for me. I have the exact same struggles and being self employed my billable time is really important to me. Not sure if I can do it exactly the same way as you have but I’ve been working on setting aside a certain number of days per week that are MINE. Non-life stuff (e.g. kid stuff or my night job teaching karate) are still allowed on me days but the rest of the time I need to stay focused on client projects, writing, painting, etc. Of course, its not working every week since I’ve scheduled events into the future but moving forward I’m determined to get a handle on it.

    January 30, 2013
    • That sounds awesome, Debby!

      It does feel like a battle sometimes, doesn’t it? Seems like we have to be absolutely vigilant or the hours just get swept away….

      January 30, 2013
  7. i’ve been running with this one for a long time now, but it is still amazing how much gets thrown into the schedule sideways with the kids’ ‘activities’ etc.

    and sometimes it just works to schedule all the kids’ dental appts on the same day, for instance.

    January 30, 2013
    • Nothing like a pack of kids to mess up one’s schedule!

      If the multiple dentist appointments all happened in a single trip, then I’d count that as one thing. If it was a trip here and then a later trip there, for me, that would be two. There’s so much heat loss in anticipating what time you need to leave the house, getting ready, getting out the door, driving — I just can’t “afford” all of that anymore, twice in one day.

      January 30, 2013
      • oh yea, if i can reduce the running in and out of the house to one trip, i make it happen. for instance, about to drop toots off at preschool and run errands before heading to #2’s wrestling practice, and it is nice to have grandma in my back pocket to pick up toots while i am at wrestling practice. and #1 can drive himself to the next town for his mentorship at the same time. :)

        January 30, 2013
  8. This was absolutely fabulous…I can so relate. Can’t wait to start trying it! Thanks…

    January 30, 2013
    • Let us know how it works for you, Wendi! xo

      February 4, 2013
  9. For sure: interruptions cost a lot more time than the interruption itself. Great plan. I know I need to keep my but planted in my seat for a certain number of consecutive hours to get work done. Congrats on your new approach!

    January 30, 2013
    • Thanks, Betsy! I look forward to sharing the next related discovery — which is even more significant!

      February 4, 2013
  10. The One Thing Only rule is rather ambitious! I’m sure it is very difficult to stick to it, but if you’re able to succeed, the rewards will be plenty. Taking things slow has become a “luxury” we don’t allow ourselves these days, but we need to realize we don’t HAVE to live our lives the way we do – like a rat race. This is a great initiative to teach us that!

    January 30, 2013
    • So true, Sindhu — slowing down does feel like a luxury. And then you start to get used to it, and it starts to feel like a requirement. I do think the practice is self-reinforcing. Thanks for your comment!

      February 4, 2013

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