How to do fewer things, better? Step one: This is enough.

Even when you aren't getting anything "done" in it, this moment is important enough to focus on.

Wow! Tons of great comments in yesterday’s post about doing fewer things–and doing them better. It seems like the topic really touched a nerve, and similar themes have been on a lot of our minds lately. In today’s do-lots-of-stuff-all-the-time culture, I find it encouraging that so many of us are trying to pave our own paths instead of following along with what seems to be a “look how busy I am!” standard.

The conversation sparked a few questions along the lines of: “But HOW, in the face of societal pressure, limited time, unlimited options or just plain uncertainty, do you do fewer things, better?”

Good questions! How “do fewer things better” looks will be different for everyone, of course. No matter what, I’m always going to be an big-thinking, ideas-driven person who likes to be pretty busy, with several pots burbling on the stove at once. That’s just me, and I can’t stop being me–nor do I want to. We all have different family backgrounds and values that shape our lives. There’s no formula. But I started thinking of two over-arching themes that have been running through my mind lately, and they seem to work together to help me do fewer things, better:

1) Learn to say “This is enough”

2) Know what needs to be done–and do that first

Yesterday I mentioned Brene Brown’s powerful speech about authenticity, vulnerability and “being enough.” One of my biggest struggles with feeling like I am enough is that I don’t always feel like I’m doing enough. Here’s an example of how even a small moment can lead to a feeling of conflict and anxiety:

Every morning after breakfast, my 22-month-old daughter, Clara, gets to watch a cartoon or two while I deal with breakfast dishes, get out of my bathrobe, and get my day really off the ground. This morning, as I fired up Netflix, Clara started tossing out names of her favorite shows. “Caillou! Kipper! Wonder Pets!”

Artfully dodging Caillou this time around I hovered over the search box. “Kipper or Wonder Pets?” I quizzed my very communicative, but sometimes indecisive, daughter.

“Kipper! Or Wonder Pets!” she joyfully cried.

I tried another tactic. “Kipper?”

Silence.

“Wonder Pets?”

Silence.

“Kipper.”

Silence. By this point I was starting to feel anxious and annoyed. The entire exchange thus far had taken about 30 seconds, but it was starting to feel like I’d been held captive there. You know, trapped. Like a prisoner. Beneath my warm, soft, sweet-smelling almost-baby. The horror!

“Okay, I guess it’s Wonder Pets, then,” I said impatiently, holding the iPad with one hand, pecking the words into the search box with the other as she squirmed in excitement.

W-O-N-D-E-R-P–oh shoot, I forgot the space, delete delete–P-E-X-argggh-delete-T-S-

Just as I was close to hitting “send,” Clara suddenly, tardily, made up her mind to the contrary.

“KIPPER!” she squealed, clapping and bouncing.  “Arrrrrrrrghgghgg!” I groaned. Delete delete delete delete delete. K-I-P-P-E-R. Press play. Settle her amid the pillows.

Clara’s happy, and after this epic two-minute ordeal, I’m free. Free!

Free to…do the dishes.

Ahem.

Kids can be maddeningly slow and indecisive, and much of our time is spent in-between: driving them somewhere, picking them up; waiting for them to finish lunch so we can rinse the plate, waiting for them to spit out that sentence so we can get them whatever the heck it is they want. I think moments like the one I experienced with Clara are frustrating because they feel transitory. We aren’t really doing anything; nothing much is happening, they don’t really count. We just see them as a transition to something else.

But I think these small moments actually serve as a powerful way to practice “doing fewer things, and doing them better.” Because every moment of your life counts, and every moment has the potential to be improved on. Not perfected. Just done…a little better.

So I’ve been working on doing just one thing at a time, and reminding myself while it’s happening that yes–this–whatever “this” happens to be right now–is enough.

Waiting with my daughter while she slowwwly decides what program she’d like to watch?

Just sitting is enough. And I could do it so much better than this anxious, hurried interrogation: try savoring the way she feels in my lap, nuzzle her soft hair, marvel over how quickly she’s learning to tell me what she wants, how cool it is that she has her own opinions about things.

Tempted to do the incredibly dangerous, yet often seductive act of checking email or texts while driving?

Just driving is enough. And I could do it better than my usual barely-awake, routine, autopilot method: how about taking a moment to notice the cars around me, the condition of the road, check my speed. Maybe take a moment to adjust the mirrors and make sure there are no flashing lights or alerts on the panel in front of me. Driving–even routine, slow driving–is a huge responsibility. How often do we invest the focus and attention to do it well?

Focusing on one thing at a time is not easy, and you can’t really “cure” your desire for “something else-ness”, especially when constant connection via technology makes it seem so easy.  And there’s no perfect work-life-personal balance you can achieve that will suddenly make ambivalence, anxiety, or temptation to distract yourself or take on too much go away.

Instead, learning to say and believe “this is enough” is a practice, like meditating or learning to play the piano: you just keep showing up, taking stock of what your brain is doing, and trying to bring your attention back to the task at hand again and again and again. We still struggle–I know I do, every single hour–but the more we do it, especially with the little things, the more natural it begins to feel to quiet the mind and focus. And the easier it gets to take the same attitude to the big things.

Tomorrow I’m going to be posting about another thing my “Do Fewer Things, Do Them Better” motto is teaching me: Know what needs to be done–and do it. This is often different from what we think needs to be done, or what happens to be sitting in front of us, or what everybody else is doing, or what would be the easiest to do. But only by identifying what really needs to be done can we figure out what doesn‘t, and pare down the excess.

Edited: My third post in this series is here: Dream, Discern, Do What Matters: 3 Steps to living the life you want.

I can’t wait to continue this discussion with all of you, and hear your thoughts in the comments!

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