When you are overwhelmed by complexity, come back to the one thing you are doing. You can’t really do more than one thing at a time in any event. No matter how fast your mind is racing, there is just this present moment. There is no other time. There is no other place to be. There is nothing else to be doing. Just this. When this one thing is done, you will do the next thing, and that will be the only thing there is.
— The Practice of Contemplative Photography: Seeing the World with Fresh Eyes
So simple. So true, in both photography and in life. When the world threatens to overwhelm, focus in on one thing. This moment, this action, this detail, and the complexity collapses down.
I’m looking toward overwhelm. Not this very moment, but in September when I have some pretty big things all happening in less than two weeks of each other: My brother is getting married in Colorado on the 15th, I’m participating in the Corvallis Fall Festival on the 22nd-23rd, and then I leave for England to teach my on-location workshops on the 25th. Deep breath. OK, what to do? I take the advice I read in The Practice of Contemplative Photography and do one thing at a time. I have my list, I know what needs to get done. I can sit and worry, or I can focus on this moment and use it.
It’s amazing what focusing on one thing brings. My PrintMania! weekend is a good example. I focused on printing over the weekend, and wow, here I am pretty much ready for the festival. That doesn’t mean that’s all I did… I still went back-to-school shopping with my son, visited Frank Lloyd Wright’s Gordon House (more on that later), enjoyed a nice afternoon on the deck of a Bavarian restaurant reminiscing about Oktoberfest with my family, and finished a book. But when I chose to focus on the “to do” list, I focused on one big thing and got an amazing amount done.
I think that’s really why I’m productive – I can focus. I don’t believe that “multitasking” makes us more productive. The idea that you can do more than one thing at once distracts us. How often do you stop doing something to read an email only to go back to your original task, trying to figure out where you were? Distractions and interruptions waste time, and ideas. If you start and stop, especially with creative projects, you lose the string of ideas and inspiration.
If you want to do something well, and quickly, you need to focus on that one thing. The better the focus, the better the outcome. Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t do many very different things in the grand scheme. I certainly do! I just do them serially, one at a time. It’s how I manage to work at my corporate job as an engineer, create new classes for Kat Eye Studio, practice my own art and enjoy time with my family. I don’t try to do them all at once. I focus on the one thing that needs to be focused on, in that moment. It’s all I really can do anyway, as the quote above reminds me.
Are you struggling with overwhelm? Are you facing a crazy period of time, like my upcoming September, and wondering how you will manage? The answer really is as simple as this: Do one thing at a time, and focus on that one thing, until it is done. Then move on to the next thing.