A few years ago, I was presenting to a community of writers. A woman asked, “I have 12 projects, I’m overwhelmed, and I don’t know what I should be working on at any given time. What should I do?”
“That’s what the middle of the night is for!” I joked in response.
I knew then from my own experience that being unclear about what matters leads to feeling out of control of our time, struggling to meet deadlines, and working at hours that don’t serve us or our work.
Yet, I didn’t suggest what this woman might do to improve her focus and results. Because this was my own productivity blind spot at that time.
As a poly-passionate writer, I have historically had 3-5 projects cooking on each of my virtual burners at any given time, while also running a business, running a household, and raising my son. I believed wanting more than I could ever actually manifest was exhilarating. Until I became so exhausted and frayed around that edges that I knew it was time to re-evaluate.
Today, I am committed to simplifying life and amplifying wellbeing. By my definition, a simple, thriving life does not involve working through the night — or having more on my plate than I can ever hope to accomplish or enjoy. I want to sit down at my desk every day feeling spacious instead of overwhelmed. Clear about what matters, instead of muddled about what’s next. And full of desire for the work on my plate. I also want to be fully present with my son and partner and pets. Plus, have time to rest and rejuvenate and play.
To get there, I have re-imagined both my identity as an epic producer and my life practices of nonstop action, informed and inspired by two books. Jessica Abel’s Growing Gills reminded me how to radically simplify—by doing one (most important) thing at a time, until it’s finished. And Courtney Carver’s Soulful Simplicity reminded me why this kind of streamlining is non-negotiable—because it makes space for what I value, in all dimensions of life.
I wish I’d been able to share with that overwhelmed writer of yesteryear this three-step process I am now using to move from a poly-project writer to a serial monogamist:
- List every writing goal, project, and priority you can think of.
Keep the list current with any new ideas that pop up. Acknowledging all your desires will help you relax, knowing they’ll all be there waiting for you when you’re ready.
- Choose the one project that is most important right now.
When you choose you one true thing, ask yourself if it is what’s most important NOW. I’ve been surprised to discover ideas that spent years at the top of my list no longer belonged there. If you’re not overcome with desire to make the project happen, let it go—for now—and choose something else.
- Do only that project until it’s done.
Dedicate every scrap of writing time to that single project for as long as it takes to complete it. Once you’ve crossed the finish line, you can revisit your list and choose the next one, true thing.
Narrowing down my writing life to a single point of light—my one, true thing (for right now)—has opened surprising vistas of energy to put toward that project, as well as everything else I value. This laser focus quiets the noise of options and distractions. My work is entirely on-purpose, and there is nothing else to consider or decide until it’s complete.
The paradox is that I had to let go of my story that multiple projects made me a high-producer to produce more.
Two simple tools have made the transition easier and more fun for me. Grab ‘em for free if they sound useful to you. The “My One True Thing” 1-page worksheet invites you to name your goal, find your motivation, eliminate obstacles, and plan your action steps. Keep it close (I have mine posted over my desk) to remind you where you’re headed and why. With each step you take, you can celebrate your progress by coloring in a bit of the Fierce Writing Life Mandala.
You and your work deserve to thrive. When you know what matters most, you can tend it—and complete it. This kind of momentum is invigorating and empowering. The more you finish, the more you’ll believe in yourself and your work.
What is your one, true thing? (I’d love to hear in the blog comments.)