The Beauty of Doing One Thing

- 3 mins read

I really enjoy learning new things and diving into rabbit holes while exploring a particular topic. I don’t like to hold back in that endeavor. That drive is great but can suck you into the vortex of overwhelm if you take a lot on your plate.

Recognizing Overwhelm

When I attempt to cram every interest into my schedule, I end up doing very little of any of those. I find myself defaulting to activities that pass the time but don’t enrich it. This leaves me feeling guilty and frustrated with myself for not spending time on things I truly want to do.

A Shift in Approach

Here’s what has helped me to escape this cycle of overwhelm and dissatisfaction:

  • Prioritize: I identify what’s most important to engage with at the moment. Recently, it was a course that was about to begin.
  • Find Time: The key isn’t how much time I find, but that I dedicate time regularly.
  • Patience: I tried to give the new habit a chance to settle in before taking on more, even though my instinct is to jump ahead.
  • Build Habits: After sticking with a new activity for a couple of weeks, it becomes part of my routine.
  • Chain Reaction: Establishing one habit helps pave the way for others. Since focusing on my course, I’ve also incorporated regular walks and language learning into my days.
  • Return to Writing: This newfound stability has also led me back to writing, as evidenced by my most recent blog post.

I listed a couple of other things I started doing because of the effect, but I also refrained from taking on a few more activities, such as learning an instrument or exploring entirely different topics, to maintain a good balance and avoid becoming overwhelmed with too much again. This is one of things I have gotten wrong so many times before, overestimating how many things I can do. As Richard Feynman said “You must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”

Additional Perks

  • I can get quite “obsessed” with figuring out “how a thing works?” or “what caused this code bug to occur?”. This generally happens too, but now even more occurrences of this.
  • One of my all-time favorite things is when my subconscious figures out the missing piece of a puzzle, whether it’s a code bug or understanding a topic. I can be wrong, but I believe the probability of that happening is high when you have totally immersed yourself in what you’re doing.
  • Last week, after a long time (1-2 years), I picked up the Rubik’s cube. I wasn’t expecting to remember the algorithm to solve it, but muscle memory kind of did! Interestingly, muscle memory was doing most of the work, which I always find fascinating.
  • I mention the above because it’s another great perk I’ve gained from having time-bound habits, coupled with a laser focus on one thing at a time. Additionally, there’s no need for daily decision-making on when to do the activity, akin to muscle memory.
  • The cognitive energy saved can be put to good use in my learning activities. I particularly resonate with this message by Andrej Karpathy on learning.
  • The activities I once used to fill my time with no longer hold much appeal, as I find more fulfillment in my current pursuits.

Parting Thoughts

Guarding against overwhelm is an ongoing journey, but by prioritizing, building habits, and staying focused on one thing at a time, it’s possible to navigate the challenges more effectively. Remember to start small, stay patient, and embrace the beauty of consistent progress. As Brandon Sanderson says in one of his books, “Journey before destination.”

Couple of my all-time favorite resources on focus -