It’s one of the best pieces of practical advice I ever got.


To be honest, I heard it first when in a pit of depression, and it was council intended for that situation. But since then I’ve found it amazingly helpful for many other purposes than crawling out of emotional pits.

It was this:

“Do. One. Thing.”

In the case of the depression that had brought me to a standstill the appropriate example was “Wash. A. Dish.” or “Fold. A. Towel.” or “Hang up. A. Shirt.” or…

Just One thing. Just one. Do that.

It didn’t mean necessarily to stop at one dish, or towel, or whatever. It just meant focus completely on doing that one small thing. Choose something very small, very achievable. Then push yourself to do it even if your legs feel too weighted down with despair, worry, or confusion to shuffle across the floor, your arms too limp and lifeless to function normally. You. can. Do. one. thing. So do it.

What happens is… You wash that one dish. And even that miniscule achievement makes you realize you are not so helpless, you can achieve something, even if it’s very small. So you wash another dish. And another. And that glass. And that little saucepan. And…

Before you know it, you’ve cleaned up the whole kaboodle. Not only that, you feel better. Your arms aren’t limp, your legs feel normal; the invisible weights are gone! At least that’s how it worked for me.

The lesson: Don’t wait till you feel like it, or till you feel capable. Don’t wait to do the thing that will most likely enable you to feel capable. Keep it small and doable, and before long you may even feel like doing the larger task it’s part of that stands waiting and nagging. Just one little part at a time.

It’s good for more than the blue funk. It’s good for the overload. It’s good for the busy. It’s good for the list so long and complicated it seems downright overwhelming.

Remember Martha in the Bible (Lk 10:41), and what Jesus told her problem was?

We American women are inordinately fond of multi-tasking. Somehow someone convinced us that worthy achievement means accomplished juggling of at least three or four tasks at a time. Theoretically, it’s supposed to save minutes. But the advice I got for Thanksgiving prep one year invited me to toss that idea right in the trash can with the rest of the useless clutter—even before the scientific studies that showed multi-tasking both wastes time and lowers one’s IQ!

It came from “Flylady,” queen of de-clutter and good-order, and here the emphasis was on the “Do.” As in complete the one task before tackling something else. Do it, complete it, even clean up after it, putting everything back in its place before moving on to the next task. 

This didn’t sound like a good idea to me. Surely putting everything away just to get right back out again had to be a time and energy waster. But I gave it a fair try.

On the first endeavor, I followed this instruction to the letter. But on the next, (assembling the apple crumb pie, let’s say), it seemed downright silly to put everything away before I moved on to the pumpkin pie, which would go into the oven when apple came out (baking at different temperatures). However, what I discovered was that though my first two tasks had run smoothly and efficiently, on the third, I found myself repeating, “Now where did I put that?” or having to stop and wash and dry a measuring utensil, then reread the recipe for how much to measure. Before long I realized these little interruptions were adding ticks (many ticks) to the clock… and quite frankly, I felt my IQ falling!

“Do (as in complete) one thing,” before starting another definitely ended up more efficient, less stressful, and even enjoyable.


Do you try to multitask? Which multitasking could you break apart into “one thing”s to do with better concentration, and maybe therefore speed and satisfaction? In the “Martha, Martha” passage referenced above (Lk 10:38-42), what was the one important thing that needed Martha’s attention more than all the “many things” that were fretting her?

2 thoughts on “What To Do—When You’re Downhearted, Overloaded, Unfocused, Interrupted, or…

  1. perfect timing as I have sat in a chair paralyzed and overwhelmed with everything that got put on today due to unforeseen things in the last week…and realizing that I forgot to buy pumpkin for the pumpkin pie…thankfully a family member has volunteered to bring one tomorrow. I’d better go start ONE THING!

    1. And your comment is perfect timing for me, Laurie. It just felt good to read it and think of you, feel the companionship. Prayers for you as you prepare. (Maybe we need these emergencies so the load gets shared like that with family members, eh?) May you have a blessed Thanksgiving, despite all!

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