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Happiness & Productivity

I was inspired to write this post after reading Gretchen Rubin’s interview with Rachel Bertsche on her blog The Happiness Project.

In the post Gretchen asks Rachel a number of questions around happiness, one being ‘Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful?’

Rachel’s answer was the inspiration for this post today – “These days, a mantra I am trying to adopt is “Do One Thing at a Time”. I find that so often my mind is working in overdrive, and I’ll start one project, get distracted, start another, and forget to go back to the first. It only serves to make me more overwhelmed.”


The ability to multi-task, particularly for women, is most often seen as a talent, a skill, something that we want to nurture, develop and be proud of. Getting more done, fitting more into your day, doing two, three or even four things at once is seen as a great strategy to balance our busy lives. Yet Rachel has caused me to stop and think about my own multi-tasking, comparing it to my productivity and, in the theme of Gretchen Rubin, my happiness.

Immediately I recognise it is not often I am doing only one thing at a time. My husband is constantly commenting on how many windows I have open on my laptop. I flip through them, refer to them, see an email arrive and read that, a facebook notification pops up so I move to that, then I see a new blog post in my newsfeed that I absolutely must read. Such a long trail of activities in a short space of time. Yet I often can’t remember what I was doing in the first place.

Your ‘To Do’ List

When I focus on one thing at a time, with the goal of getting that thing finished, I realise I am much more successful at ticking things off my ‘to do’ list. How often do you get to the end of your day, look back and your ‘to do’ list and find you’ve ticked only a few items off? You may have spent time on each item but if you haven’t focused on one and worked until it was finished, it doesn’t matter how much time you spent. You still haven’t finished them, you still can’t tick them off your ‘to do’ list.

Productivity and Happiness

To be honest, I had never consciously connected the concepts of Productivity and Happiness together. Yes, I knew that when I was productive I felt good. Yes, I also knew that when I wasn’t productive I felt bad. However, I had never thought of happiness itself as being the end goal. You don’t strive to be productive just to feel productive. You strive to be productive so that you achieve your goals and feel happier in your life. Therefore, how  you are productive is quite important. If you are constantly multi-tasking, flitting from one thing to another, you may be doing a lot. Heck, you may be ticking things off left, right and centre. However, how are you feeling? Are you like Rachel Bertsche, feeling overwhelmed when you are tackling too many things at once? Overwhelm never equals happiness.

My Productivity Style

It is amazing where such a small concept, ‘Do One Thing At A Time’ has led me. I have moved from recognising my issues with multi-tasking, to assessing my productivity style.

  • What am I doing to achieve ultimate productivity?
  • When do I feel most productive?
  • When do I feel happy whilst being productive?

One thing that has stayed with me since primary school is the thought that doing a lot of things quickly was a really good thing, a really productive thing. I can clearly remember watching adults write and seeing how fast they wrote, I copied them. I was proud of how fast I could write, how quickly I got my work done. This was quickly squashed when my teachers commented on my messy handwriting. I’ve learnt the hard way, not just through school, but as an employee and a business owner, that doing things quickly or all at once, in an effort to be more productive, only leads me to make mistakes, forget things, let myself and let others down. Yet I can still fall into the trap of rabid multi-tasking, feeling this is the best (or sometimes the only) way to get everything done.

I am now going to stop and see where I can move my focus. When and where am I feeling overwhelmed? Maybe multi-tasking is working for me in some areas. I’m quite sure emptying the dishwasher whilst waiting for something to heat in the microwave is working for me. However, where it is not, I am going to introduce Rachel’s mantra into my life and ask myself ‘Abbie, why not try doing just one thing at a time?’ I have a feeling that a little more patience is going to be required, but hopefully I will feel happier in the long run.

What is your productivity style? Do you multi-task with the best of them? Could you use a bit of ‘one thing at a time’ in your life? We’d love to hear your experiences, so please comment below.

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