Back in 2010, I spent a summer working as a stable hand at a horse track in Vancouver. It was the most demanding, frantic, difficult summer of work I’ve ever done. I was constantly running back and forth making sure everything was done properly and as soon as possible. Water filled, prepped and ready? Ice boots filled and ready? Bridles ready for horses going out? Leads ready and hay-nets ready for horses coming back in from running? Bedding hydrated and ready for horses coming back in? Everything timed so that when I get back from walking a horse, I have enough time to do all of those things for the NEXT wave of horses going out?
It was nuts. Absolutely nuts, and one problem I found was that with a hundred different tasks demanding my attention, I would start one only to something else catch my eye and remind me of something else just as pressing. I would immediately drop what I had and start on that. And then hesitate. And I would look over at my shoulder at the bag I just dropped and be literally paralyzed contemplating which one of these chores I should do RIGHT now. Sometimes I would repeat the same process two or three more times, leaving five different things halfway started.
Finally, I said (out loud and to no one but myself): “PICK ONE. Just… pick one.” Do ONE thing ’til it’s done, look at the six inches in front of your face until it’s finished. Then pick another one. Then when that’s done, pick another. And another. And another. Until you either run out of things to pick or you collapse from exhaustion. No planning ahead, no contemplating everything in terms of tiny margins of efficiency and whether I should do this first and this last, or that in between those two things. No detail, no rationale.
Just pick one. Doesn’t matter what it is. Just. Pick. One.
The point of this little jaunt down memory lane? Well, lately I’ve been finding myself getting overwhelmed. With all the things I have to do, or study for, or schedule, and hypothetical futures that I want, or might be totally fucking up and making impossible for myself to have with every tiny decision I make. Everything from what subject I should read next to pointless little things like whether I should put pasta on to boil while I’m downstairs fresh out of the shower, or go upstairs and get dressed before coming back down to do it. These are the things that cause my brain to go into a full blue-screen and shut down (and by shut down I mean say ‘fuck it’ and play video games until I’m starving, order an XL pizza, and then feel like a piece of shit until I fall asleep saying I’ll catch up tomorrow).
So I’ve found myself returning to this idea of ‘just pick one.’ Nothing in terms of long term goals, or goals at ALL. Just. Pick. One. That’s all that matters. One task is not more important than another when you can’t decide between either. Get the ability to decide down, and then maybe… MAYBE a long way down the road we can talk about organizing things into a hierarchy. To some, this might seem reckless: some things ARE more important than others, or more pressing, or more efficient. Sure. That might be true. But being reckless is something I personally have never had an issue with. I’m not impulsive. I’m the opposite: the guy who needs a back-up for a back-up for a back-up. Who needs to parse out every eventuality and have something ready to go JUST IN CASE.
…is that ever an exhausting way to live. And not only that! All it does is making you prepared for 100 different scenarios, 99 of which (or sometimes even 100) never happen. And that one situation that does? You’ve spread your resources so thin on prepping for all the others that the ONE that surfaces you are only MARGINALLY ready for. Instead of a Fort Knox of organization, you’re sitting on a ramshackle treehouse made of balsa wood by the dynamic duo of Sloth from the Goonies and Rain Man.
So next time your gray matter has gone into full-on lock up, just… fuck it. Pick one. JUST one. No pros and cons. No forecasting. Flip a coin if you need to (or a d20 for you overachievers out there). Just…. pick one. That’s it. Hope it helps.