Just Focus on the Next Step

One Thing at a Time

Photo by Robert Bye on Unsplash

I’m doing a lot right now. I’m finishing the first draft of another novel, planning my annual writing workshop in France, working with coaching clients, writing articles on Medium and reading manuscripts for writing groups I lead and participate in. All while a major construction project is going on at my house and my daughter’s family (including two small boys) live with us.

My to-do list is bulging. It gets so long and overwhelming that often I turn the page and start a new one. Or grab a sticky note and write what I want to get done just that day. Pretty soon my to-do list is covered with sticky notes. And I’d be willing to bet yours is in similar shape. Probably neater than mine, but overstuffed just the same.

So my poor brain gets overwhelmed. And when my brain get overwhelmed, I wander. Usually off to the internet, to read meaningless stories, or Instagram, to look at pretty pictures.

The thing is, I think I must like doing a lot of different things, because I’m terrible at limiting them. I have a brain that tends to get bored easily, and I’m also quite fickle — a terrible combination. I add on one more project. And then another. And yet another. (I’m also not good at saying no.)

So I need to figure out strategies to get things done. To focus. The thing that works best for me is when I can get myself to focus on one thing at a time. This is tricky, though, because of that brain that likes to be engaged in a million things. The other day I found myself walking back up the stairs to my office, thinking, and next I have to do this and then I must do that and then I have to remember to do this.

I stopped, mid-step. And told myself to just focus on the next step. What was I working on before I took a break? Go back to that and finish that. And then go onto the next thing. It worked so well. (And yes, I know this is common advice. The trick is remembering it.) I can’t always do it, but when I can, my mind settles and eases and everything seems calmer and clearer. I do the next thing on my list, and work on it until I’m done. And then the next thing. And the next. I know that sounds obvious, but for a right-brained person like me, who likes all the input all the time (I have 27 tabs open on my computer at the moment), it is revolutionary.

So that’s what I’m working on. And it helps, a lot. So does the following:


All these ideas are great, but the trick is to remember to implement them. I’m a productivity tip junkie, like so many others these days, but sometimes the ideas go in one ear and out the other, because I’ve got so much other crap in there crowding the good stuff out. Something that seems to help with that is:

Self Talk

I have a running loop of conversation going on in my brain, often of the negative sort. Sometimes it is telling me that I’m behind, that I’m slow that I’ll never catch up, that other people can handle all this stuff, why can’t you, and so on. But if I consciously corral those thoughts and take them in another direction, an easing, coaxing, direction, life works better. You can do this, remember just to concentrate on one thing at a time, its okay, everything will get done. Yeah, that’s much nicer.


(No affiliate link here, I’m just a fan.) I love this site. It offers “functional music, directly optimized for its effects on our behavior.” You can listen to tracks for focus, relaxation, or sleep. I swear by the focus tracks. And, you can also go on YouTube and find videos of rain music, or ocean music, or whatever you like and listen to that. This helps me to concentrate on what is in front of me without all the other stuff crowding in.

Taking time off

I’m terrible at this, but when I do it I love it and I realize how good it is for me. Yesterday was a glorious day here, spring in full-on show-off display. And I meant to sit in my office and write articles. Instead, I went scootering with the three-year-old, and then took him and his brother to the park. My brain cleared, my stress lowered, life was good. I need to do this more often. Maybe you do, too? (Not hang out with three year olds, necessarily, but something you enjoy that is not working.)

I hope some of these tips help you. Because, truthfully, I think all of us are running around with our brains on overload most of the time. If in doubt, remember: one thing at a time.

Charlotte Rains Dixon is the author of the novel Emma Jean’s Bad Behavior (Vagabondage Press, February 2013), and articles published in magazines such as Vogue Knitting, The Oregonian and Pology, to name only a few, and her short fiction has been published in Somerset Studios, The Trunk and the Santa Fe Writer’s Project. She earned her MFA in creative writing at Spalding University in 2003, and has been teaching and coaching writers ever since, both privately and as an adjunct professor at Middle Tennessee State University’s Write program. She’s been blogging about writing, creativity, and motivation at charlotterainsdixon.com since 2007. She is repped by Erin Niumata at FolioLiterary. Visit her website at charlotterainsdixon.com and her travel site at letsgowrite.com.