At the end of the day, answering your emails isn’t nearly as satisfying and productive as writing 500 words in your manuscript.

I have some mutated Wonder Woman glitch in my brain that makes me volunteer for jobs or writing projects or helping friends out at a rate that would stagger a cheetah. And it ends badly.

I’m either stressed out so much that I start eating my weight in potato chips and chocolate bars (sometimes candy by the bag), crying, or I abandon everything. Jump ship and sleep. My sign that depression is looming. Overwhelm = Depression in my body and mind and spirit, so I need to be on guard. Which is difficult when my default setting is, “How hard could it be?”

So, accountability groups.

The biggest take-away from my group was this: If you have too much on your list, none of it gets done. Bam.

Three things, they said. That’s all you can do. If you get those three things done and you have time and energy left, great. Do more. But you can only pick three things to focus on this week.

And I’d cry. In Barnes and Noble’s Starbucks cafe. Cry because I could only choose three things to focus on when I KNEW in my cells I had eighty-four things to do.

I think you should not put anything else on your plate unless your house sells, they said. And I cried in Springfield’s Public House because I couldn’t bear the thought of not working forward on my dreams while I did this other humungous thing–fixing up and selling my rental house.

I hate being told that I need to prioritize. I despise the perceived weakness in not being able to do it all.

Sure, yes. Set a Pomodoro timer for twenty-five minutes and focus on one thing at a time, but can’t I do that eighty-four times?


I’m too scattered. It’s never the quality Deep Work that Cal Newport talks about or The One Thing that Gary Keller writes about. 

Scattershot and spaghetti on the walls do to get things done. And you’re perpetually in putting-out-fires mode. At the end of the day, answering your emails isn’t nearly as satisfying and productive as writing 500 words in your manuscript, or building another page on your coaching and editing website.

I have to choose one thing so that I CAN get the other things done.

I know it’s counter-intuitive. Seriously. I know.

But you know what else I do if left unchecked? Read ten books at the same time. And I don’t retain any of it. I never read long enough in one book to sink into the meaning and message, or the character’s lives. When that happens now (thankfully MUCH less frequently–like maybe once a year), I force myself to pick one book and finish it. And then I pick the next one and read it. And my pile diminishes. And then! I feel the glory of picking out a brand new book and reading it in its entirety, with no guilt, with no ‘hurry up and get through this book because I have three others I’m halfway through that I need to get to.’

And so it is with the author’s life. We all have hopes and dreams and goals and projects and maybe even tasks and backlog. The coolest thing that happens when we focus on one thing at a time is getting to the end of the year and reviewing what you’ve accomplished.

I spent most of last year running around higgledly-piggledly and feeling way more stressed than normal, and I STILL managed to start a podcast, and a Patreon page, adopt another dog, make important business decisions, sell a house, retire from my massage practice, start a new job at a bookstore I love, and design a signature coaching program that I’m hoping will one day fund my husband’s retirement and our move to Costa Rica. That’s a lot for someone that doesn’t think they can get anything done.

Focus did that. Even the little I could scrape up in odd moments between depression-induced Netflix binges.

Another thing to remember about focus is that it really can prevent burnout. If you can pick out one or two things to focus on for a month (knowing there are those eighty-four other things from your list taunting you), you can build the self-confidence and self-esteem to start treating yourself with compassion and respect that will enable and empower you to tell yourself, “Yes, I know you are still there Big Fat List, and I’ll get to each and every one of you. But you need to wait in line like everyone else here.”

And that is power.

That is space to breathe without beating yourself up.

That is accomplishing what you set out to do.

That is Focusing and Finishing something. 

If you pick one thing at a time to work on, you can’t get burnout or overwhelm, because you’ve only got one thing in front of you right now.

Blinders are a beautiful thing.

And why focus is so important to productivity.

I hope you were able to take something out of this blog post that resonated with you and inspired you to find that One Thing that you can focus on this month.

What is it? Leave a comment in the comments section or on my Facebook Group, Strategies for Authors and Other Entrepreneurs, and tell me what your one thing is this month.

Valerie Ihsan is an editor and author business strategist. You can find her at

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