Three Simple Steps to Doing the Next Thing


A couple of posts ago, I shared a special poem called simply “Do the Next Thing.” It’s a lovely piece of advice for when you are feeling overwhelmed, but sometimes the question is, “What is the next thing?” How on earth do you do it if you can’t identify it? Maybe you feel like there are multiple “next things” all shouting for your attention, like a classroom of unruly first graders all waving their hands madly in the air for attention.

On December 1, as we enter the season meant to celebrate Peace personified, we often find ourselves frantically running from one activity to another. It is important to note what the “next thing” is not.  Running about in a frenzied attempt to do all things at once is not the solution. Surrendering in defeat is not the solution. (All those pesky items waiting to be checked off your to-do list will not go away on their own. I think they have babies while they wait. Ask me how I know.) Distracting yourself by checking your Facebook news feed, or pretending that your Pinterest obsession falls under productivity as planning is not the answer either. (Unless one of your to-do items happens to require that you search for ideas or recipes, but it has to be approached with that goal. That and willpower not to pin fifty things that had nothing to do with your original goal. Good luck.)

Here are three things that will help you stay on target. (Gee. I actually had to backspace and correct because I capitalized “target” automatically. Stay out of Target when you have lots to do. It will definitely suck you in. If you even make it past the Dollar Spot at the front, you will be wandering around in there indefinitely and lose all hope of a productive day. Unless shopping is on your list of things to do, at which point Target becomes a check-off item!)

PRAY. Stop and take a deep breath. An older experienced, wiser mother once shared a secret with me that I have never forgotten even if I haven’t exercised it all the time. God never gives us more to do in a day than we can possibly do. He has given us appropriate time to accomplish the things He has called us to do. If your cup runneth over with more than is humanly possible, you probably need to dump some things out of it. Pray about your commitments, and discuss them with your spouse (if you have one.) If not, seek counsel with someone you respect. Take an honest look at how you are using your time. Are you saying yes when you truly need to say no? Did you really just spend the first thirty minutes of your day looking at your phone? Start your day in prayer, and ask God to guide your steps to accomplish all He intends for you today.

PRIORITIZE. I have heard people recommend thinking about what will matter in a hundred years. This isn’t really an effective method of prioritizing. After all, it certainly wouldn’t  matter in a hundred years if I didn’t get the oil changed in my Toyota, but it will sure matter right now if my engine locks down because I didn’t do it. So what kinds of things have to happen today, and what might be the consequences be if I didn’t do them? For example, the class I teach is today. If I’m not prepared for that, it will affect those who are depending on me to teach them chemistry. I will need to feed my family this evening when we all return home, and since eating out is not in the budget right now, I will need a plan in place. If that involves my crock pot, I need to make sure that meal gets started this morning.

Conversely, if everyone has what they need to wear today, the full laundry hamper is not an emergency this morning, and can wait until later this afternoon, or maybe even until tomorrow. That said, you don’t want to live life “putting out fires.” Try to become adept at planning what is coming up in the next day or two so that you are working on those things before they become dire emergencies. This prevents the oh-so-stressful situation of learning someone needs their favorite jeans in an hour, when the washer and dryer will never finish them in time. (Notice how I just placed the blame on inanimate objects.)

PRACTICE.  Your to-do list looks fabulous with everything laid out nice and neat. Now you have to put it into practice. Get up and start on the first thing, and the jaunty little check mark by Item #1 will spur you on to “Doing the Next Thing!” If you don’t finish everything on the list, move it to tomorrow’s list in accordance with its importance. At times, you may realize that it doesn’t even matter now, and you can skip it altogether. Never allow an “incomplete” list dictate your sense of accomplishment in a day. Instead, be kind to yourself. Focus on the awesome job you did!

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