I came across Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way via a journalling course that I did earlier this year. We were encouraged to adopt Cameron's technique of "morning pages" – three pages of stream of consciousness writing first thing in the morning. I've recently seen her on line saying that one of the benefits of this is that if the rest of the day is rubbish, you can say "at least I did my morning pages".

Somewhere else, a while ago, I read that the reason the Army insists on soldiers squaring away their rack, making their bed and sorting their kit every morning to absolute millimetre perfection is not just about instilling discipline. It, too, is about the fact that the day is likely to be imperfect, uncomfortable, there will be failures (probably), the day might be worse than that, the day might not just be horrible, but actually horrific. In the army, failures can be fatal. But at the very least they have achieved that one good thing. They have created a bed worth coming back to, a bed that is not another mess to sort out before they can crawl into it.

We may not be soldiers, or artists – though indeed we may be soldiers and artists – but the message is sound: Do One Thing. Do it early, preferably before everything else kicks in. Do the one thing that you will be able to say at the end of the day "at least…I did that."

Your day is almost certainly overloaded already, and you are almost certainly already struggling to get it all done. You will almost certainly fail.

So however much is on today's (or tomorrow's) "to do" list …Pick one.

Pick the most important one.

Or pick the easiest one.

Or pick the one you're dreading the most.

Or the one that will give you most pleasure.

But pick just one thing.

And resolve to do that one thing. Just one.

Then do it. Focus on it. Give it top priority. Find the space, defer other requests, switch off the tech, hang out the 'not here' sign, until you have got that 'one thing' done.

If you picked the most important one or the one you were dreading, the satisfaction of getting it sorted will be immense. Don't forget to wallow in that feeling – at least for as long as it takes you to drink a coffee or walk round the block.

If you picked the easiest one, bank it, note it, all the same. If you go home at the end of the day having done nothing else – you have still achieved this one thing.

Either way, everything else you get done during the day will be a bonus…a 'not only, but also…'

I have long since learned that any task I really do not want to do has to be tackled early in the day, otherwise it will keep worming its way down to the bottom of the list. Once started, these tasks are never as bad in the doing as they are in the thinking-about.

Almost never…OK, sometimes they are actually worse…but even then, getting on with it early gets it from the dreaded-future to the forget-about-past all the more quickly.

Other times motivation is lacking or energy levels might be low, then we need the satisfaction of a tick in a box, any box, being able to hit 'save' or 'delete' or hand off with a "here's my bit, over to you…" off our desk and on to someone else's. Often these tasks are about progress not perfection, movement not completion, but they need to be done, one at a time. These are the easy things. Often they are the things that don't even make the "to do" list, so we never even give ourselves the tick when they're done.

We should notice these things too – and give ourselves at least a silver star for getting up and getting on with it.

If your life is ruled by the list, it is simpler to get the 'one thing' habit by looking at the list and picking something from that. Once you get the idea, find something outside of the list; something that is not work, not family, not an obligation; find something that is just for you.

Having discovered 'morning pages' these have become my "one thing". Journalling was something I didn't know I was looking for until I found it. I haven't missed a day since I started – and whenever I can't think what to write that is oddly the thing that keeps the pen moving – not wanting to break that chain – wanting to be able to say at the end of the day "at least I did this".

Writing might work for you too – or it might be running – or taking time to squeeze your own orange juice and having breakfast enjoying the view from your window rather than grabbing a coffee en route – or it might not be a morning thing at all, it might be a lunchtime meditation or half an hour in the library to miss the rush-hour traffic home, whatever it is, make a ritual of it, make it a discipline, a spiritual practice, make it important. In doing so, you are acknowledging that YOU are important in your own life, that you are capable and successful, that however rubbish the day has been in other respects there was, at least, this one thing.

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