Just ‘One Thing’…

Posted in Inspiration & Ideas

In my quest to continually improve as a maths consultant, I’ve recently started working with a coach. I asked her to recommend something new for me to read and she told me about this book:



She said it was the book that changed her life the most.

Wow, now that’s a recommendation.

I’ve started it this week and I’ve learned so much already. It seems that everything I’ve ever been told, particularly as a teacher, about the need to ‘multi-task’, create work-life balance and other key messages are all wrong. (I should have known they were wrong because even just these two have caused me and continue to cause me so much stress in my life).


It seems that as humans we can’t multi-task. 


Having more than one thing to focus on at a time results in cognitive overload, poor performance and stress.

Yes, we can walk and talk at the same time but when that talk becomes something we need to pay particular attention to, like giving someone precise directions, we stop walking so we can focus all of attention on that one thing. How many times have we said ‘I just need a minute to think, don’t talk to me’. Even listening and thinking intently at the same time seems impossible.


Ideas and inspiration


I spend my life juggling tasks, schedules, ‘to-do’ lists and the need to switch off and have some family/friends time. I get some things done (to varying degrees of success) and others seem to stretch out to days and weeks and even begin to appear far bigger than they really area because I haven’t attended to them fully.

Distractions that require will power: emails, social media, online shopping, washing up, the dog needing a walk…all of these things become attractive diversions and I’ve even been known to add them to my ‘to do’ lists just so I can tick them off!

It turns out that I should be doing just one thing. Even when there’s loads of things I need to do! Because if I don’t, I’ll spend far longer on the tasks and get far poorer results. 

It reminds me of a conversation I had with a group of teachers this week about ‘finding time to meet up’. We all agreed that if an event is on the calendar it will happen, but if it’s not it won’t. By putting something on the calendar we’ve created a ‘space’ for something to happen. We’ve given it it’s ‘one thing’ time.

So, this has got me thinking about how this can help us both teach more effectively and look after our health and wellbeing:

  • When we are teaching, what is the one thing this lesson is about? If we can only choose one thing will it make it easier to focus upon for both us and the children? 
  • When we are implementing whole school improvement in a subject (maths in my case), what is the one thing we want everyone to focus upon getting better at?
  • When we begin our tasks after school, what is the one thing we are going to focus upon?
  • When we leave a training course, what is the one thing we will focus upon implementing well?

Just doing ‘on thing’ seems so counter- intuitive on many level; we have so many tasks to do, we can’t just concentrate on one thing. But what happens when we do try and focus upon many tasks at the same time? The author of the book explains that every time we move tasks our brain needs the opportunity to ‘reattach’ to the purpose and behaviours needed for this different action. This takes time and energy and the more we switch, the more energy and time we use. By staying focused upon one task, not only do we give it our full attention but we also use our precious, finite reserves of time and energy most efficiently.

It is going to take me time to change but I’ve already reflected so much on how I can bring this way of working into different parts of my personal and working life.

I would say I’ve got to be disciplined but there’s also a chapter on why that’s a myth too….


Karen Wilding is a UK and international primary maths consultant passionate about making learning meaningful and relevant for every learner.




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  • ‘One of our EYFS Teachers has just attended this training and came back totally inspired and singing your praises. She said that she learnt more on this course than any course she has ever attended!’


    C Magnocavallo Head of Maths, Chesham Preparatory School, Bucks

  • Thank you for showing us HOW to change. So many courses just tell us what isn't working but not how to go about addressing this. Your approaches make so much sense! 

  • Just to say thank you again for 3 really brilliant talks at SGIS. We're a small school near Basel and we’d be interested in anything you’re doing nearby (Zurich way) so please let us know!