Do What You Are Doing

From a Good Housekeping Magazine published in the early 1900s:

“I had not been housekeeping very long when I chanced to read an article on domestic work which made a lasting impression. The writer, whose name is revered by all young housewives, said in substance that the housekeeper should not let her mind descend to the sordid level of her domestic drudgery, that while her hands were doing necessary commonplace things, her mind should be dwelling on the beauties of nature, a standard work of art, or pleasant trip in the past or prospective. This suited me exactly a recent college girl with many theories and I set about putting it into practice.
It is needless to recount the mishaps, ludicrous and otherwise, which resulted from doing things mechanically. For my ‘dreamy drudgery,’ as my husband called it, came to an abrupt ending when I filled our student lamp with gasoline. I deserved no thanks nor received any that we escaped without serious disaster. And my lesson was sufficiently impressive not to need a repetition.
Can the teacher, the merchant, the stenographer, the lawyer do his work mechanically and succeed? And there is no more drudgery to be thought out of existence in housework than in any other occupation, if one takes a broad view. The best way is to concentrate the mind wholly on the work at hand get through with it the quicker and dismiss it. It gets one’s thinking apparatus all out of fix continually to flit from one subject to another, and concentration is as necessary in housekeeping as in any other science.”

Do what you are doing.Somewhere, sometime I read about a sage, philosopher, or monk who offered this wise advice, “Do what you are doing.” If it is time set the table, then set the table, attentively, consciously, and thoughtfully. If it is time to pare potatoes, then pare them with attention, living fully in that moment. If it is time to write a letter, sit down and do that task, fully, completely, with all one’s attention.

Somewhere, sometime when I first heard that, I sat on the seat of the scornful and mocked a little. I was a young mother, and if I gave paring potatoes all my attention, the young children would be getting into mischief. And to be sure, the sage, philosopher or monk could not have been a young mother of young children. It is not always possible or desirable to do what you are doing instead of rightly dividing the mind of Mom in a dozen different and necessary directions. On the other hand, too much multi-tasking does not make for a centered, grounded, and thoughtful life. It becomes a habit, and then one lives a splintered and divided thought life.

“There is something about interruption that makes people especially unproductive,” says Suzanne Bianchi, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland and co-author of the new book Changing Rhythms of American Family Life. “And technology interrupts us all the time—e-mails, cell phones. It feeds into our sense of control”—another key factor in burning out, feeling a lack of control—“and highly educated workers all will talk as if they’re terribly overworked, how they feel as if there’s never enough time. Partly, we’re supposed to say it, but I think people also genuinely feel that way, even though they have the time. That’s what’s intrigued us. The subjective and the objective don’t line up.”

From an article in New York Magazine.


Some things really are worth just a lick and a promise, of course, but other things deserve more care and attention, clearing the space on our work surface and in our minds so we can focus and really give them the care they deserve. I guess part of maturity is figuring out the difference.

Do what you are doing.


Just for today,do what you are  doing.  Bring all of yourself and your attention fully to what you are doing while you are doing it.

See also: multitasking makes you dumber

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  1. Heather P
    Posted November 17, 2013 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    Oh, DHM. This post is quite timely to me. It has taken all of the nearly 6 months we’ve been back in IA for me to feel settled in again, and the better part of 3 years to feel whole enough again after I got sick, to even begin to consider having the attitude and attention spoken of above to my domestic duties. But I have felt a corner being turned this past month, and I am grateful. Yesterday I made bread for the first time in far too long, and you’d think my children had won the lottery. It feels good.

  2. Melissa
    Posted November 17, 2013 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    Thank you! I’m going to post “Do what you are doing” on my kitchen window as a reminder to stay focused. Having recently upgraded myself to a smart phone, I have noticed a significant downgrade in my attention span and ability to complete a task and be “all there,” thereby causing my homeschool and home keeping to suffer. How much more productive we are when we dismiss distractions and focus on the task at hand, working as unto The Lord.

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