In mydandelion2 newsletter last week, I wrote about weeding. The letter did not go out until Friday—a notoriously bad day to send out a newsletter—so I am expanding on the theme in a full-out blog.

Weeding is an art.

We all know that if you don’t weed out the roots of a plant, the plant will grow back. There are many metaphors for this phenomenon. But that’s not what I’m going to talk about today. I’m reflecting instead on the process of weeding.

When I go into my garden to weed, I find I’m more effective if I choose the type of weed I’m going to pull: “Today I’m going to pull out all the grass in my garden.” “Today I’m going to pull out all the lemon balm.” When my eyes and brain are looking for one particular thing, I have a much easier time spotting it than if I were to say “I’m going to weed all types of weeds today” or “I’m going to pick tomatoes and weed as I do it.”

Sometimes it can also work to weed a small area of everything that is NOT the lettuce, or the tomato, or the garlic. Again, my brain is focused on one thing, in one small space.

When I’m unfocused, I miss a lot of things. Even the thought of weeding my entire garden of everything I don’t want there raises my heart rate and sends me into overwhelm. Its simply too much to do, especially when I have so many other tasks pulling for my attention! I need to take one thing at a time.

Weeding is like editing.

Like my experience of weeding, if I limit myself to one thing I do a better job. Looking through a document to check for periods at the end of each bullet, or to check for extra spaces, means I’m likely to catch the one thing I’m looking for. Did I overuse the word “that”? Or “just”? Or “really”? It works best to search on each of those words one at a time. Conversely, if I try to find every error, I’ll probably miss a bunch of them.

[For a list of common errors to look for, see The Write Life’s 25 Editing Tips for Tightening Your Copy]

Despite knowing the downsides of overcommitment in proofreading, my brain often wants to do everything at once and fix everything at once. It takes some wrangling to get myself to concentrate on one thing at a time, especially in this age of distraction. In fact, as I sat down to write this blog I went to do some research on multitasking and ended up doing something else before getting to my Google search. Then my phone rang and I took the call before finally getting back to my article.

Have I lost your attention yet?

Perhaps I have. I am talking about multitasking, and I have taken you along for the ride… and we all know by now that our brains are not wired for multitasking! Here’s a great article, Multitasking is Killing Your Brain, that describes how multitasking lowers your work quality and productivity, harms your IQ (possibly permanently), increases stress levels, and simply exhausts you.

Weeding can be an antidote to multitasking.

There is practice to be had in concentrating on one thing at a time, and we could all stand to do a lot more of it. It’s time for me to get out into my garden.

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