Making Real Change…With Just One Thing

My number one, originally uploaded to Flickr by Snowflakesarewhite.Can changing just one thing make a big impact in your life?  It’s my plan of attack for my New Year resolutions, so I guess we’ll see…

I was reading this article in Working Mother with tips from top executives, all of whom happen to be mothers, and I was intrigued by the “One Thing” program at Bank of America, as described by Cynthia Bowman, Senior VP in Leadership Development:  “Each of us identifies the single thing that would be the biggest help in achieving work life balance. My ‘one thing’ is protecting my weekends.” (Pictured.)

I mentally bookmarked it and said, ah yes, we should talk about that at some point on the blog.  But this somehow got conflated with my New Year resolutions in my head… and now I think I’ve got a pretty good idea: Whatever your resolution is, identify ONE THING that you can do to make a difference.  For example — one of my resolutions is to fight the the clutter that is slowly overtaking our apartment.  The baby’s toys (and clothes) (and books) (and eating accessories) (and on and on)  are everywhere, there always seems to be laundry to be put away, and… well, it isn’t a pretty picture.  So after we got back from our holiday travel, we walked around the apartment and identified ONE place in each room to keep clean.  For example: Stuff tends to gather on the credenza in our living room, so we’ve agreed to spend 5 minutes, every night, decluttering the credenza.

Could we think bigger, and spend an hour decluttering the house every night?  Adopt a “one touch” rule or something like that?  Reorganize/purge/pack our entire apartment so that everything has a “place”? Sure, we could… but for now I feel strangely energized by the prospect of just having to keep that one thing decluttered.  And maybe I’m crazy, and the mess will just move to another surface… but I think just keeping that ONE THING clean is going to go a long way towards making us feel like we live in a less cluttered house.

Readers, what is your top resolution — and can you identify ONE THING you can do to really hack away at that resolution?  Taking it back to the original article — can you identify ONE THING that would really help your work/life balance? 


  1. I think the one thing that would really help my work life balance is getting up earlier. My 1 and 3 year olds already get up so early that I’m a little scared to make this resolution. But if I could get up at 5:30 every morning and be showered and dressed before they wake up, I’d feel so much more ready for the day and I’d get more time with my kids before leaving for work which is a major work-life balance issue for me.

    Happy New Year!

  2. Yes, I immediately keyed in on that when you posted a link to the article. I am going to implement something along the lines that you mentioned, although mine may be meal planning ahead of time and using my slow-cooker.

    However, as a former Bank of America management-level employee I have to say that I wish BoA had had these policies when I had elementary-aged kids and a critically ill spouse!

  3. I signed up for a meal service. I pick up microwave-ready meals (that aren’t frozen) twice per week. My diet was pretty insane due to lack of planning and I’m already feeling better.

    • Cornellian :

      This summer when I had more cash on hand I had groceries delivered, mostly meals that just needed to be baked or microwaved, produce, and yogurt. I live in a food desert, and I get off so late it’s impossible to get healthy stuff most days.

    • I’m also in the bay area and would love to know what service you selected?

      • I have the diet-to-go delivery service. They ship frozen but I use the “Fresh Local Pick Up” option where I pick up the not-frozen meals twice per week at a gym near my house–they have a good selection of locations if you are willing to pick up at a gas station (I just couldn’t get over potentially having gas fumes in my food). I’m on the 1600 calories “traditional” diet. The food is pretty tasty!

  4. This is a great idea! I tend to be overly ambitious with my resolutions and while I have some big goals, it’s definitely helpful to think of small things I can do to improve. The state of my bedroom is driving me a bit nuts at the moment so I think my one thing is going to be to spend 5 minutes decluttering something every morning. (Daily stuff like taking out the trash, making my bed or cleaning my mug doesn’t count, sorting hand laundry does)

    My other project is to mark my keys. I’ve lived here for 4 months and still fumble with the damn keys multiple times per day.

    • KansasAnalyst :

      For the keys- Use pretty nail polish on the round part of the key- it’s fast and easy and you can always take it off later with nail polish remover.

      • Genius! Will definitely do that.

      • WorkingMom :

        Good to know it comes off with nail polish remover! I want to label the keys for my new office – each cabinet has it’s own key plus the door key. In my old office I just made a mark on one key with a sharpie, but now I have five keys in total! I was afraid to do that to “company property” but if it comes off easily with nail polish remover… I’m going for it! thanks!

  5. TO Lawyer :

    I think this is a great idea and tip! I often feel really overwhelmed by the tiny things that pile up – for example when my office gets a little cluttered and messy, I get really stressed by my volume of work. It’s always more manageable when I’m organized and have a list of everything that needs to be done and when.

    One of my issues is when I’m stressed or tired, I’ll let my condo get really messy, and will pile my clothes on the couch instead of taking the 30 seconds at the end of the day putting them away. Then the accumulation of clothes ends up stressing me out. Maybe my new years resolution will be to try to stay more tidy and organized, which should be doable if I do the little things on a daily basis.

  6. our dining room table is the dumping ground in our house and I really want to keep it clutter free!

    • We have a major flat surface problem. It seems every flat surface in the house gets covered with stuff. I’m so tired of it, but it’s overwhelming me at the moment.

      • I am guilty of this. DH calls it my surface area problem. Surfaces mysteriously end up covered with stuff. That’s actually my One Thing at home this year.

      • lawsuited :

        I have a serious-business organizational system in my home with a labelled place for everything, but we still have this problem. I’ve accepted that working people have to spend most of the time working and very little of the time tidying their houses, but the surface clutter makes me crazy and stressed. I’ve designated a junk drawer(s) in a few rooms of the house where the problem is worst, and the things that would usually be left on surfaces (including keys, wallets, birthday cards, coupons, whatever) go in the drawer. We clean out the drawers every month or so.

    • I bought a small file box and it now sits next to the entertainment center which is on the corner of the dining room. I quickly throw out junk and throw the mail in the box. Then when I have time, I can sort through the mail and pay bills, etc. Papers that I have to review and sign, etc. also go in that box. The stuff gets actually filed a few months later, if it is still worth keeping.

      • Oh! I also have big basket for my husband’s junk on the entertainment center. Keys, wallet, receipts, lighters, nail clippers. All that junk. Go through it maybe every three months to throw stuff away.

  7. Research, Not Law :

    Our larger goal is to set up an exercise space in our finished attic. The One Thing related to it is organizing and thinning the mountains of stuff we have stored there currently. That alone is a big thing, though.

    My other One Thing is to set up a more appropriate filing system. We end up with a lot of paperwork build up out in the open, mainly because we don’t have a place to file things because our filing cabinet is full of outdated categories and paperwork. I really don’t think we need more than an afternoon and box of new file folders.

    • I don’t know if this will work for you, but someone suggested to me to stop worrying so much about categories of paperwork and file everything by month. If you need it, you’ll still be able to find it, but it takes a lot less time to file, and really, we typically spend a lot more time filing than finding things (because we rarely need them.

      I haven’t been able to do it all the way, some things I still keep categorized, but for regular monthly bills, it works great.

      • this is brilliant! I do this w/ receipts but didn’t think about it for bills/notices/etc. I stuffed a redweld full of filing in the cabinet to deal w/ after the holidays, and now I may be able to get through it quickly. thanks!

      • Research, Not Law :

        Ooooh… will consider this! Some of what’s cluttering the desk needs its own file, but I’ll give this a try for everything else. It would really help with the ‘let’s just keep it for a month or so in case we need it’ dance we do constantly. Thanks for the tip!

      • I used to have a calendar where each month turned in to a file folder. All month I just shoved stuff in the calendar. If I bought something big or did something important that I might want to find later, I could write that on the calendar. Also, dr.s appointments and trips were on the calendar as a matter of course. Then, tear off the page, and file it away. Done.

        It was like this:

        But I can’t find 2013, and I wasn’t able to find 2012 before the year started. I’m considering just putting a folder in my in box, and then stapling the calendar page to the front to replace this system.

        • That is such a great idea. I just pile up the stuff normally & go through it quarterly (which of course ends up happening 2x yearly if I’m lucky)… It’s not as nice looking as your 2012 one, but this one might do the trick:

    • FedTaxAtty :

      In order to help with the problem, I went paperless on nearly all my bills and set up autopay for all the bills but the credit cards. For utilities, I also went to budget pay so that I get charged the same amount each month. This way, I can just monitor that all the bills are getting paid through Quicken, Mint, etc. My filing pile is so much smaller than it used to be.

      Also, my new year’s resolution last year was to scan and then shred all the documents I needed to keep but did not necessarily need in print. This was HUGE task, and I am still working at it, but it has greatly reduced the amount of file boxes I need. I keep all these files in my Dropbox so I can easily access them, share them, and not worry about losing them when my harddrive inevitably kicks it.

  8. Research, Not Law :

    On a related note, is Working Mother a nice publication? I’m looking for a magazine for myself and it sounds right in theory, but I’m not interested if it’s just Real Simple merged with Parenting.

    • I got a subscription about 10 months ago and my review is a sound “meh.” It’s fairly interesting, but I haven’t learned anything groundbreaking and I still enjoy Real Simple more. My first impression was that it was more appropriate for non-professional working mothers,which is perfectly fine, but not the magazine I was looking for.

    • If you want a more intellectual pareting magazine, I like “Brain, Child” It’s only a quarterly publication, though.

      • *parenting. I don’t have suggestions for typing/spelling magazines.

      • Sadly, they stopped publishing. That was a great magazine and offered so much more than Working Mother. Totally agree that it is Meh.

        • Really? It doesn’t look like it from the website. Maybe I’m wrong?

    • Research, Not Law :

      Thanks, all. Doesn’t sound right for me. Bummer about Brain Child. I’ve decided that people don’t want intellectual magazines any more :(

      • I think Brain, Child is back publishing. You should go to their website:

  9. phillygirlruns :

    i like this idea. my “one thing” is going to be actually clearing off my desk and putting things away before i leave the office every day, in the hopes that this contributes to keeping my @%&% together at work.

    • I do this. It feels REALLY good to have an organized desk to start from at the beginning of the day. Totally worth the painful 5 minutes it adds to the end of your day.

    • Research, Not Law :

      I try to leave myself a note at the end of the day outlining where to start the next morning, basically a dump of all the thoughts I’ve been carrying in my head throughout the work day. It sounds like overkill, but it substantially improves my productivity to pick up exactly where I left off.

  10. East Coaster :

    This is my approach for resolutions this year as well! (after many years of getting carried away with 25 different things that I want to change, and failing at all of them). My goal for the year is to take better care of myself, and I’ll be focusing on one new thing per week. This week the goal is to drink 6 glasses of water a day. Everything else (eat better, exercise whatever) can wait for its own week, right now I’m just tackling water. Re-reading that it sounds so January-ish/wishful thinking / crazy lady, but I really hope at least some things stick.

    And with that, I’m off to refill my water mug. Wish me luck!

    • Meg Murry :

      I am also focusing on the “take better care of myself” aspect of my life as my resolution, and one piece at a time, hoping that happier, healthier mom, wife & employee = happier, healthier family and job. I’m going with the concept of “21 days to form a habit”, so each month I’m adding a new “thing” and hoping I can keep up the old good habits while adding new ones. I’m going to attempt some of my later goals as well, but not beat myself up over them if I can’t stick with them until its that goal’s month.

      For January, my overall goal is “eat healthier”, and the specific thing I am going to change is: no drive through breakfast or lunch, no buying food from the vending machines at work. In order to acheive this I need to preplan meals and snacks, and have Plan B food (oatmeal & canned soup for right now) in my desk. If I can stick with it for the whole month then I might allow myself to go back to 1 day per week of drive through or vending machine, but hopefully I’ll get used to eating real food and the junk food will have lost its appeal. We shall see.

      On my list for future months right now are: sticking to a bedtime, laying out clothes/food the night before, exercise, planning dinners, scheduling (and keeping) dr/gyn/dentist/optometrist appts, actually using Weight Watchers online (espeicially since I’ve been paying for it), do my hair/makeup every weekday, and giving up my Diet Pepsi addiction, and working more efficiently at work so I can get home earlier to have more time with my family. Any suggestions for something to add to the list or which I should shoot for in February?

  11. I’ve been focusing on one area to declutter/organize per week. This week’s is the linen closet. I bought an expandable shelf, matched all our sheet sets and put them in one of the pillowcases, put the mismatches in our donate pile and realized that rolling our towels instead of folding them is a much better use of space. I just need to get some baskets to put our sheets and extra blankets in and then I can call it good. I think it’s so much easier to have a small, achievable goal like “organize the linen closet” instead of “we should be more organized”. Now I can do it, feel the thrill of achievement and move on to the next area, which will be the baker’s rack outside our kitchen.

  12. anonypotamus :

    Happy New Year! I am a Very Longtime Lurker finally commenting :)

    Most of my resolutions stem from having better time management, so the first small step I’m going to implement is setting a bedtime and getting to sleep early enough that waking up early is not such a chore. I am much more productive in the mornings and actually get stuff done as opposed to getting sucked into TV, Pinterest, the interwebs, etc. like I do in the evenings.

    Here’s to small changes!

    • Anonymous :

      This. If I stick to the bedtime, I know that I will, without struggle, accomplish the end goals: exercise more, cook more, eat less, pack my lunch, walk the dogs more, drink less, waste less time on mindless media, read more. I do not do anything productive after 10PM on weeknights, and mostly do things that are destructive to my general well-being.

    • lawsuited :

      Also, I love your handle!

  13. Diana Barry :

    I like this! Maybe my one thing will be to keep up with the filing. It ends up taking over the whole house. :0

  14. My One Thing is to take 60 minutes a day for myself. I can use that time however I wish so long as it is focused on me. The hope is that I can channel that into something enjoyable/productive while at the same time meeting my need for alone time and self care.

  15. SV in House :

    My One Thing is to exercise daily, but giving “exercise” a pretty broad definition — getting outside and moving for a minimum of 15 minutes per day. 2 days down, 363 to go!

  16. My best friend and I made a commitment to exercise 160 minutes per week, which is more than either of us does now, sadly.

    We are going to start a google docs spreadsheet to hold one another to it. Super-sad that it’s come to this, but both of us are the type that allows work to encroach on everything until one has no “me time.” So we are carving this time out. Incidentally, we now live in different states, so I think this will be a great way to check in on one another more often. Sometimes, when you are such close friends, you literally forget to call, because you figure the other would call if something’s up…so this is a double-win.

  17. Apparently I was inspired. I made a list of all the things bothering me about my room (from uneven books to poor furniture placement). However, in typical cb style, this turned into rearranging the problematic furniture at 10pm and my room currently looks like a bomb has gone off. Hopefully a few hours after work tomorrow will see it in solid shape.

  18. I read an opinion piece last week about adopting one word to be your theme for the year, and using that word and its different possible interpretations to change your behavior for the better in different ways throughout the year. I like this idea and am trying it out this year.

  19. Start and end the day with simple routines. I have been refining morning and evening routines over the past few months. Each list is set on repeat in the task manager app I use (OmniFocus). I have found that the evening routine sets the next day up for a smoother start, while the morning routine sets the tone for the day. I’ve tweaked it a bit after some trial and error. For instance, I no longer check e-mail until everything else is done because I found it de-railed me more often than was helpful. It’s not a huge change on the surface, but I find that the day starts out with more intention and I feel less frantic trying to get out the door. When I go to bed, I sleep a little easier knowing that things are ready to go for the next day. My morning routine also includes a 20-minute session where I plan my day…giving me a sense of greater focus and intention.

  20. My one thing is going to be meal planning. I waste so much time staring in the frig/freezer/pantry, or grabbing something to-go that’s not very healthy. If I have cereal one night and we usually go out on Friday night, then I really only have to come up with 3 meals per week (weekends are easy b/c there’s time). Does anyoone have any good meal planning suggestions?

    • @ Mary – slow cooker.

    • Not sure if you will come back to read this, but here is what works for me. Sit down on Saturday or Sunday and plan out your 2-3 meals. (Like your schedule, we never need more than that.) Go shopping and get the stuff you need for the meals. Write the meals you plan to make somewhere that is easy to see in your kitchen. We have a chalkboard near the fridge, so something like that should work. When you come home, look at the chalkboard, pick the meal to make, and cross it off. I also use the chalkboard to track ingredients that I need to use up. For example, tomatoes might be written up there until I decide how I am going to use them up.

      Also, I second the slow cooker suggestion. I almost always make one meal a week in the slow cooker.

      Good luck!

      • I do almost the opposite: I decide what I want to cook for the week, assign the meals to days on the fridge whiteboard, make my list and go shopping. The only problem is then we have too much perishable food or too many leftovers if we go out 2 or 3 nights during the week (which happens a lot). The idea of the separate list with “ingredients to be used up” is brilliant.

    • @Mary (re: meal planning) – I sat down in front of the TV one night and wrote a list with three weeks of our favorite, do-able weeknight meals (skipping Fridays). Then I set them up on my gmail calendar as repeating events. I’m not rigid about following it, but since *thinking* of ideas can be the biggest issue for me, it reduced meal-planning a 5-10 minute task. I can tweak it when I make my grocery list. On Sunday, when I make the shopping list, I look at the calendar (e.g., any night meetings or special events, perhaps I do not want grilled chicken salad this week, etc.) and make the final call. Repeating meals every three weeks seems to be reasonable for not getting tired of things. Also, when I initially set it up, I put the easiest meals on nights that typically are busier. When the season changes, I make a few adjustments, since chili isn’t really a dinner I crave much from April-August.

  21. Fantastic idea! I go through waves where my office is either a disaster or neat as a pin. I’m going to make my 1 goal towards keeping my office neater getting through my mail and filing everything every day. No more stacks of mail, no more overflowing “to be filed” box. Yes!

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