My mom had a saying, “tend to your knitting.” This seemingly simple imperative is something my mother repeated often, and it meant that I should focus on one thing, no matter how difficult and intricate. When disturbed, don’t stress––simply hold your hand on your last knot and when the distraction is over, go back and “tend to your knitting.” In other words, get your count back, check your pattern, and continue your work.
I believe it had another meaning as well, which reminds me of Voltaire’s “tend your own garden.” ln our family, the phrase “tend to your knitting” also meant mind your own business, don’t talk or worry about anybody else’s concerns, and stay focused on your own knitting, your own tapestry, your own design. It plays off the Unique blog from last Tuesday, too, kind of tend to your uniqueness. But I think I need to save these ideas for another blog. For now, I want to concentrate on the idea that Doers know how to get things done by focusing on one thing until it is finished.
This is an unbelievably important thing to do if you want to accomplish things and make real change in the world. I believe Doers probably understand how to “tend to their knitting” automatically. Doers seem able to focus exclusively on one goal and create complex patterns within that goal. When interrupted or distracted or challenged with a problem, they deal with it, count their knots, see where they are, and start “knitting” again.
On a flight home recently, I was reminded of my mother’s words as I watched the women next to me crotchet throughout the entire flight. What I was amazed at was the focus she maintained, counting every knot and even when interrupted, how unruffled she was about recounting the knots and looking at the design. She created a lovely, intricate design. Not an easy thing to do.
As I watched this woman work, and remembered my mother’s words, the first thing I thought was how strong my mother was and how strong all the other women in my life are now. Both my grandmothers (and my mother) ran their families while the men where gone on the fishing boats. It made me think about all the knitting and crocheting they did, and about all of life’s interruptions, and the circumstances that would take them away from counting of their knots.
Growing up, I heard “tend to your knitting” many times. I watched my mom and my grandmothers put this saying to good use, knitting and crocheting away. They made baby blankets and off-to-school blankets and even Barbie clothes––all while managing the household, wrangling children and dealing with every imaginable crisis. There was never a fuss or a fight, but calm in the center of the storm as they took care of problems and then returned to their projects, counting their knots and resuming their work.
I was reading about the brain the other day, how it processes information. Did you know that scientists believe that in spite of the fast pace of society and social media, the brain can still only focus on one thing at a time? Males have an even harder time of multi-tasking than women, but according to research, women also have a hard time keeping focus. I wonder if this is true, or could it be that “tending to your knitting,”––keeping intense focus, is what allows women to break from a project and seemingly take care of many different things before relaxing and going back at it with that same intense focus?
I know for myself, multiple issues at one time, when they hit me, are challenging. When I have to break away from what I am focused on and need to respond or take action, sometimes I am not as effective or as thoughtful as I should be. I have to remind myself to hold my place, take care of the problem and then “tend to my knitting” again. Some books give exercises on how to stay focused when distracted with multiple issues all at the same time, but could it be as simple as my mom “tending to her knitting?”
This brings me back to something that happened last week, and that I mentioned briefly in the last blog: Jeff Bezos’ letter to shareholders. There is no doubt that he has a big vision and that he “knit” many big ideas, including customer satisfaction, into a six page memo. He is knitting an elaborate tapestry of reasons why customer service is everything at Amazon, important to every single one of their 560,000 employees and to their one million Prime Members. Bezos and Amazon are focused on meeting relentlessly changing consumer expectations. He is focused and he is working hard to keep his company focused. He is definitely “tending to his knitting.”
But whether you are a Doer who knows instinctively that you must “tend to your knitting,” or if you have to work at it, it doesn’t really matter. The important thing is that you pay attention to where you are, that you focus on one thing. Distractions and challenges are a part of life and will interrupt you, so when they do, just hold your place. After you have dealt with the problem, count your knots, check your design and start working again. If we could all learn to do this, the world might change quicker than we think.