One Haircut at a Time

February 12, 2021
Mary-Ellen Hynd | One Haircut at a Time Blog Post

Can you a remember a time when someone in your life – a family member or mentor-type person who knew, loved and cared about you innately – gave you a piece of simple advice that has stuck with you and continued to serve as a simple and sensible guide throughout your life?

For me, that was “one haircut at a time” – words of wisdom from my grandfather. I can hear his voice as I’m typing this now. The advice came at a time early in my career when I was working in a job that I loved, but feeling overwhelmed by multiple responsibilities and requests. It felt like I would never be able to get everything done!

My grandfather, Bernard “Barney” Browne emigrated to Canada in 1912 from Norwich, England at the age of four. Traveling with his parents and two siblings, they were originally booked to sail on the Titanic, but it was oversold so they came on the next ship.

The family which grew to four children, settled in Wingham, Ontario.  My great grandfather who fought in WW1 was the town’s shoemaker and my grandfather became a barber in Wingham (pictured below on the right outside his barbershop).



When I came to him feeling overwhelmed, he told me that often at his barber shop there would be a line up out the street and around the corner of people waiting for a haircut. To alleviate the pressure, he would say to himself “one haircut at a time”, and focus on his customer in the barber chair instead of the line-up outside.

By paying attention to the thing you’re doing while you’re doing it, he may not have known it at the time, but he was practicing “One-Thing-at-a-Time Meditation”.

“Mindfulness creates centered awareness.

When you do one thing at a time, you’re guaranteed excellent results.

If you do too many things simultaneously, it messes up your neural circuits.

Focus on one thing at a time.”  Deepak Choprah

Over the years, I have continued to take this wisdom from my grandfather to heart. Remembering “one haircut a time” to gently bring me back to moment-by-moment awareness of my surrounding environment and the task at hand.

“Be like a postage stamp.

Stick to one thing until you get there.”  Josh Billings

I hope this simple piece of advice struck a chord and makes a difference for you too. Please feel free to share your thoughts and experiences.

Pass it on 

Hi I’m Mary-Ellen

ICF Accredited global coach & organizational strategist known for unlocking potential & moving ideas to meaningful action through leadership, sustainability & communication. It’s my job to make you shine!


  1. Jacqui D'Eon

    Focus is so critically important. There really is no such thing as multi-tasking although many of us like to believe we can do it, the research is clear – we can’t. One haircut at a time is sage advice from another era that withstands the test of time.

    • Mary-Ellen Hynd

      Yes, focus is so important and that can’t happen if our minds are all over the place. And yes, the one haircut at a time example has certainly stood the test of time.

  2. Vanessa

    Mindfulness requires one to surrender. It’s simple to get the idea and not so simple to practice. As I reflected on the message in your text, I started to inquire about the roots of the barber’s wisdom.
    Then I realized that as an immigrant myself, I can understand that it’s difficult to navigate and learn through life’s major changes without surrender and trust.
    When your great grandfather decided to cross the Atlantic to start a new life in Canada, the amount of information he had to support his plans was very little compared to what we have at our disposal these days.
    Similarly, your grandfather had two certainties; one was that he could only do one haircut at a time, and the other was that the waiting customers expected one good haircut once their turn’s come.
    When things became overwhelming, one can choose to accept what can’t be controlled and focus on one thing each time, not to break. Then at the end of the line, the reward is to look back and see all that was accomplished.

    • Mary-Ellen Hynd

      I appreciate your comment and perspective as an immigrant Vanessa. There is comfort in having security and something to focus on and surrender and trust are important elements too. My grandfather took pride in his work and you are so right that both he and his customers would have felt a sense of accomplishment with this focused approach.

  3. Janet L Wile

    Working in the Communications field, I have been inundated with multiple projects and tasks, all which are urgent and important for your clients. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and wonder where to even start. This advice of “one haircut at a time” is so applicable to that situation. Just start. Focus on doing one thing, then move on to the next.

    • Mary-Ellen Hynd

      So glad to hear that this resonated with your personal experience as a communications leader. Knowing it’s ok and giving yourself permission to focus on one thing at a time is both calming and liberating. Plus it helps to set boundaries and clarify expectations with clients.

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