One At A Time: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
June 25, 2023

The idiom "one at a time" means to do or deal with one thing before starting to do or deal with another. People often use it to encourage patience and focus.

In short:

"One at a time" suggests that things should be done sequentially, not all at once.

What Does "One at a Time" Mean?

When you do something "one at a time," you focus on one part or item before moving on to the next. It suggests a systematic, progressive approach to a task by dealing with individual parts in an orderly sequence.

Let's explore its core meanings and usage:

  • It encourages you to take it easy, focus on what's important, and tackle one task or challenge at a time.
  • People usually use this idea when they want to keep things organized, avoid messiness, or make sure they're doing a good job.
  • Not just for everyday stuff, the saying can also relate to personal growth, figuring things out, or dealing with emotions.

Where Does "One at a Time" Come From?

The phrase "one at a time" has a self-explanatory origin, coming from the straightforward idea of doing things sequentially. Its usage can be traced back centuries in English literature, and it is used in various contexts to mean handling things individually and in order.

Historical Example

"None of the tribe have, we believe, more than one young one at a time; though, if the first egg is removed, the female will deposit another and continue her incubation."

- The Isle of Wight: Its Past and Present Condition, and Future Prospects, 1841

10 Examples of "One at a Time" in Sentences

Here are some examples of the idiom in use:

  • Please read all of the above questions one at a time.
  • She tackled her homework problems one at a time, ensuring she fully understood each before moving on.
  • Life's challenges can be overwhelming, but it's best to handle them one at a time.
  • In her experience, solving problems becomes less daunting when taken one at a time.
  • During the evacuation, people were instructed to leave the building one at a time for safety.
  • The committee deemed it necessary to address the issues one at a time to ensure a thorough resolution.
  • To ensure quality, the craftsman worked on the pieces one at a time.
  • The activities for the day, including but not limited to workshops and seminars, will be conducted one at a time.
  • One at a time, the hikers climbed the steep hill, maintaining a steady pace.
  • You're most welcome to bring up your questions one at a time during the meeting.

Examples of "One at a Time" in Pop Culture

The phrase "one at a time" frequently shows up in pop culture, often to emphasize patience, methodical action, or the importance of individual focus.

Let's explore some instances:

  • The book "Altogether, One At a Time" by E.L. Konigsburg, published in 1998, is a collection of four short stories.
  • "One at a Time: A Week in an American Animal Shelter" is a book written by Diane Leigh and Marilee Geyer, published in 2003. The book offers a heartfelt exploration of the experiences within a typical animal shelter in the United States.

Other/Different Ways to Say "One at a Time"

There are various alternative expressions that convey a similar meaning to "one at a time."

Here are some of them:

  • Step by step
  • In sequence
  • One after the other
  • In turn
  • Sequentially

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "One at a Time":

  • What does "one at a time" mean?

"One at a time" is a phrase suggesting that tasks or processes should be handled sequentially, not all at once.

  • How can I use "one at a time" in a sentence?

You can use "one at a time" to recommend a sequential approach. For instance, "To manage your workload effectively, try tackling your tasks one at a time."

  • Where does the idiom "one at a time" come from?

"One at a time" is a phrase with a straightforward origin, stemming from the idea of performing tasks or actions in a sequential manner.

  • Is "one at a time" a universal concept?

Yes, the concept of doing things sequentially and methodically, as suggested by "one at a time," is recognized across different cultures and languages.

  • Does "one at a time" imply a slow process?

Not necessarily. "One at a time" simply suggests a sequential approach, which might be quick or slow, depending on the context.

  • Can "one at a time" be used in a business context?

Yes, "one at a time" is often used in business or project management contexts to suggest a methodical, organized approach to tasks.

  • Does "one at a time" promote multitasking?

No, quite the opposite. The phrase encourages a focus on individual tasks before moving on to the next, which contrasts with the simultaneous task handling involved in multitasking.

  • Is "one at a time" used only in literal, practical scenarios?

No, while often used in practical contexts, "one at a time" can also apply metaphorically to concepts like personal growth, emotional management, or problem-solving.

  • Can "one at a time" be used to manage personal emotions or challenges?

Yes, "one at a time" can be applied to personal situations, encouraging an individual to tackle personal challenges or emotions sequentially rather than all at once.

  • Does "one at a time" suggest a lack of urgency?

Not inherently. It suggests methodical, organized action, which can occur within urgent contexts. The sense of urgency would depend on other factors beyond the use of this phrase.

Final Thoughts About "One at a Time"

The phrase "one at a time" underscores the effectiveness of taking a step-by-step, sequential approach to tasks, problems, or challenges. It encourages an orderly process, emphasizing focus and thoroughness over hurried, simultaneous actions.

Here's a quick summary:

  • The term emphasizes the importance of handling tasks or problems sequentially.
  • "One at a time" can be applied to various contexts, from literal, practical scenarios to abstract, emotional circumstances.
  • It doesn't imply a lack of urgency or speed but promotes a systematic and organized approach.

The concept of handling things "one at a time" can lead to improved focus, effectiveness, and, often, better outcomes. This phrase encourages us to give individual attention to each task or problem, thereby enhancing the quality of our efforts and, ultimately, our results.

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