I’ve often viewed multitasking as a grand talent, even a sort of virtue. If I could juggle a hundred things in the air every day, I was winning. Winning at motherhood. Winning at womanhood. I ignored the many times I came crashing down in discouragement, frustration, or depression. I believed the multitasking myth.
The Price of Multitasking
Over the past year or so, I’ve come to see the price of all of that multitasking. It stretches my patience thin, it ruins my focus, it makes me inattentive and forgetful. The multitasking myth can lead to the feeling that you are accomplishing everything and nothing all at once.
I felt like, in order to be a “good” mom and wife and woman, I needed to do it all now. I secretly worried that I would need to give something up if I didn’t multitask to my limits; and that something would be me.
Having it All
Because women can’t really have it all, right? Our belief that we can is what is ruining us, or so I’ve heard. But I grow weary of sacrificing at the altar of motherhood. And I don’t want to wait until the next season to do things for myself. I also want to give my best to my children and live this season to the fullest.
I recently spoke to an amazing elderly woman who told me of hitting a stage in her life when someone asked, “What do you want for you?” and she couldn’t think of a single thing. In some ways, she multitasked for everyone else for so long, she lost herself along the way.
While no one can have everything now, we have to make room for ourselves at every stage. That might mean focusing on one goal or hobby at a time and it might mean asking the people you love to make sacrifices and room for your needs as well.
A Recovering Multitasker
Many women learned earlier what I wasn’t ready to yet. Multitasking doesn’t mean doing it all right now. A schedule doesn’t restrict you; it can free up your time instead. Doing more doesn’t always equal more – and that goes for everyone in the family. A woman’s time can be focused on many meaningful things, but not necessarily all at once.
So, I’m slowly giving up my fractured, manic, multitasking ways. I write this from a place of privilege: I am a stay-at-home/work-at-home mom with a very flexible day time schedule. But I know other moms (and dads) are feeling the constant pressure of multitasking and seeking the ever-elusive balance. If you need to recover from the multitasking myth, know that you are not alone.
Impetuous for Change
Two things spurred this change. The first was the needs of my kids. While I thought I was stretching myself to make their lives better, what they really needed was more consistency and less of everything else. We signed up for a few activities and made them a firm part of our schedule, along with free time, learning time, and family time. While I personally crave flexibility, my kids need stability.
So, we follow a pretty clear daily, family calendar each day. This cuts down on frustrations and helps us concentrate on one task at a time. My kids get 1 hour of free time right after school. We spend some of this chatting and playing, without me doing anything else. I spend some of it preparing dinner and invite them to join me if they want my attention, rather than dividing my attention and rushing through dinner prep.
My personal health provided the second impetuous. I struggled with headaches, weight, and depression. My rushing often caused forgetting meals, too much sitting at electronics, and hurried meals/unhealthy snacks. I decided to work on my nutrition and found a deep desire to slow down.
Now I ease into my morning with a cup of herbal tea. I take my time to chop fruits and veggies, enjoying the process. I eat when I’m hungry and have time to sit down and enjoy food, rather than on a rigid schedule. I keep hydrated in between and treat myself to new teas, nuts, or fruit when I am tempted to snack. I schedule the flexibility I need to take care of myself throughout the day and I feel better than I have in ages.
Becoming a Singletasker
I now understand how much more meaningful my days are when I find time to singletask. My calendar is still full, sometimes to the overflowing, but I’m not trying to tackle it all at once, jamming busyness into every moment until I crash and do nothing.
You’ll still find me rushing to uncover hidden soccer shoes while putting on my own, answering a homework question while dishing up dinner, and changing a diaper while calling “5 minutes until bedtime!” Multitasking is a necessary, natural part of life.
Singletasking has, surprisingly, helped ease some of these multitasking stresses. If I’ve enjoyed some focused, “me” time in the morning, even just 15 minutes with a cup of tea, I am better able to manage our afternoons. If I know the day’s schedule ahead of time, I am better able to decide when to be flexible and to celebrate a clean kitchen without mourning toys on the living room floor.
I feel more centered and in control as I single task and put my energy toward one task at a time. This took some getting used to for my kids, who sometimes still want me to do five things at once. Except they now know that, “Just give me 5 minutes” really means 5 minutes until they get undivided attention for what they need.
I also know that I can depend on undivided attention for what I need during the day. And everyone is happier for it.