Multitasking. Ah, how I used to brag about my ability to do so. In my mind, it was a “mom thing” or, at the very least, a “woman thing”. I felt pridefully superior to my husband and pretty much everyone else in our home because I “could balance” so many plates. I was the image of Efficiency. But once I realized that – not only was my balancing act a sham (we sure had a lot of broken plates over the years) – but also that I was completely drained of energy at the end of every day, I began to think my husband was right.
You see, he would always make remarks as I flew back and forth in the kitchen, frantically doing this, that and the other thing. My daughter even began to chime in on the ridicule. “Mom, slow down! Mom, it would be faster if you just took your time!” she’d echo my husband. I knew the slowing down part was right, cause rushing is never good for us, those around us or productivity… but, I couldn’t possibly do one measly thing at a time – could I?
It almost seemed wasteful in my mind. Taking the time to, firstly, organize things enough so that I had an order to my tasks. Where do people find the time to sit down and write a list, I wondered as I chopped vegetables, replied to my mother-in-law’s text, started making my son a smoothie and brewing my husband’s evening tea all simultaneously. That’s for the birds, I said.
Like many nuggets of wisdom my husband has disguised as “nagging” over the years, I started thinking maybe he was right about this one too. It wasn’t until I started working on my personal development (mindset, life improvement, etc) that I came across the concept, and the studies to back it up. What I found was actually worse than I imagined it to be.
Multitasking is not something to brag about! The name itself is deceptive, we’re not truly doing more than one activity at once, but switching between activities quickly. It is literally draining our energy, sabotaging our efforts, decreasing productivity by around 40% and can also affect our health… Trying to do too many things at once also means not tapping into our fullest potential. Scatterbrained “Jill of all Trades at the very same time” isn’t getting much of anything accomplished.
Quickly switching between tasks (“multitasking”) increases the chances of mistakes being made, leads to gaps in our memory retention and ability to concentrate long-term, hinders creativity, problem solving, motivation, emotional control and more! An article from Health.com actually has research that was compiled from the busy streets of New York City where 20% of teenagers who were struck by a vehicle when crossing the road were actually distracted by their mobile devices. It’s not that shocking when you think about it, the average kid – and even most adults – have their noses in their phones 24/7 – even during other tasks! It’s like we’re afraid to be “bored” or get FOMO (fear of missing out) in our modern world.
There’s a common joke that goes around from time to time, comparing our brains/lives to a Browser window with 30 tabs open. It’s funny because it’s relatable, but it’s also sadly not a joke. Of course, there are many causes of overwhelm, stress, depression, anxiety and health issues (both physical and mental) in today’s world, however one way we can avoid or cut down on at least some of these issues is to stop doing too much at once.
Recognizing triggers that incite the “need” for multitasking, such as common distractions that we all face, can really help us preemptively avoid such things by planning ahead and taking a few extra steps at the beginning of our day, or prior to embarking on more complex tasks. Just like with many things in life, prior planning and a strategy can make all the difference.
Ah, routines, we all have them. Realize it or not, you have a certain set of rituals you do every day, like clockwork, without fail, and mostly without even using much brain power. How is that possible? Through automation. I love the book Atomic Habits, because it really dives into what the driving force behind our habits are, helps us recognize the ones that are serving us and the ones that aren’t, and truly opens our eyes to the significant difference that making small, incremental changes in our daily routines can have on our overall life.
One example I can give you from my own life, is that I find myself constantly filling up our Berkey, and it’s a 2.5 gallon one, so it’s pretty large capacity. Although, with 6 of us living in the home (soon to be 7, at the time of writing this! October baby!) we go through some filtered water, let me tell you! Now, I’ve been working to get out of bed earlier and more promptly in the morning, but when I finally pull myself together and come downstairs it sometimes feels like it’s off to the races! My husband works early, so I like to get up and prepare his coffee for him, pack his lunchbox and (most mornings) prepare a nice hot breakfast to start his day off right. A simple realization that many mornings our water filter was teetering on empty really gave me a good deal of stress. Now, again, here comes the “brag” that’s not really a brag, but I would find myself with one hand flipping an omelet and the other filling up a gallon jug from the sink, removing the lid that’s about 2 feet above my head and pouring said gallon into the top of the water filter. Most days it went off without a hitch, but occasionally I’d splash myself or other surfaces in our kitchen, and make more work for myself in the long run. A few times I even got so distracted by realizing the filters needed cleaned/changed that breakfast nearly burned! See where I’m going with this? A simple switch in my routine, making sure the water filter was topped off at night as I’m doing a Kitchen Reset, meant no more filling it in the morning while doing 20 other tasks!
There are plenty of ways you can use simple routines to your advantage, sit down and think about the areas (or times of day) that you find yourself doing the most or feeling the most stressed. Write down those common tasks, and figure out where else you can place them or how you can better delegate them to others to take a load off.
Common distractions such as phone calls, texts, TV in the background, kids asking a million questions and other things that pop up at the “worst” times can really throw us off track and make us feel a greater sense of urgency which leads to rushing and trying to do too much. Again, some simple prior planning can really help cut down on those distractions.
- Silence your phone, perhaps using Settings to allow your “Favorites” contact list able to contact you incase of emergencies. Give yourself certain points in the day where checking your phone to catch up on text and email alerts is acceptable, otherwise put it down and move on. Those Facebook notifications have a way of capturing our attention.
- Some people leave their TV on all day long, as a sort of background noise to life. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like life has enough background noise as it is, and it truly makes me feel chaotic just to hear the TV running for too long. If it’s too quiet for you, try playing some soft instrumental music or hymnals on the radio or an Alexa device instead.
- Use your Notebook or a planner/calendar and plan out your day. It doesn’t have to be perfect or even pretty, but everyone should have a plan. If you don’t have a strategy for your time it will get away from you and you’ll wonder where the day went constantly.
- Get up before the kids (this doesn’t work for everyone, but you could also stay up past when they go to bed! Do what works for you!) and get stuff done! Ideally the things that require the most concentration or effort. Besides, the dopamine hit you get from knocking out those tasks first thing in the morning is an amazing boost in your confidence and mood for the day!
And lastly, practice mindfulness. Which basically means paying attention to what’s happening at the moment. Looking towards the future is great, thinking about 90 different things is sometimes unavoidable, but try to be present as much as possible. Not only does this help you live in the moment and make time appear to be passing more slowly, but it also will help you recognize when you’re putting too much on your plate, catching yourself before you get stressed or drop it all! Take time to appreciate life, give thanks and enjoy today, that’s why it’s called the present, after all =)
I hope this has been helpful. Remember, no one is perfect and we all have areas that we need to work on, limiting beliefs that we need to break and growth that we need to make. The important thing is progress. Making progress is truly the key to feeling fulfilled. Keep learning, keep growing, never stop striving for more and chasing your big scary dreams. Remember, you don’t have to do everything today but you do have to do something every day. Recognizing that you can’t control everything externally but you can control what’s internal, that’s up to you. Give yourself grace and make small, positive changes towards the life you want to design.