Do you sometimes feel like your days are out of control and you can’t get enough done?
Do you wish you could go to bed feeling like you completed the things you needed to do?
I certainly do.
When I feel like there are a million things to do, I go into champion multitasking mode.
Mothers are incredible multitaskers; buying birthday presents online while feeding the baby, emailing while cooking dinner, calling your mum while driving, writing a shopping list while talking to your kids, watching TV while updating your household budget.
Ohhh I can feel the satisfaction of ticking off my to-do list as I write this.
But what if multitasking wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be?
It’s no wonder we all multitask. The Australian Institute of Family Studies (May 2016) reported that mothers with babies and young children spend up to 51 hours a week caring for others and up to 32 hours per week doing household work (these are averages so some of us would spend longer). Then there’s your paid or other unpaid work, connecting with your partner, having time to yourself, sleeping (less than you’d like), exercising, connecting with friends and extended family, hobbies and more!
Doing multiple things at once seems like a great solution.
I find it incredibly hard to do just one thing at a time, most of the time. My brain is constantly looking for opportunities to get more done.
Our brain can’t focus on 2 things at once.
What it’s really doing is switching attention back and forwards between tasks (sometimes so quickly that you think you’re doing them simultaneously).
We have a finite amount of attention available and all that switching consumes a lot of that attention.
What happens when you multitask
When you multitask:
- You always feel busy but don’t accomplish much
- Your brain is up to 40% slower
- You need to keep repeating and revisiting things to refocus and remember where you’re up to
- Constant interruptions make you feel stressed
- You miss important things
- You make more errors
- You forget things more easily, like your train of thought or what you just read
- You prevent yourself from fully getting into the zone where you’re performing at your most effective, efficient and creative level
- Over time you weaken your ability to focus on one thing at a time.
That’s a lot of perspective there, isn’t it? I’m not sure I want to be making any of those happen.
And wait, there’s one more and it’s a big one:
- You break your connections with other people (including those you love).
Has your child or partner ever told you to put your phone down?
Have you ever missed something really important that they were saying to you or sensed that they really just needed your full attention for a few minutes?
Urban dictionary (highly reliable source of truth) defines multitasking as ‘a polite way of telling someone you haven’t heard a word they said’. As in ‘sorry darling, I was multitasking, can you tell me that again?’. Ouch.
My son always asks me to sit at the table with him while he eats, even if I’m not eating. He won’t touch his food until I do. Sometimes he’ll ask to sit on my lap or ask me to feed him even though he’s perfectly capable of feeding himself. If I ask him to start eating, he’ll tell me he’ll wait. He’s onto something here. I find it really hard to sit still when there are things to be done. I could be cleaning the kitchen, unloading the dishwasher, folding clothes or doing something else while he’s eating. While I’m in his view and talking to him, I’m not fully present and connecting.
Multitasking seems more efficient, but often it’s stealing our time, quality, creativity, calmness and connections.
What to do instead
Instead, try this:
When you start to multitask, ask yourself, are any of the tasks I’m doing important or complex enough to deserve my full attention?
If yes, focus on that ONE thing until it’s done (even if it you have to stop and come back to it).
Here are some other tips:
- Keep a prioritised to-do list in a visible place. Review it each night for the next day and then again in the morning. If you think of something new, add it to the list, but continue to work on that ONE thing until it’s done.
- Reprioritise regularly and when unexpected things come up (let’s face it they always do)
- Proactively get rid of as many distractions as possible. For example, if you’re spending quality time with your children, leave your phone in another room. When you’re trying to read something, turn off the TV and your social media notifications.
- Do similar tasks at the same time (this is batch processing). Your mind will get into the zone and finish the task more quickly and to a better standard.
Are you finding it hard to imagine saying goodbye to multitasking altogether? I’ve got some good news for you.
Multitasking does work where you can pair a simple (often physical) task with another more complex task. This is actually called background tasking.
For example, your brain has stored the process for brushing your teeth on autopilot. So, while you brush your teeth you can plan your day, select your outfit or mentally check off whether you’ve packed everything the children need.
Avoid multitasking in the afternoon. Scientists have discovered that this is the hardest time of the day for the brain to cope with the load.
Let me warn you – if you’re a habitual multitasker, this will feel weird at first. You might feel fidgety or be searching for another task. You might also feel like things are taking longer.
Don’t let that stop you.
You will soon find your flow and feel the high of getting things done and focusing more on the things that matter. You may also need to readjust how much you think you can get done in a day – but that’s a topic for another time.
Want to give it a try?
Go for it!
Here’s your action plan:
- When you find yourself about to multitask, stop and ask yourself if any of the tasks are important or complex enough to deserve your full attention.
- If yes, focus on that ONE thing until it’s done.
With practice, you can tick off your to-do list, focus on the things that matter most, do things well and look after your brain with less stress.
If you know another mum who would find this useful, please go ahead and share this article.
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