In today’s world, multitasking is often hailed as a desirable skill. It can be a helpful thing to know how to do, but making it a lifestyle can actually make you less efficient.
I used to be a “pro” multitasker. I could do school work, watch tv, and eat; or I could drive, talk on the phone, and drink coffee. I’ve even managed one job while working at another one! I was rather proud of my skill at the time, but was all that actually beneficial?
Why multitasking decreases efficiency
At first I thought that multitasking just decreased the quality of the tasks or activities I was trying to perform. It had become clear that I wasn’t giving my best to any one thing, and there were holes in my work, relationships, and other tasks. But after I started multitasking less, I noticed that I was actually becoming more productive quantitatively too! I started paying attention to how long it took to complete “task A” with “task B” versus “task A” then “task B.” I realized that the time I was “saving” by doing both things at the same time was often canceled out by the amount of time it took to switch my concentration back and forth.
Here’s an example: As a mom, I am quite often doing something with my baby, whether its playing with her, feeding her, or just dealing with a fussy baby climbing on me. I kept finding myself trying to accomplish something (like cleaning) while simultaneously giving her things to chew on, keeping her out of the cabinets, or holding her. This attempt to multitask was making the original chore take much longer – sometimes an hour rather than just ten or fifteen minutes.
Try to think of examples of multitasking in your own life that lead to frustration and things taking longer than they ought to.
But how can you avoid this, you ask? Read on!
The value of singletasking
Lately I’ve realized that I do not need to be in this stressful multitasking mode. If it’s already been a long day, you may find yourself just trying to force things to happen so you can cross it off your list.
Slowing down and taking one thing at a time can lift a huge burden, and take away the stress that comes from being kept away from what you’re trying to do. I experience this if Esther is being needy when I need to accomplish something around the house.
By deciding to do one thing at a time, and do it well, you are making a conscious decision about how to use your time. This decision makes your time more intentional, more efficient, and surprisingly, it often decreases the total time you use on each task (or “thing you’re doing” – task sounds so technical!)
SO, here’s how to apply it when you’re overwhelmed:
First, just stop. Stop where you are and decide to focus on one thing. Second, prioritize and decide what needs to be done first. Third, execute. Put your decision into action and complete the first thing.
Stop, Prioritize, Execute.
Using my example of trying to occupy my baby while cleaning, I will do one of two things, depending on the circumstances. 1. Put her in her Pack n’ Play in her room while I finish up: These things are great! If your kids are a bit older they can just have some “room time,” playing on their own. This isn’t a punishment, it’s just a time for them to play alone while mommy works. 2. Stop what I’m doing and go intentionally play with her for a while. Maybe she just needs some mommy time, and I haven’t made enough time for her on that day. That’s okay, and I can set aside the other things that need to be done to spend time with her. Often, after we play for a bit she happily plays by herself while I finish what I was doing.
A place for multitasking
While I am an advocate of singletasking, I also know that there is a time and place for multitasking. As a general rule, if you can do multiple things without their conflicting or detracting from each other, then it may be fine or even beneficial. A few of my favorite beneficial ways to multitask:
1. Listening to a podcast while I work at the farm or go for a walk. Listening to something doesn’t take away from physical activity, and activity doesn’t distract me from listening. (Now, if I am trying to organize things, train someone, etc, then listening to a podcast isn’t such a good idea because it becomes a distraction.)
2. Conversation over dinner. These go together pretty naturally, and it’s a relaxing way to ask about each others day.
3. Reading while nursing a baby. Especially with older babies, moms kinda just have to wait for them to finish. I’ve found that a lot of things are distracting to Esther while she eats, but reading is relaxing for both of us.
Stay tuned for a post on a related topic: Being present with people, not distracted (especially by technology!). In the meantime, think of some ways in your own life that you can improve your singletasking skills. I’d love to hear about it below in the comments!