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Multitasking is not a skill

Multitasking is not a skill

Multi-what?! Oh, you mean life with kids! Is it even possible to be a parent and not multitask?

Being a mom of two very active children, multitasking seems necessary to get through the day. Add in home schooling, after school activities, running a company from home and trying to maintain some semblance of cleanliness in our domicile – it’s downright impossible to avoid at times. Example; Chopping veggies for lunch while trying to mediate between siblings on whose fault it was over some event I wasn’t privy to and peeking at my phone as a text from a client comes through without whacking off a finger.

I get it. All of this requires A LOT of multitasking.

Just to be clear, in many parenting situations – multitasking is completely unavoidable. 

To those who consider themselves masters of multitasking…I might have to burst your bubble on this one.

What’s so wrong with multitasking?

When I was growing up, multitasking was touted as a skill! Those who most adept at it were praised as leaders of their industry.

But, recent studies show that multitasking is actually detrimental to productivity – even damaging to the brain itself. What? Hold the phone…! Yes, brain damage.

With new research in this area, Psychologists are making a pretty clear (and damning) conclusion about multitasking: our minds and brains are simply not designed for it.

Studies on multitasking in the workplace show that people switch activities on average every three minutes throughout the day. This might sound impressive but the results seem to be that, in the long run, it leaves people to feel burnt out and stressed.

You’re not really multitasking

What you call multitasking is really task-switching, says Guy Winch, PhD, author of Emotional First Aid: Practical Strategies for Treating Failure, Rejection, Guilt and Other Everyday Psychological Injuries. “When it comes to attention and productivity, our brains have a finite amount,” he says.

“It’s like a pie chart, and whatever we’re working on is going to take up the majority of that pie. There’s not a lot left over for other things, with the exception of automatic behaviors like walking or chewing gum.”

Moving back and forth between several tasks actually wastes productivity, he says, because your attention is expended on the act of switching gears—plus, you never get fully “in the zone” for either activity.

When multitasking, we can feel more emotionally satisfied with our work, but this feeling of extra productivity is, unfortunately, an illusion. What’s really happening is that we lose our full presence at the task at hand and end up performing less effectively.

Here’s why…

“Human beings have a limited capacity for information processing, so after a point, it’s not clear if we’re capable of doing more,” said Gloria Mark, a professor in the department of informatics at the University of California.

Since multitasking involves actively thinking about more than one thing it can easily overload the brain’s working memory.

Breaking bad

For many of us, the temptation and satisfaction to mutlitask feels all too easy. The blame can’t be laid entirely on us; research shows that we get hits of dopamine (known as the “pleasure seeking molecule”) in our brains every time we use our laptops, smartphones, and iPads.

We then associate multitasking with this “pleasure” feeling of enjoying other media while working or studying, even though it leads to less productive work! And the vicious cycle continues. Ahhh, technology ~ I wish I knew how to quit you.

Steps to kicking the habit

  1. Turn off the plinging

One way to start is by turning off visual and audio distractions from your devices, getting rid of all notifications that try and steal your attention and time. This seemingly simple advice might give us the reprieve we need so that we can simply start committing to one thing at a time. Allowing our thoughts to move freely – without distraction. Be in the moment, even if it’s playing UNO with the kids!

  1. Stop the negative self-talk

As parents – perhaps moms especially – never feel like we are enough. We’re not DOING enough; we’re not MAKING enough; we’re not THIN enough; we’re not WEALTHY enough. The truth is – WE ARE!

Our children need our love and attention and if that means the countertops are messy, we miss a phone call or a deadline gets pushed out – it’s okay! Remind yourself that when you get older and your kids are getting ready to have their own little ones – it’s not the countertops that will have made the mark in their memory. It’s the time you spent with them

  1. Communicate openly

There will be times when work or some other event takes precedence. You are not just a parent; you have other responsibilities as well. Keeping communication lines open with your children means explaining that there will be times when you have to work late or go out of town. Speaking to your child as an important part of ‘Team ______(your last name goes here), will allow your child to conclude that they need to be respectful of your sacrifices and learn to be flexible. Versus, being disappointed and harbor feelings of abandonment and confusion when you rush out the door in a flurry of papers, briefcases and hurried good-byes.

  1. Have a daily work schedule

If you work from home, try to maintain a set schedule. Official start and stop times with breaks for lunch, the park and any other activity you want to mix into the day. Children adapt relatively easily to schedules. As long as they know that they get time with you and you make it a point that at that time you are all theirs (no multitasking) – you will find that the constant distractions will lessen.

  1. Spread out housework throughout the week

If you have been trying to slam a full house makeover in a weekend – please, stop! You’re weekends are for fun, family and a special time dedicated for you. A little self-care goes a long way. Break up your cleaning week into smaller tasks and recruit others to help. Yes, I’m talking about your family members. Don’t feel guilty about sharing responsibilities like house cleaning. (Refer to Step 2) Everyone has a duty to pitch in – even your little 2-year old. Helping around the house like picking up toys and putting dirty clothes into the hamper helps children feel like an important part of the family. It also establishes better habits, as they grow older.

Need more…try this mini-action plan

Can’t stop the feeling…still need a stronger why?

Try this 2-minute Action Plan from A Fine Parent. Written by Cortney Kilby, who owns Kilby Reporting, Inc., a freelance court reporting, a mother of two active children, and writes in her spare time.

The road to monotasking is not a short one, and it can seem daunting. Try breaking the journey into manageable pieces, beginning with answering the following questions:

  1. What areas of my life are conflicting with one another for my time and energy? (Kids and work? Work and marriage? Extracurricular activities and family life?)
  2. Where and when do I feel the most stress, and why? (Like right before picking up your kids from daycare, because you have the sinking feeling you didn’t get enough done during the work day)
  3. When and where do I feel the LEAST stress, and why?

Don’t answer the above questions with the intent of solving the entirety of the problem. Just identifying these areas is a huge step! Be honest, and keep the answers as simple as you can.

Start by being intentional in your efforts to focus on one thing at a time – but then give yourself a break if you struggle with it. The fact that you are trying is a massive step in the right direction.

Will we ever be able to give up multitasking entirely? Probably not.

But by attempting to be in the moment, we are taking the steps to becoming better parents and better people overall.

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