My 5-year-old often says to me “Mommy, you can multitask” whenever I tell him that I have to work. And he has a point. I can multitask. I can type out a blog while I watch him build Lego out of the corner of my eye, and I can hold down a conversation while I draft an email.
However- often times when I multitask, I’m not doing the best job at any of the things I’m trying to do. Does that happen to you?
For example, in the same moment where I’m emailing and chatting with my older son, my younger son might be found climbing on top of his music table or getting into something he shouldn’t. So can I multitask? Sure.
Though maybe not very well.
But — he’s right. I can do several things at the same time. As a work-from-home mom, this is a great skill to have.
However, I think there’s a big misconception when it comes to multitasking — many of us can do it, but is it actually an effective way to get things accomplished? By definition we’re doing multiple things at the same time, so we’re dividing our attention. Because of that we may not be doing any of those things very well. So multitasking may not always be effective (like that time my 1yo fell off the music table and I wasn’t close enough to catch him. Whoops. #momfail).
Have you experienced anything like that?
As moms, we’re often forced to multitask, and we can become very good at it in certain situations. Many of us can drive, referee arguments, and give a kid a snack all at the same time. You might be able to talk on the phone, cook dinner, and put the dishes away all at the same time. How many tasks can you do at once? Probably a lot, and our kids come to expect it of us.
I don’t know about you, but my son has no idea how to handle it when I can literally only do one activity in the moment he needs something else. He doesn’t realize that there may be a limit to my ability to multitask.
The realities of multitasking
Because I hear “multitask” out of my child’s mouth on an almost daily basis, it made me think more about it:
- What am I teaching my child about doing (too) many things at once? It’s something that allows you to (possibly) be productive. It’s pretty much how I seem to live life but I’m not so sure these are great lessons.
- Am I actually multitasking? I am sometimes. Sometimes I end up doing nothing well.
- Am I doing it well? See above. While I’m able to do several things at once, many times I feel divided and stressed.
- When it comes to work, do I multitask? I’m not so sure . . .
Yes, sometimes I do multitask, but what I realized is that more often than not, I am actually shifting my focus to a singular activity for a short period of time, and then shifting back to something else. It’s a subtle but important difference to multitasking.
This, I think is the key to being a better multitasker- realizing that we may not actually benefit from multitasking and instead we need to use shorter moments of a singular focus.
When we multitask, our focus is divided. But, when we make a point to shift our focus to one activity or situation, we can fully engage. And when we’re done, we can shift to something else. For me, this has become a useful strategy in accomplishing my seemingly un-ending to-do list.
Becoming a Better Multitasker
We all have different attention spans, and depending on the activity, our motivation, and what’s going on around us, we may become immersed in it and have the ability to focus for a certain length of time. This ability to maintain our focus is important, but it’s not always realistic as a busy mom, and especially as a mom who works from home.
When I get interrupted, I get frustrated. It’s hard to be in the process of working on something or trying to accomplish a task and someone needs you. RIGHT NOW. But let’s face it, that’s #momlife. I constantly need to remind myself of this, and my solution has been short bouts of intense focus. And then I’m ready to shift. I do this on days where I have an hour or two of time to work, and I definitely do this when my kids are home.
So what does that mean? It’s acknowledging that I may not have the time to complete a task, so instead of forcing the situation to make it happen, or getting frustrated, I plan for accomplishing it in chunks, or smaller tasks. These are like the baby steps to getting the big task accomplished (or as accomplished as I can on that day).
This is what that looks like when I plan my week (And I WISH this is all I had on that list…it’s a brief example):
Here’s a bit more about this example. If I’m teaching a course with 13 students, then each week I have 13 assignments to grade for the coursee. Ideally I’d sit down the day after they’re turned in and get them done. Real life? No way. So instead, I look at it as a task to accomplish during the week and I make a goal to complete 3-4 a day. Then, I grade one when I have a moment and I try to plan when that can likely happen.
If my younger son is having a snack in the high chair and my older son is playing Lego, I’ll grade a paper. While my younger one is napping and my older is getting his TV time or playing on the Kindle, I might do two more. But chances are in between those two assignments, I’ll tackle other small tasks such as checking freelance sites for work, or being productive on social media. Like this way of planning? Download your free organizer.
By shifting my focus from one task to the next, it allows me to not need a long attention span. Which is good because, again- that is very hard for a mom to do. So rather than beat myself up for not being able to focus, or getting frustrated with my kids for their normal needs, I simply decide to shift my focus. I’m reframing these interruptions to be spontaneous moments of shifting my focus. And when I can, I’ll shift it back to work.
Being prepared for the day with a list of tasks helps me be able to get through my day in bite-sized chunks. Having a list filled with small tasks helps me plan for how I can be productive in small pockets of time. For example:
- Email one particular person
- Edit one student draft
- Do one pin and graphic for my upcoming post
- Read one chapter in a book
- 1 load of laundry (which I can chunk into load, unload, fold, put away)
- Create next week’s post
- Write my newsletter for the week (You can join that here!!)
Sometimes my list will include tasks that take longer than just a few minutes of focus and it would be too hard to jump back and forth to it. For example, writing a blog post, I prefer to have at least 15 solid minutes I know I can focus and then I can get a good portion done and revisit later. So, I don’t start blogs when I know I’ll be needed soon. I’ll save this for a naptime or after bed. It’s become important to really take note of the reality of my available time and be aware that in some situations I can multitask, but in many- I need to have a singular focus.
When I take the time to create a singular focus for the activity, even if it’s brief, I step away feeling more accomplished and satisfied. And then I can shift to the next moment in a better place. This has proved hugely helpful as I work from home. I still don’t get through all of my tasks every day, but I find that my quality of work is higher and my stress is lower when I work to multitask less and have a singular focus more.
And that, I think, is the myth of multitasking- that it’s actually helpful for us and allows us to be more productive.
Don’t forget to download your free organizer!
What do you think? How is multitasking working for you?