living well

Why Multitasking is bad stuff

11 Comments 25 September 2012

Northumberland dunes

Why is living in the moment so much easier on holiday?

I have a challenge for you.

First, some background:

Spinning Plates is Stupid.

I was talking to a good friend of mine over coffee and we decided that the whole Women Multitask to be more Effective thing is a myth. I am fairly rubbish at spinning plates. Ok, we can multitask, as pretty much anyone physically can, but if we do, then everything we task at suffers. Bearing in mind that this friend is (1)working and (2)doing a Masters and (3)raising kids and (4)is a wife and doing all those tasks admirably well, while I am (1)working from home and (2)raising kids and (3)being a wife and as usual I am doing one of those pretty well while I watch the other two suffer (the one I do well randomly rotates between those three), I think she was saying that to make me feel good.

Or maybe not, maybe that’s how she really feels. We women also do that thing where we feel we’ve never really done something good enough, especially when it comes to family things, even if we’ve done it admirably well. Enviably well. I look at some women and think: how?! And I’ll bet they think to themselves ‘oh, if only I had made 60 cookies instead of 40 for the Scouts last night…’ Or whatever.

I’ve been quiet on The American Resident because I’ve had two months of family visits. I know! Two months of being with some of my closest family, them hanging around my house and being a part of my life, meeting Minky and Raffy for the first time (everybody loves cuddle-cat Raffy, Minky is just so aloof), seeing how Paddy has aged, meeting the chickens, watching the kids do their different things (Oh, and I must show you some photos from The Wedding!), and them just being nearby has been the biggest treat of all for me. But ‘Having Family’ replaced ‘Working From Home’ on my list of Multitasking because I simply couldn’t fit it all in. And even then I feel like I wasn’t a very good host and have spent the days since their departure mulling over what I should have done differently rather than how great the whole visit was.

Multitasking. Sure, we can hold a baby on our hip and stir a cake and answer the phone and greet the husband and kick the cat (by accident–he was underfoot) and burn the dinner (by accident –I was stirring cake!)… But I don’t think the question should be Can we do it well? I think instead, Should we do it at all?

Isn’t the Multitasking Mindset the very thing that gets us into such a tissy, frantic about getting everything done, anxious about trying to have it all, worried that we haven’t done enough?

Time to escape the multitasking myth. Join me?

Another thing this good friend said to me over coffee (she was drinking tea) was that doing things mindfully, in other words, doing one thing at a time so each thing can be done with full awareness and done well, helps us to live in the moment. Living in the moment means we aren’t distracted by what might or might not happen, or by what could have been done differently and can’t be changed.

By living in the moment not only do we enjoy each moment more, but we remember each moment better and we don’t get to the end of a visit, or the end of a day and think ‘it was all a blur! Where did the time go?’ and begin forgetting things almost immediately because our minds simply weren’t present enough to record those things well enough to keep them. What?! Why sacrifice great memories because we were trying to plan dinner and figure out the best time to plant the bulbs while spending a day with our family?

If you could have the secret to reducing stress and anxiety, would you take it?

Just think about why a holiday is so relaxing. On holiday you’re probably doing at most two things at a time and usually one. Lying on a beach and reading, that’s two. Hiking up a mountain, that’s one. Seeing the sights in a city and talking to someone about them, that’s two. Sipping coffee in a cafe and people watching, that’s two. Playing on a beach with kids–well, ok, that can be about eight, but you’re starting to see what I’m saying, right?

We’re most relaxed on holiday because we put ourselves in situations where we do one or two things at a time. We are present in those moments, we’re not thinking about all the housework we should be doing or who’s going to collect the dry cleaning tomorrow because you’ll be at that conference and what if they forget because the dry cleaners don’t like that and might threaten to sell your clothes but only if you leave it there too long and so if someone doesn’t pick it up tomorrow you might forget and maybe leave it there too long and then they’ll sell it…

Forget multitasking, I say. I can make a placard if you like, No More Multi Tasking! Do each thing like you’re on holiday and only allow yourself to do one, maybe two things at a time. Think about what you’re doing, don’t let your mind wander to those worries about what has happened or what might happen.If you’re worried about forgetting to do something, keep a notebook with you and jot it down, then make ‘reviewing the notebook’ one thing to do later. Acknowledge the worry then move back to the present moment, and allow yourself to experience only that moment.

I’m going to try it for a week and see how I feel and how productive I’ve been at the end of that week. It’ll be a tough week to try it–we have two birthdays in our family this weekend, and I have a lot of work to get caught up on, but I figure a tough week is better than an easy week to try it out.

So whaddya think? Want to try it with me?




Your Comments

11 Comments so far

  1. Naomi says:

    I did it this summer (while living in our new “summer home”) and it was LOVELY while I was in that moment, but don’t feel like I can happily and contentedly live life that way .. I think for me it IS something to just experience and enjoy while on holiday. But, I’m interested to see what everyone else has to say!

  2. Sally says:

    This is exactly the sort of thing I’ve been thinking about lately. My youngest just started all-day school, so I finally have time to do things properly and mindfully instead of running around like a chicken with its head cut off. Unfortunately, it’s HARD. I very mindfully sit and read my book with a cup of tea after lunch, but then I read for too long and end up rushing around because I forgot to plan anything for dinner. I really want to be able to do this, but I don’t think I know HOW, so it feels like I’m inventing paper or something like that. When I’m pressed for time, I get tons of stuff done. When I move carefully and mindfully through the day, focusing on one thing at a time, I’m very happy and peaceful until I realize I haven’t actually accomplished anything and surge into Manic Mode. Anyway, I’m still trying to figure it out and will be interested to read about your experiences.

  3. MrsB says:

    I so agree but it’ll be hard to give up the multitasking – I’m always on Twitter when I watch TV at night 😐

  4. Tammy says:

    Oh, that sounds glorious! I will first live it vicariously through you, and then I will have a go at it myself. I’m looking forward to see how this experiment works for you.

    Ooooooo! My significant other is going to visit his mom for a week. That throws the schedule out the window anyway. I will use that time to do one thing at a time.

  5. Expat Mum says:

    I have WAY too much going on at the moment and the only way I’m not self-combusting is to force myself to schedule everything. I feel a bit over-the-top organized but it’s actually very calming.
    I give myself an hour each day to sit and blog and comment, then the bulk of the day to write, but a half hour in the middle to walk around and do house stuff, and an hour every other day to exercise my fat belly, etc. etc. That way I’m not running round like a headless chicken AND I actually accomplish stuff as opposed to panicking about everything.

  6. Melissa says:

    Hi Michelle,

    I sure miss chatting with you. We haven’t chatted in ages. This is a fantastic post that I will share with my girlfriends!

    Melissa x

  7. Melissa says:

    Btw, here’s my two pence — along with limiting the multi-tasking, maybe women should stop and think about what’s really important? Are all those tasks you “think” you have to do necessary or are they things you think you “should” do or feel guilty for not doing. And so what if you don’t do them perfectly? I bet no one notices but you!

  8. SusieQ says:

    Practice, practice, practice… Wise words from my tai chi teacher. Like most things, we need to practice to get improve, so work those mindfulness muscles. Its not easy, but just being aware is a start.

    I’ll join you this week and let you know how it goes! Perhaps it is multi-tasking that makes time go so fast the older we get… just a thought.

  9. I am definitely a fan of lying on the beach and reading or lying in bed (even in the afternoon) and reading. I guess I’m kind of a sloth but find it fun to do loads of things together if need be. Guess I like taking it to the extremes sometimes. Men don’t multi-task so well and they seem to get more promotions so not sure what that says. How lovely to have your family here, I’m sure you were a fantastic host, no question.

  10. Iota says:

    I find it really hard to switch my brain off. I’d love to be better at mindfulness, but how do you stop your brain running off in lots of different directions? And yes, I’ll join you this week!

    I went through a long phase of doing 10 mins deep breathing exercise in the morning. It did make a big difference to the day. Unfortunately, the cd hasn’t surfaced from the move yet, and I’m not disciplined enough to do it without the cd.

  11. SusieQ says:

    Hi Iota, I have completed a mindfulness course and whilst I know the benefit, it has taken me a long time to realise why it is so good, rather than just going through the motions. “Monkey thoughts” are part of life, keep bringing it back to the breathing:)

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An American writer in the UK for over 20 years. Lives in Essex. A pretend extrovert.

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