Why multi-tasking is an occupational hazard and not a desirable achievement.

Many of us mothers see multi-tasking as an occupational necessity and some are really proud to be huge achievers of this.  Let’s face it, how many times do we see or hear the comment that women are so good at multi-tasking, quite often to the derogatory detriment of the men in our lives.  We believe this is something that we should aspire to be good at or believe that by gender default, we should naturally excel at this.

Trust me (and it’s taken me a long time to get here), it’s BS and it’s not healthy for your mental or physical wellbeing.

Studies have shown that not only do productivity levels halve when we tackle too much but stress levels and a sense of frustration rises after 20 minutes of multi-tasking.

Picture this: you have friends arriving for a get together, the house isn’t as tidy as you would like it to be; one of your kids has decided that their toys have to be left in a trail in every single room in the house; you realise you have forgotten an ingredient for the meal you are preparing; your other child has just announced that they need a lift to the station at about the same time your guests are arriving and you haven’t even had your first cup of coffee yet.  You start barking orders, you flip the kettle on, you have the bathroom cleaner in one hand and a bunch of toys you are picking up in the other.  Meanwhile you are mentally working out if you can delegate the station run or if you will have to magically be in 2 places at once.  You yell a bit more, feel resentful as you clean the pee away from the toilet seat and threaten to empty the bedrooms of all toys before leaping into the car to go to the supermarket whilst the kettle has just boiled dry and you still have not had that lifesaving coffee.

Yep, that has been one of my past scenarios and whilst eventually stuff gets done – I have ended up frustrated, snappy with everyone in the house and exhausted.  I will literally feel the stress levels rise.

Only this week, I was waiting at hospital for an assessment and I watched as an overworked nurse tried to do several tasks seemly at once  She was running from one place to another leaving tasks half done or not done at all and her anxiety seemed to increase as more demands were made.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not being critical of this nurse and whilst the demands were external and not self-administered, it was a great example of my following point.

Home Truth – Multi-tasking is a myth.

You cannot do more than one task at a time and give them all your complete undivided attention.  Something will slip, be forgotten, done incorrectly and you will eventually become overwhelmed.

You are simply running around (or sitting at a desk) doing a successive flurry of switching between tasks kidding yourself you are getting stuff done.  You are.  But not in a productive or resourceful manner.

The solution is simple

Make that essential first drink of the morning, sit down with a pen and paper and make a list of what you need to achieve that day.  Then place the most important 3 at the top as the tasks that have to be done no matter what and delegate the rest as non-important.

This will mean you will really think through your priorities – for example, was getting food for my guests more important than having a spotless house?  Absolutely!  It also gives you space to see what tasks can be delegated so you are asking nicely and not screaming like a banshee!  Get your kids on-board with age appropriate tasks to help out – you all live in the home so everyone should contribute to the tasks – just because the man in your life may work full time does not mean you have to wipe up his pee!

Now you are clear on what is a priority, you can give the tasks the focus they need as you now know you do not have an exhaustive list that needs to be completed all at once.  Your sense of overwhelm will be lessened because you will have a sense of control over your day.

Next week I will be writing about why some mums actually enjoy the sense of overwhelm that comes with multitasking – until then, get prioritizing!

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