How Multi-Tasking Failed Me (And What I Do Instead)

Photo credit:

With all of the best intentions to be way ahead of my deadline for writing this exact post, time mysteriously slipped away and distractions led me astray from the task at hand. With just one week until my deadline, I’m struggling to perfect the words I have written over the past month and give you the advice I wish I could always follow myself. The advice of focusing on one thing at a time, as opposed to multi-tasking and making your life more efficient. The advice of cutting back on your commitments and dedicating your attention to the things that really matter to you. But here I am, trying to help you be more efficient through a piece of writing that was anything but efficient. In the words of Alanis Morissette, “Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?”

Wait! Don’t leave me just yet. My personal struggle aside, I hope you will find these strategies helpful and give yourself grace when it doesn’t always happen so easily.

Many moons ago, in my days of filling out college applications, job applications, and writing my resume for the first time, I remember proudly typing “multi-tasking” anytime I wrote about my personal strengths. Multi-tasking sounds great in theory and our fast-paced culture has glorified someone’s ability (or perceived ability) to work on multiple things at once. But more and more, I have learned that multitasking in a truly effective or efficient way is really a standard that I will never achieve. That is unless it is in terms of nursing a baby while cooking dinner, or folding laundry while mediating a fight between my toddlers, because that I can do. But when it comes to more serious matters like work assignments, giving the undivided attention to my children that they deserve, or simply living up to the desire to get something done as efficiently as possible, it’s a different story.

Our bodies and minds cannot function like an iPhone running thirteen of our favorite apps at the same time. We need to shut down parts of our mind to properly work on something else.

After taking on a few too many commitments this past winter, I found myself constantly feeling behind. I thought multi-tasking was the answer, but I was wrong. The constant switching gears of my brain all day long drug out every little task longer than it should have ever taken. It was an endless cycle of feeling behind and stressed to finish everything I needed to do.

So a few months ago, I decided I would stop trying to multi-task and try a new approach. Following these strategies make my days flow so much more easily. Plus, I feel less of that dreaded “mom guilt” when I am more intentional about how all of my time is spent. I don’t need to feel bad about leaving my children to play on their own for a bit when I know I can allow myself thirty minutes to join them later on.

Next time you feel scatterbrained, overwhelmed with your to-do list, or simply want to streamline your days, try this:

  • Schedule your to-dos. This is key to my efficiency in crossing items off my list. A long list of to-dos can be overwhelming and feel like a burden. But if I write down the day and time that I will do them, I am much more likely to stick to it. Just be careful to be realistic about what you can accomplish in a given time. For example, if I have three bigs things to do one week, I spread them out so only one is scheduled each day. And when you schedule to do something, don’t do anything else during that time.
    • There are two ways you can schedule your time: 1. You can either plan to do something from start to finish without stopping until it’s done. Or, 2. Give yourself a certain amount of time (say thirty minutes) to work on something, and if you are not finished when the time is up, schedule time the next day to work on it again.
  • Plan to play with your kids. Of course, we all want to be there for our kids, whether playing make-believe, reading books, or giving them all the attention and cuddles they deserve! But with our busy days and 100 other things to do, I know I’m not the only one who feels like my toddler begging me to come play is not always the top priority. When I can look ahead at my day and mentally prepare myself to dedicate all of my attention to the kids at a certain time, I am much happier to oblige to the requests to color or do puzzles with the tiny humans when the time comes.
  • Put your phone in another room, out of sight (and on silent mode!) We all know how distracting our phones are. If I’m not checking text messages or FaceTiming with my mom, I will mindlessly open Instagram, emails, or even the Weather app for the third time today. Why?? The phrase “out of sight, out of mind,” couldn’t be truer when it comes to our phones. When you are doing any task (a work project, playing with your kids, cleaning the kitchen, etc.) put your phone away. Focus on what you are doing and don’t touch that phone until you’re done!

When someone says they can “multi-task,” what I believe they really mean is they enjoy jumping around from one task to the next before anything is actually completed. I have been there and done that, usually in times of high stress when my mind is going a mile a minute. But just about every time I find myself stuck in that crazed mentality, I am less productive than ever. Spending a few minutes on one task before abandoning it for another, isn’t exactly multitasking in its literal definition. That’s just being scatterbrained. Granted, some people may work best in those fast-paced situations. But I would argue that we could all benefit from slowing down, prolonging our focus on one single thing, seeing it through to completion, before moving on.