This is an old blog post from about five years ago on a previous blog I had that focused on my counseling practice. I ran across it and thought it fits right in with our season of seeking simplicity. Enjoy!
Like all moms, I have somehow developed the ability to simultaneously drive, listen to the radio, talk on my mobile phone, ration out snacks to my kids in the backseat and adjust my bra straps while sipping/spilling a cup of coffee from a regular coffee mug because all of my travel mugs have disappeared into the abyss that is my floorboard. Is this dangerous? Yep, but for whatever reason I feel like I have to do all of these things concurrently. While it seems as if I am accomplishing a lot, I do not feel like I am doing anything particularly well or with the proper concentration each activity is entitled. The reality of motherhood is that moms are constantly multitasking and almost always distracted-many times these distractions are voluntarily and by choice-mostly a result of habit and the need to feel capable of “doing it all.”
Recently I have read several magazine articles focusing on how Americans are truly a unique culture in that we believe we are not accomplishing anything unless we are doing multiple things all at one time. In one article featured in Parents magazine recently, the author, Debra Ollivier, who lived in France, explains that there is no translation of the word “multitask” to French. She went on to further explain how uncomplicated motherhood is in France-free from copious amounts of baby gear and relatively devoid of the need for multiple child-focused activities with few helpings of mommy guilt.
In another article I read a several months ago while waiting in a doctor’s office, the author decided to do an experiment where for 30 days he only did one thing at a time. For example, if he was eating breakfast, he only ate breakfast-no reading the paper or watching TV while eating. He would concentrate on and execute only one activity at a time. This sounded fabulous to me, so, I decided to adopt some of the same behaviors and perform my own mini mindfulness experiment. Since I am a multi-tasking junkie, I cannot fathom doing only one thing at a time for a full month. So, for my own peace of mind, I have settled with a daily dose of mono-tasking. I have tried to make it a point to at least once a day to take a break from my routine chaos and do one thing and one thing alone. It is surprisingly difficult to do. My first experiment was to drive to pick up my son from school- and only drive- no radio, no eating, or talking on the phone. After my initial multitasking withdrawal symptoms wore off (overwhelming boredom, fingers twitching to pick up my phone, the irresistible urge to pull into a drive-thru or switch on the radio), it was extremely relaxing to only concentrate on driving. I had two of my children in the backseat, and as I drove I took note of our surroundings and discussed with them the things we saw (OK, so I was talking to my kids while driving, but I can’t ignore them, right?). I have also started doing this while driving alone, and it is shocking how much of our environment I missed while being distracted by technology, food, ill-fitting undergarments, and coffee.
I have been applying this same strategy at home and I have begun to make it a point to try to play with my kids while doing nothing else but focus my attention on them. I am guilty of playing a game of Candyland while responding to emails and checking my voice mail messages. But, when I turn everything else off and focus on getting to the gingerbread house I feel like I accomplish so much more. The play is so much more rich and I feel like I am really playing with them. Consequently, when I wait to respond to emails, texts, or voice mails, I am so much better able to concentrate and the quality of what I do increases enormously. In a recent study conducted at Stanford University by Eyal Ophir, Clifford Nass and Anthony Wagner , researchers found that people who are heavy media multitaskers (for example, checking emails, responding to texts, etc., simultaneously) were more susceptible to being distracted by irrelevant information and had more difficulty with memory than low media multitaskers. The heavy media multitaskers proved to be slowed down by the inability to ignore irrelevant information and memory problems.
So, is it really saving any time to do multiple activities simultaneously? Sure, of course it does, occasionally. And many times it is unavoidable. It is very convenient to call a friend while unloading the dishwasher or respond to emails while nursing a baby. Many times it is necessary to make phone calls while driving or check emails while catching up on a recorded television show. But, do take time to slow down and do one thing at a time once in a while. When you spend even just a small amount of time focusing only on your children or only on talking to a friend on the phone, you will be surprised at how much more meaningful these interactions are without all of the distractions. And you just may notice some of the little things that were overshadowed by all of the diversions.