Just eat your soup: How to stop multitasking

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I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions. But one big effort I have been making these past few weeks is working hard to stop multitasking. And with good reason.

How many times has this happened to you? You manage to find a free minute for lunch, and you put a bowl of soup in the microwave. (Hopefully, it’s Second-Day Soup, but that’s a whole different blog post!) While the soup is warming up, you see a library book on the table and decide to put it by the door so you remember to return it. On the way, you hear the dryer shut off, and without even really thinking, you start pulling out the clean clothes. Right away you notice that your husband’s white T-shirts have seen better days, so you go look for your phone to add “white T-shirts” to your shopping list. As you unlock your phone screen, you notice a message from your child’s teacher and get sucked down the rabbit hole that is your email account. In the meantime, your toddler has wandered off with your library book, the cat has made a comfy bed in the clean laundry and your uneaten soup is getting cold again! None of this would have happened, of course, if we were trained in how to stop multitasking.

Now I understand that for many busy moms, if you don’t eat a sandwich in the car or at your desk, you just won’t get to eat. This isn’t about the “survival mode” era of parenting when we sacrifice all but the most essential life functions to get through the day. I’m talking about the mistaken belief that if we aren’t doing something productive every second of every day, we are somehow wasting time or not reaching our fullest potential. On the contrary, I would argue that making a decision to stop multitasking actually makes us more productive as parents.

Imagine your child walking around the house, kind of brushing his teeth, kind of daydreaming, pretending to look for a lost shoe. How effective is the toothbrushing going to be? Or the shoe search? Not very, I’d wager. This, as moms, we understand perfectly. So then why do I feel like I have to be making a bed or sorting laundry myself during the two minutes that I’m brushing my own teeth? An article on cognitive psychology argues that multitasking can actually reduce our productivity by as much as 40%, and we are not as good at switching from task to task as we might think. But with so much to accomplish and only so many hours in a day, how in the world do we stop multitasking?

  • Just eat the soup. The world is not going to come to a screeching halt if you take five minutes to sit down and eat lunch. True, you might get interrupted from time to time. But if you consciously focus on doing one task at a time from start to finish, you might be surprised at how quickly this becomes a habit. (Bonus: This type of intentional living is a wonderful skill to model for your children. And aren’t they always watching? Maybe you even ask for their help in keeping you on task!)
  • Resist the urge to multitask. Take a second and think about the times in your day when you try to do too much at once. Make yourself a to-do list if you have to, but give priority and full attention to each task you encounter—or two at a time at the absolute most. If you find yourself getting pulled away, stop and tell yourself: “The dishes can wait. Right now, I am concentrating on my grocery list so I don’t forget any items and need to make a return trip to the store.”
  • Write down three things. Sometimes we take on too much because we wrongly feel like everything needs to be accomplished immediately. If you fall into this trap, get in the habit at night of writing down three things that absolutely must be accomplished the next day—starting with the one you like the least. Once those three things are done, anything else you cross off your list is a bonus. You might find that you aren’t nearly as “busy” as you once thought.
  • Give yourself grace. Let’s face it—as moms, we are bred to be multitaskers. Changing these lifelong habits is not going to happen overnight. Especially during this era where many of us are called to be teachers to our kids in virtual learning environments, we are wearing more hats than ever before. So if you do catch yourself wiping down the bathroom counter while blow-drying your hair, or making a phone call while also making the coffee, be kind and forgiving of yourself. Take a moment, take a breath, then refocus on the task that absolutely needs to be done next. And don’t forget to congratulate yourself on every (single) job well done.

Do you have tips on how to stop multitasking? Please share in the comments!

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