Multitasking Moms?

Is being a multitasking mom a good idea?  As busy moms, most of us think that we are the ultimate multitaskers.  We can make dinner while helping our kids review for their test and checking our email on our smart phones all at the same time.  However, are we really focusing carefully on any of those tasks?  I know that I have burnt bacon (a major offense in my house) when I was also working on something else and forgot to check the oven.  I know many parents feed their children in the car on the way to the next extracurricular activity (no judgement here, just fact).  The worst example of multitasking is when you see the car in front of you going a little too slow or weaving a bit too much, only to find the driver texting on their phone.  We have many ways of multitasking, but is it the best way to live?

mulititasking moms

Dogs are the ultimate unitaskers- especially when food is involved.

The trouble with multitasking is that we aren’t giving any of these activities our full attention.  I didn’t burn the bacon because I don’t know how to cook.  I simply wasn’t paying attention because I was focused on something else.  How many of us have been checking email or the latest Facebook post and miss the important story our child was recounting from the school day?  Or even worse, you just answer with the perfunctory “uh,huh, great!” instead of actively engaging in your child’s story.  I know I have been there before.  When I was in private practice, I was much more likely to forget to write down a prescription if I had to deal with two or three patients at a time.  Unfortunately, having multiple patients at a time was usually the norm, not the exception, as is often seen in medicine.  The truth is multitasking is inefficient and unproductive.  The tasks just seem to become jumbled up in our brains after a while.

The science behind multitasking indicates that our brain really isn’t multitasking at all.  Instead, the brain is switching focus of the prefrontal cortex from one activity to another, but not truly concentrating on both at the same time.  Or, depending on the tasks, the brain might be able to use both sides of the prefrontal cortex for two different activities, but one activity will still be the priority, as discussed in this article.  If an activity is automatic to us, such as walking, then our brain isn’t taxed in the same way as with something requiring more concentration.  This explains why I can listen to a podcast and clean the kitchen at the same time, because cleaning is something that I don’t have to think too much about.  However, I can’t listen to a podcast and have a conversation at the same time, because those activities both use similar parts of the brain.  When we multitask, we risk losing the quality of whatever it is we are doing- whether it’s a report for your boss or an important email.  That doesn’t mean we can never multitask again.  It just means that we need to prioritize and decide if it’s the best idea at the time.

What I propose as an alternative to multitasking is block scheduling.  Block scheduling is basically setting aside time for certain activities to be done one at a time.  You finish one task and then move on to the next.  The beauty of this concept is that you are really giving your full attention to one activity and are likely to finish it in a more productive manner.  Block scheduling can be done both at work and at home.  The blocks of time assigned to each activity can vary and be as little as 15-30 minutes or as long as three hours.  The length of time doesn’t matter, although I would suggest standing up at least once an hour if you are sitting down (more on that at a later time). Here is an example of a block schedule that I created for myself: Heidi Schedule.  It is based on a two week plan.  Obviously, it’s just an example and everyone has different schedules.  Notice that I included time for eating and walking with my dog, because those are priorities for me.  Exercise is also important to me, but that was something I could do before taking my children to school.  I didn’t need to include it in my schedule, but that might be important for you to set aside time for.  I also created a schedule for my dad that included time to open mail and for reading, since he had trouble figuring out when to do those things.  Nothing is too silly or frivolous to include in a block schedule.  Creating a schedule like this can help you to define your priorities and give you permission to do them, whether it’s a relaxing bath at night or watching you favorite tv show.  Plus, ironically you might just find that you get more done focusing on one duty at a time, than when you were a multitasking mom 24/7.


Joyful thought for the day: “It’s not selfish to love yourself, take care of yourself, and to make your happiness a priority. It’s necessary.” -Mandy Hale

Heidi Ball
Heidi Ball is a licensed veterinarian who left general practice in order to focus on her health and family, and still does occasional relief work. She is a mom and wife who loves to cook real nourishing food for her family, garden in her illegal front garden bed, listen to enlightening podcasts, go out on foodie dates with her hubbie and be a homebody with her family.

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