Multitasking is my Achilles heel. For a long time, I viewed my self-perceived ability to juggle tasks as a badge of honor. I am confident that I listed it as a skill on my first resume. But since becoming entrenched in motherhood, the quality of attention I give to my surroundings has become critical. I am now responsible for the safety and happiness of two small little people who cannot care for themselves.
Don’t get me wrong; I am all for folding laundry during Shark Tank, binging on Netflix while on the treadmill, and cleaning the bathrooms to the tune of a true crime podcast. The never-ending laundry, my indoor run, the bathroom purification: while important, those things don’t require 100% of my attention — the normalcy and monotony welcome distraction.
The kind of multi-tasking I argue detrimental the type that divides my attention between something menial and something critical. For example, when tending the hot grill, it is not the right time to work on the backsplash. The constant pressure to do more than humanly possible creates fuel for critical errors, loss of efficiency. And as mothers, we unknowingly cheat ourselves out of precious moments designed to be experienced fully.
I’ve come to realize that multitasking is a lie, and more lies stem from it. Here are my three critical lies for the multitasking mama.
Lie #1 – Multitasking shows grit and strength.
It’s easy to praise one another (and commend ourselves) for how much we are doing at once. Doing more than we should, doing more than she is, doing more than I did yesterday — the sheer hustles makes us seem admirable. And yet, when we tie our identity to something as unnatural as overworking our human capacity, our self-confidence risks a massive hit. We eventually fail.
Truthfully, we are not a failure when we fail at multitasking; we are just human. When our self-worth rests in our ability to achieve more than is comfortable in a given amount of time, we deprive ourselves space to breathe and to experience this beautiful life fully.
Never become a resentful martyr. It is easy to blame others when we fail at doing too much: our spouse, our kids, our friends. But really, the fault rests with us. There is strength in the humility of accepting our limits. We cannot resent the person that appears to have pushed us over the edge, because it was our choice to stand so close.
Lie #2 – Multitasking means you are efficient.
There is an innate thrill in cheating time. I have cracked the code, and I can do more things than I should: this must be because I am so smart. But there is a significant difference between efficiency and multitasking. Being efficient is working optimally, allowing us to move on quickly to the next task; multitasking is doing two things at once, and only half as good.
“It is important to note that multitasking while doing natural tasks like eating and walking are much easier than more complicated tasks like texting while driving. Those natural tasks place less of a demand on the prefrontal cortex, creating an easier switch between eating and walking to your next meeting. Not only does multitasking make us less productive, it may also be lowering our IQ and overall efficiency at work.” – To Multitask or Not to Multitask
As moms, there are many days when we are already required to pour from cup that is empty. It takes us six years to get a full night of good sleep after having a kid. Six years. We may not feel tired every day, but we cannot ignore the risks of stretching too far on fumes.
It is necessary to recognize that our lives are prone to sudden distractions: snacks need getting, bums need wiping, drawings need admiring. We cannot predict when those little voices will cry out for us. In this, if we have three things going when we get the “mama” call, something will have to give. Saving a little extra attention on reserve to give to our kids if they need us helps mitigate a wave of overwhelm.
Lie #3 – Multitasking will result in freedom.
It would make sense that getting more done today would mean that there is less to do tomorrow. But as a mama, I can’t remember a time where I felt ahead of the game because there is always something more to do. Case in point: the laundry never stops.
Instead of trying to complete the list that will never end, maybe we need to examine what we put on that lists in the first place. All the plates we have spinning are not equal in value or complexity. Are we adding tasks that matter, or are we measuring our worth by check marks? Our attention and our time is a currency; how do we budget?
We must reject the notion that moms must be all things at all times, at all costs, against our better judgment. We are one only person, and we matter to so many people. We must not allow our streamlining souls to be robbed of joy in this beautiful life. Our identity does not lie in what we do. It lies in who we are.
Let’s rest in the fact that we are already good: we are already loved, valued, and we can’t earn any better. It feels like you are doing too much because you are doing too much. You are more than your to-do list.
Multitasking will happen, and when it’s laundry with a side of Seinfeld, have at it! My argument is that it isn’t what/how much we do that assigns our worth. The people who matter most to don’t need us to do all of the things; they need us to do the things that matter, do them well and preserve a little sanity along the way. They prefer us to be happy-ish mamas.
Because really: doing too much at once doesn’t make me supermom; it just makes me super tired. It’s time to be content in being a little less super, and a little more mama.