The Art of Single-Tasking


As women, we like to brag that we are multitaskers by nature, and it’s true. We innately have an advantage over men according to many recent studies which can be attributed to our biology and ancestors. Many years ago both men and women were hunters and gatherers, but as civilization progressed, a division in responsibilities evolved. Women stayed home with children while their male counterparts worked outside the home. With a stronger left brain, women developed an acute ability to perform more than one task at a time and switch gears faster than men.

I used to think multitasking was a skill that I should embrace until I had two kids.

On my busiest days, I still can’t tell you what I accomplish, but I know my brain is tired and I feel weary. As my husband and I wind down for the night, we talk about our day and our to-do list for the next day. What I really want to add to my to-do list is rest, or at least a slower pace. But as life happens, I can’t predict whether I will take a catnap or have some downtime. 

I go about my day trying to clean the house, pay bills, run errands, and make appointments. Oh, and take care of the kids. My attempt to “get things done around the house” looks something like this: I go upstairs to put the baby to sleep. While I’m up there, I decide to take the clean clothes out of the dryer and fold them on our bed. Then, I realize that my husband left the vent on in the bathroom, so I turn it off. While in the bathroom, I notice my hand soap dispenser needs to be refilled, so I go into the closet for the soap, only to find out we are out of toilet paper. Note to self, get toilet paper at the store. I finally make it back to the bed to fold the laundry when the phone rings, which reminds me that I’m supposed to be making phone calls during her nap time anyway! 

In the midst of all this, I catch myself feeling scattered and out of control. While I’m doing many things at once, I’m not really finishing anything. I wanted to title this blog “The Unfinished Life,” but that makes moms look like we just don’t have it together, which is far from the truth! We are capable of so much if only we can direct our attention to one thing at a time. 

In my opinion, multitasking should be used only when necessary.

Picture this: you’re trying to cook dinner (doesn’t everything happen when you’re trying to cook dinner?), you put the baby in the bouncy seat to occupy her, but she just wants to be held. Then your toddler (who is supposed to be playing independently) asks you to tell her a story. So, as you’re holding the baby and sharing a story, you’re pulling out pots and ingredients for your dinner. Sometimes, that’s just the way it is.

But what if we can slow down our pace when we have more control? What if we can ignore the dirty laundry or dishes to complete a task? 

This is easier said than done, but with some practice, I have improved my ability to stop and think about what’s most important. Finish a task and scratch it off my list or add a finished task to my list only to scratch it off to prove I did something. Am I the only one who does this? At the end of the day, my sense of accomplishment is far greater than knowing how many loads of laundry I did or how organized the toy bin looks. There are always going to be messes. There will always be dishes. But, I think being mindful and training our brains to focus on a single task eliminates that feeling of weariness at the end of the day. With that, we can wake up feeling more recharged and ready to tackle the next day.

Just because we can multitask, doesn’t mean we should do it all the time. Take a minute. Take a deep breath. Evaluate what’s most important even if it that thing is a break!