One Thing At A Time

Sometime in between the arrival of Yahoo Instant Messaging and my 11th grade statistics class, where I taught myself to write notes to Meg while looking intently at the instructor, multi-tasking developed from a skill into a way of life. Americans have always prided themselves on efficiency, so the prospect of getting more than one thing done at once is deeply attractive to us. As a stressed out high-school student with GPA-worries, musical rehearsal, basketball practice, and crushes on boys, the ability to do three things while thinking about seven other things was essential to surviving those harrowing years.

Lately, though, I’m starting to think that this is getting out of hand.

For example, my laptop is usually out and open on the kitchen table, so that on my way from the sink to the stove, I can see instantly if someone emailed, messaged, facebooked or commented on my blog (I LOVE THE COMMENTS!). Rarely does my browser contain only one tab. On my days home with Sam, you can often find me juggling a book, a cup of tea, a laundry basket and a water bottle (gotta stay hydrated) while attempting to pacify the baby at the same time. I’ve been known to answer the door while in the middle of a skype conversation and to make a phone call while changing Sam’s diaper (a distraction which he protested in the messiest of ways). As a result, my mind is rarely on what I’m doing. Plus, it’s impossible to get things DONE.

This is not efficiency. This isn’t even respectful. What’s worse, I’ve realized that I’m putting Sam in a situation wherein he must compete with my cell phone for my full attention. (Maybe that’s why he keeps trying to eat it when I’m not looking…) No baby, no BODY, should have to fight that battle.

So, today I begin an experiment: the One Thing At A Time Challenge. I’m going to resist the urge to do multiple tasks at once and will try to focus on one. thing. at. a. time. Obviously, this challenge allows for things like emptying the dishwasher while the water boils and having story time simultaneously with the running of the washing machine. Automated tasks don’t count.

I’ll let you know how it goes. At the moment, the only other tab open besides WordPress is my email, and that’s progress!

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “One Thing At A Time

  1. Lisa

    Laurel, I find the working from home thing to be a major cause of the multi-tasking problem…if I’m not in the room with my laptop I have my phone with me and check it constantly. I feel like I’m getting things done but you’re right it tends to lend to what I refer to as “flitting” from one thing to another without wrapping up the last task…with that I’m going to take out the garbage bag I’ve created in my travels this a.m.

  2. Janet Schamp

    Laurel, I read this while eating breakfast and making a to do list. On a bad day, multitasking is why I have a dozen things started and ineffectually flit from one thing to another without finishing anything. On a good day, multitasking means I get more done. Research evidence shows our brains are able to focus on only one thing at a time. So if we are reading while watching TV or on the phone, we are doing one or the other, but not both. Our subconscious minds are so good at “mindless” tasks, that doing dishes, laundry and even driving can be done while our brains are engaged elsewhere. That doesn’t mean its a good thing. Simplicity always trumps. More is not always better, and sometimes it’s a lot less..

  3. Erika

    part of it is mommy brain. I used to be very efficient, and could multi-task very well. then the baby came. I would try to do four things all at once and walk into the next room, do something else, and then forget. But it’s gotten much better now that the baby is a toddler. I understand, and it does get better naturally.

  4. schampro

    Laudable goal, especially considering your disadvantage. While it may be rightly also viewed as a limitation, the one-thing-at-a-time-thing seems to come more easily if one possesses a Y chromosome, as Mencken noted in “Defense of Women” (caveat lector.)

  5. Sharon

    I’m the same way. I can hardly watch TV without being on my computer simultaneously, usually with five browser tabs going (Downton Abbey excepted). And my o-dependent relationship with my phone has dovetailed dangerously with my addiction to multi-tasking. Let us know what you learn from your experiment!

    Hope this comment doesn’t get you peed on…

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