I tend to be more organized than my husband. If I were to let my ego get the better of me, I might start thinking this means I’m also more produtive than he is. I started giving this more thought a few days ago while listening to a local DC radio station. The host of the program said:
Moms, be more like dads. Don’t multitask. Dads just do one thing at a time and are more productive.
Naturally, I started comparing myself to my husband, and thought about how we both started our morning that day.
Got up before husband and baby. Changed the baby’s diaper. Prepared bottle for the baby. Put client materials in the car. Put laundry in the washer. Washed coffee mugs. Showered. Started getting dressed. Removed clothing from the dryer (put in from the evening before). Folded clothing. Put wet clothes in the dryer. Filled dog bowls with food and water. Finished getting dressed. Did make up and hair. Wrote a note for the babysitter. Left for a client visit.
Got up. Showered. Got dressed. Fed the baby. Packed up laptop. Left for work
As you can see, we both had vastly different mornings. Did you also notice that I did a bit of multi-tasking? Against my better judgment, I moved from one task to another, at times, not finishing one thing before starting the next (e.g., doing laundry before I finished dressing). I’ve read the studies about the negative effects of task switching. I know that trying to attend to more than one thing at a time makes you less efficient, and that people who multitask tend to underperform. It also can cause negative stress, which I certainly felt.
Why did I do this even though I knew better? The short answer is because I had lots to do. Truth be told, I added more tasks to my usual routine even though my schedule that day was not typical. I tried to get many things done so that I wouldn’t have to take care of them later in the evening. Still, there were other options available to me. Looking back on that day, I would have done things differently.
The next time I’m faced with a similar situation, I will:
- Create a reasonable plan for the next day and stick to it. I normally take a look at my schedule each evening to see what the next day will be like and make adjustments as needed. My forecast didn’t include anything extra because I had a limited amount of time to get things done, and I should have kept it that way. The laundry could easily have been done at another time. When there will be a change to your regular routine, decide on a realistic plan and schedule non-priorities for another day.
- Pause and assess what is important. I decided to do laundry that morning. This chore wasn’t a part of my master plan or essential to my day. Did it need to get done? Yes, but not then. We can often be reactive instead of being proactive when we feel pressured. As a result, we can end up moving too quickly without fully thinking things through. Taking a moment to slow down, to figure out what things need to be done will help stop you from randomly starting new tasks. At times like this, your schedule and/or to-do list will come in handy.
- Focus on one thing at a time. Had I given my attention to one thing and completed it before moving on to the next, I would have realized that I just didn’t have enough time to include any unplanned activities. Multi-tasking can negatively affect your ability to make purposeful decisions and you will expend more time switching from task to task. You can find yourself in the midst of doing many things at once and begin to feel overwhelmed. Instead, try your hand at single-tasking. Focus fully on one thing before proceeding to the next, and you will feel more calm and prepared to manage your remaining tasks, and ultimately, be more productive.
- Ask for help. This is often a simple fix and one that is frequently overlooked. I could have asked my husband to take care of the laundry before he left for work. It’s possible that I was too caught up in what I was doing to even remember that I had that option. Getting help from a friend, coworker, or family member can certainly make a chaotic day less stressful. If specific days are more hectic than others, you can arrange to have help on those days or partner with other available parents/colleagues/professionals, if possible.
Interestingly, though I was focusing on more than one thing, I seemed to get several things done. However, I can’t argue with the fact that I felt agitated, a side effect of multitasking. Was I was less productive than my husband on that morning? I could probably come up with a good argument that I wasn’t based on the number of things I did. However, in hindsight, I don’t think it was worth it in the end. The laundry was no worse for the wear, but my morning could have had a much better start. I didn’t need all that stress in my morning.
The next time you’re tempted to tackle many things at once, stop and breathe. Re-focus, check your list, and pick one item to start working on at a time. It may take a little getting used to, but in the long run, you’ll be pleased with how much you can accomplish and feel less frazzled at the end of the day.