I’ve recently broken a bad habit. A habit that always felt good in the moment, yet always left me feeling worse. Feeling distanced from my family and feeling like I just can’t do things right. That bad habit was multitasking. And unfortunately, most parents have it too.
It started small: cooking while talking to my kids, finishing up some work while playing with them. Multitasking made me feel like a productivity goddess. But then I realized that there’s a dark side to being a multitasker too. It leads to more stress, more frustration, and even burnout.
Breaking my multitasking habit led me to become a happier, more mindful parent. So if you think that you want to break up with multitasking too, read on to learn why we do it, why it stresses us out, and how to stop.
Why We Multitask.
Years ago, I met a retired woman at a dinner party. She proudly exclaimed that women will surely start ruling the world any day now. The reason? We’re natural multitaskers! To be fair, the claim that women have evolved to multitask has been around forever, so I took her statement to heart, believing that the secret to success has to be multitasking. Doing more in less time.
But the real reason why we multitask has less to do with biology and more to do with the evolution of our roles.
Reason 1 – We Like to Feel Social. It’s tempting to exchange texts with a friend or check in on social media while making dinner or even while talking to someone in-person. Being social is perfectly fine – just don’t pretend you’re accomplishing anything else though.
Reason 2 – We Think No One Minds. We often assume that our attention is indisposed for “just a quick second” and feel that it’s okay to check our inbox while catching up after work. Of course, it’s really not just a quick second, and your attempt to multitask is keeping you from engaging fully.
Reason 3 – It’s Expected of Us. We’re now in an era where we expect ourselves to do everything. Excel at work, maintain our home, and be great parents. All at the same time! No one has to tell you that these expectations are not realistic – which is probably why you’re so stressed.
Reason 4 – We Crave Distractions. Yep. We kind of trained our brains to seek extra “tasks” when we’re already on one. Maybe it’s a little TV while tidying the kitchen, or finishing a work email while helping your kids with homework. But of course, at the end of this “multitasking” you’ll probably realize that you haven’t achieved either task!
Reason 5 – It’s a Habit. That’s right. You may be so used to multitasking that you forgot what it’s like to be fully present and focus on one thing at a time.
Why Multitasking Is Stressing You Out.
Multitasking Makes Us Frustrated.
Here’s the truth. When we multitask, we make more mistakes. When we’re making mistakes, we get frustrated. When we get frustrated we get stressed or take it out on loved ones.
Why not break that habit and just focus on one thing at a time.
We Miss Out on Real Life.
Multitasking has trained our brains to always seek distractions, or at least additional tasks to feel accomplished. While our brain is in this constant “search for more” state, we’re missing out on what’s right in front of us.
Are there people in your life who truly deserve your undivided attention? Your habit of multitasking may mean you’re missing out on what’s truly important.
Some Distractions Are Designed to Stress You Out!
When’s the last time you scrolled through social media and felt better? What about catching up on the news? These common distractions are geared towards your negativity bias so that you stay on the site. Once you find out something that’s “wrong” you’ll want to keep searching for all the things that are “wrong.” People who quit social media or the news feel a huge sense of relief almost immediately.
It Hurts Our Relationships.
The people who matter to you most won’t fully open up if they don’t think that you’re fully present with them. Even worse, maybe they already have but you were too distracted to realize.
These little chips in our relationships will grow into huge gaps over time if we’re not more mindful.
You’re Not Actually Multitasking.
Here’s an interesting little fact for you. Most of us only think we’re multitasking. Instead, we’re just task-switching, forcing our brains to practically reboot for a few seconds over and over and over again!
Those seconds really add up! So while you could have already been looking at a job-well-done, maybe even two, you’re still multitasking away thinking you’re being productive.
Multitasking Slows You Down.
While “slowing down” is not always a bad thing, in the case of multitasking it’s not a good thing either. According to studies, multitaskers take longer to complete a task. Having a to-do list that never gets finished is terrible for your mental health. And if you can’t finish all your routine activities for the night (like tidying up and getting ready for the next day) you bet you’ll be stressed in the morning!
5 Things to Do Instead of Multitasking.
1. Make It a Rule For the Whole Family.
You’ll appreciate making this rule when your kids are older. Make it a rule that family time is family time. No phones and no distractions for anybody. Help each other in what you’re doing – like making dinner or practicing a sport – and fully engage in real conversations.
2. Set a Timer to Focus.
If you hate cleaning bathrooms and know that’s what you’re about to do, of course you’ll seek any kind of distraction you can find! So if you find yourself procrastinating by trying to multitask, stop. Tell yourself you only have to do this task for ten minutes, set a timer, and get started. Give yourself permission to either stop or just get it done once the timer goes off.
3. Schedule Your Most-Distracting Tasks.
This one is the inverse of the tip above. If you’re constantly tempted to check your email, go on social media, or seek distractions in general (even if you think they’re productive,) schedule these for a specific time of day, and give yourself permission to dive in.
For example, you can give yourself permission to check social media for an hour after work and then cut yourself off. Or you can check your emails three times per day, and then that’s it.
4. Put Your Phone On Airplane Mode.
When you put your phone on airplane mode (and not just on silent – where you can still go online and see all your notifications) you’ll feel free from all those little distractions that keep you from focusing. Try it for just an hour, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
5. Multitask Automated Jobs Only.
There are some jobs that are made for multitasking. For example, folding laundry while listening to a podcast, or unloading the dishwasher while cooking rice… you get the idea. Line up a couple of those automated tasks and you’ll feel like a productivity beast!
6. “Please Let Me Finish One Thing.”
It’s not fair to your loved ones if you’re trying to multitask instead of being present with them. But if there’s truly just one unfinished task that’s toggling your brain switch, just let yourself finish it. Explain to your family what you need to do, why you need to do it, and how long it will take and then stick to that timeframe.
Your family will appreciate you that much more if you’re actually present with them instead of thinking about something else. Just stick to your promises and don’t let it become a habit!
What does multi tasking mean?
Multitasking means to focus on two or more tasks at the same time. For some people this implies more productivity, however for most people, multitasking leads to being distracted and making more mistakes.
What are examples of multitasking?
Some examples of multitasking could include cleaning while cooking or responding to emails while working. However, multitasking may also mean being distracted with examples like using social media while babysitting or doing chores while on a conference call.
Is multitasking good or bad?
Depending on the context, multitasking can be seen as good – when you complete two or more productive tasks at the same time, like cooking and cleaning, but it can also be seen as bad – if you’re distracted by one task when you should be focusing on another.
Is multitasking a skill?
Yes, multitasking can be a great skill. If you’re boasting about being a great multitasker in a job interview, be sure to give examples about being more productive, and also explain that you’re not easily distracted and how you avoid making mistakes.
These little chips in our relationships will grow into huge gaps over time if we’re not more mindful.Maryna Shkvorets of Mars and Stars baby