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The madness of multitasking

Main Line Health Newtown Square March 13, 2014 General Wellness By Elizabeth Bland, MSW, LCSW

Recently, I spent an afternoon at a seminar for professionals on the importance of taking our time and making sure we stop, think, act and then review our work. As I sat there listening to the instructor, I realized this lesson applies to all aspects of life—not just professional life. The idea of stopping, thinking about what we’re doing, completing a task and then reviewing our actions seems to be a good rule of thumb no matter what the specific situation.

Then I got home.

I had a few extra minutes after the seminar before I was due to pick up my daughter, so I decided to run home to change out of my work clothes. When I got there, I also decided to throw in a load of laundry, eat the lunch I had missed earlier in the day and check my email. Before I knew it, I was running late and realized I needed to get going. I grabbed my purse and cell phone and whizzed out the door. Just as I was pulling the front door shut, I realized my mistake…the keys! But it was too late. The door had locked and there, through the glass door, were my keys sitting on the table. It was almost as if they were mocking me.

This was too ironic. I had just left a seminar about taking my time and thinking about my actions, and a mere 45 minutes later I found myself locked out of my house because I was not taking my time and not thinking about my actions.

As parents we are always multitasking. Making dinner and folding laundry. Driving the kids to school and planning what to wear to work. Mixing a bottle for the baby and holding the baby and trying to eat our own breakfast. The list goes on and on and I think every parent can related to what I’m describing. Just how did this happen and what can we do to fix it?

Being stopped dead in your tracks by the universe clearly trying to tell you to slow down gives a girl time to think. So, I took a deep breath and reviewed my actions of the last fifteen minutes. I had had enough time to change; that had been the plan from the start. There really was no need to check email—it could have waited until the kids went to bed. What about my snack? We always eat dinner together, so why did I think I needed to eat quickly computer-side rather than wait a few minutes to enjoy mealtime with my family? And, the laundry? Seriously? There’s always laundry to do. Did I have to get that particular load in the wash right at that moment? I found myself laughing out loud. Right there on my stoop, I promised to really take to heart what they were trying to teach me at the seminar this morning: stop, think, act and review.

I’m not naïve. I know promising to stop multitasking is unrealistic. But the idea of trying my absolute best to be present, moving more slowly, and making clearer decisions seems to be a great way to proceed. Will I always get it right? No way—I’m sure there are more days on the stoop in my future at some point, but I’ll work my best to take my time and be more present for the decisions I make. Making that commitment is really the best any of us can do.

I’ll be here trying to do my best. And I wish you all the best as you try, too.

Liz Bland is the manager of clinical services at the Women's Emotional Wellness Center (WEWC), which offers outpatient mental health therapy services to women and their families before, during and after pregnancy. Visit our website to learn more about WEWC or to make an appointment.