One by one

One by one

Sometimes, actually to be honest – all the time, I catch myself doing so many things at one time. While I was unpacking the groceries today, I caught myself unpacking the bags, cutting a slice of lemon for the sparkling water I had just made, then back to the groceries, then putting fruit, crackers and cheese on plates for the kids for lunch, then back to the groceries. I actually laughed out loud. It was madness!
It reminded me of one of those pictures of a mom with 15 arms, each doing something different. It also reminded me of an exercise we did at a time management workshop with Janice Windt, founder of The Working Moms Expo in South Africa. The exercise went like this:

1. Time yourself as you write out on a piece of paper ‘I am a multitasker’ and underneath that, write the numbers 1 to 15
2. Then, time yourself as you write out the same things, but this time, write one letter and then one number at a time – so ‘I’, then ‘1’, then ‘a’, then ‘2’ and so on

It took me 13 seconds for step one and 24 seconds for step 2. And this is exactly what we get wrong! Multitasking makes us feel like we’re getting stuff done, but it takes so much longer. We feel like we’re being super productive, but actually, we’re wasting our time.

Have you ever had your child say to you “listen to me mommy!”? I have. I can be there, sitting on the carpet building a puzzle or sticking gold stars across the parrot’s forehead to make a crown but then I hop up to water the orchid I’ve forgotten about or add the dry cleaning pick up to my To-Do App while I’m thinking about it. This is because I’m so used to doing multiple things at once, that doing just one thing actually takes effort. It means that we’re never fully in that moment and if that’s the case, we are missing out. We’re missing out on smiles and cute phrases. We’re missing out on the quick moment of joy as she finds all four corner pieces of the puzzle. We’re missing out on the subtle note of sadness or fear in his voice that we could have soothed with a hug or word of encouragement. We’re missing out on the important piece of information that needs to be included in the report due tomorrow. And I believe that so much of this is driven by technology and all the devices we have around us.

The reason I say this is because when I think about the things that I’ve been trying to do to help me be more present and engaged in one thing at a time, one person at a time, they all come back to my phone or laptop. When I fetch my kids from school, I leave my phone in the car so I can fully appreciate the excitement on their faces when they spot me walking in the gate, without the distraction of a call from the office or telemarketer. When the kids go to swimming lessons, I leave my phone in the car so I can fully enjoy watching their progress and giving them encouragement at just the right time, without being tempted to check and reply to emails. When I’m working on a report or calculation at my desk, I try remember to close my Outlook mailbox and leave my phone in my bag so I can fully concentrate on the task without the distraction of new email alerts in the bottom right corner of my screen or Whatsapp messages pinging like the bell on an ice cream bicycle.
Doing many things at once is not efficient and it doesn’t save time. It probably doesn’t even make us happier. In fact, I think it makes us more anxious and stressed. I’m the first to admit that it’s a struggle and something that is an ongoing work in progress. The desperate desire to be more present continues – one thing at a time.

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