Dear Working Mother,

We’ve all been there – wearing the three month old in her sling because she refuses to be put down, while talking to your mother on the phone and sticking a wash on at the same time.  The toddler is supposed to be watching a “rainy day” movie in the living room until a loud wail confirms otherwise.  The three month old, the dog, your mother on the phone and you all run to investigate.  Toddler has managed to get herself stuck in the cabinet under the TV amongst the board games, DVD cases and years’ worth of useless general hoarding.  As you dislodge the toddler from the cabinet you manage to trip over the hoover which has been left out since early morning in the hopes that the vacuuming will somehow get done.

Ah yes, good old multi-tasking – where would us mother be without it.

We’ve convinced ourselves that multi-tasking is the only way to get through our ever expanding to do lists.  There are weekly meals to plan for, groceries to be bought, birthday present to be purchased for daughter’s new best friend of the week, picking up the dry cleaning, making appointment for dentist which is three years overdue and this is only lunch time Monday.

For years I’ve worn my multi-tasking badge with pride – I’m a women, I can do ten things at the one time.  I scoffed at colleagues who didn’t apply the same manic balling juggling act I employed, thought how wasteful and inconsiderate they were of time.

But actually they are probably just more clued in than me.  I thought to be productive I had to complete twenty tasks a day and I had to be working on several simultaneously to do that.

But here are the problems with multi-tasking:

  • Multi-tasking slows you down – see opening paragraph above
  • Multi-tasking makes you more prone to mistakes – see opening paragraph above
  • Multi-tasking can cause stress trying to complete multiple tasks at the same time – hhmm opening paragraph again
  • Multi-tasking can cause you to miss important details in one or more projects – I’m embarrassed to admit it but I’ve had several of the opening paragraph incidents I could have drawn on to write this piece.

Tim Ferriss’s “The 4-Hour Work Week” has a great line which I’ve adopted as a new mantra “Less Is Not Laziness”.  He goes on to elaborate that if you prioritize correctly, there’s no need to multitask.  He says “It is a symptom of “task creep” – doing more to feel productive while actually accomplishing less.  You should have, at most, two primary goals or tasks per day.  Do them separately from start to finish without distraction.  Divided attention will result in more frequent interruptions, lapses in concentration, poorer net results, and less gratification”

All very good and easy to comprehend in theory but mothers often don’t have the luxury of no interruptions or being able to give one task undivided attention.

Here are a few tips to help make your time more efficient:

  1. Accept help from others, be it your partner, mother, friend, sister, aunty or granny. Use this time to concentrate on a clearly defined list of tasks that need to be done.
  2. Get your children involved and make an activity of the certain task e.g. getting new clothes or shoes for them or cleaning up the toy room.
  3. Create schedules, habits and routines – make sure these take into consideration the anticipated needs for your children, home and work. By scheduling you will avoid a lot of unnecessary interruptions.
  4. Control the technology – all the devices (e.g. smartphones) that are supposed to make life simpler, quicker, more manageable are also great time consumers. If you’ve got an important task or goal, don’t quickly check emails or Facebook before starting…you will not only lose time but more than likely your opportunity to get the task done.
  5. Do tasks in groups e.g. pay all your bills together in one batch, answer your emails and then log off before moving on to the next task.
  6. Delegate – especially with your partner. Women tend to be have the attitude it’ll get done better and quicker if they take on the task themselves.  But as a working mother it’s so important to assign tasks to your family.  I find my husband is more than willing to help if I ask for it.
  7. Learn how to say no.
  8. Take short cuts where possible – give up on the notion of perfection. Getting the job done is enough…if you can afford to hire a cleaner for a couple of hours a week, do it.  Buy your daughter’s birthday cake instead of making it.  Find the shortest route, take it and move on.
  9. Build in time for interruptions – they will happen so just schedule them into your day.

I’d love to hear about some of your multi-tasking madness moments – please share your comments.


Martina Perry

The Working Mother