I’m a multitasker. Mark essays in car during rugby practices, or get groceries or ring overseas family. Update my markbook, answer emails, plan lessons during swim training. My job as a secondary school teacher requires this, it’s not simply a strength but a necessary survival skill. But I’m aware that multitasking is the antithesis of mindfulness which is my BIG GOAL this year.
I could’ve kissed the intuitive Year 9 student who yelled at a classmate recently “Just wait a minute, she’s already doing something.” Bless. I swear, sometimes they come at you like a plague of locusts – you’re writing on the board as those lovely helpers (aka purple pencil case brigade) are handing out worksheets, the computer is restarting for the seventh time that day, you’re phone is beeping and you’re mentally reminding yourself to give the dyslexic students their differentiated worksheets. And that’s five minutes in a lesson.
But there’s a new kid in town. Monotasking is here.
Basically monotasking means focussing on one thing at a time. According to brain health specialist Dr Jenny Brockis, our brains aren’t designed to multi task. She says multitasking, once seen as the epitome of a productive employee, leads to 50% more mistakes, means we take 50% longer to complete work and results in an overall 25% drop in productivity. Yikes.
As Mums, I doubt monotasking is going to take off. But we can at least try. So on Saturday morning, I give myself permission to watch the kids play sport, catch up with friends and have a coffee. Saturday afternoon, I’ll do the housework. Sunday morning I’ll do some exercise and then some school work. Sunday afternoon is family and friend time. The rest of the week is a work in progress.
We can also teach our kids that Mum’s not superwoman – just wait while I’m on the phone please, hang on a second until I finish this message or I’ll be with you once I get the washing out. It’s not good for children to believe they have first dibs on Mum every waking moment of the day. in fact this style of parenting does nothing to build resilient, respectful problem solvers.
In the workplace, monotasking has to be driven from the top down and in schools at least, that’s a challenge. In classrooms there are expectations that the roll’s done in the first 15 minutes, that the kids are settled and working in the first five, that we will use digital technology, that we’ll check our emails, that lessons and learning outcomes are on the board before students enter and that we’ll use digital technology in most lessons which for me means pre- booking and physically sourcing laptops.
But there are things we can control. Dr Brockis suggests the following:
- Spend a few minutes at the end of the day making a list of the top 3 things that have to be done the next day.
- Close the door, turn off the phone and spend 20 minutes finishing one task before you leave work.
For working Mums I’d add:
- Communicate with your family what needs to be done the next day. The evening meal is a good check in time. Who needs to get extra gear packed, who’s picking up whom from where, who might be later home and who could start tea?
The benefits of monotasking, aside from ensuring we don’t turn into blithering idiots by 5pm Friday, are finishing tasks to a higher standard which ultimately makes us feel good about our work. I’d urge people in management positions to take this approach when communicating expectations with staff – instead of expecting 3-5 things at the same time, what about a couple of things done well? This would mean addressing workload issues which is often the elephant in the room. But if we are to get serious about wellbeing, there needs to be a balance between individual and employer responsibility.
Makes sense to me.