Solo Parents Shouldn’t Multitask
At some point long ago, someone came up with the idea if you didn’t have enough time to get everything done in a day, not to worry, just do several things at once!
As solo parents, most of us are up for trying any trick to get everything accomplished. If you really want to complete more, multitasking is not the approach for achieving that.
There are tons of single parent resources out there offering tips for how to tackle several things at the same time. Unfortunately, existing research proves that’s not the best approach for optimally finishing all you have to do.
The Solo Parent will tell you why…
Multitasking is great in theory. We essentially believe we are completing several things concurrently, therefore, maximizing our output. Unfortunately, that’s not what’s happening.
According to Dr. Earl Miller of MIT, what we’re actually doing is focusing our attention on one task, and then switching our attention to another. One task always takes precedence in terms of importance. Most often we do this so quickly we trick ourselves into believing several things are being accomplished at the same time. In actuality, we’re merely toggling back and forth. This decreases our efficiency, and the attention we’re giving to each individual task.
Research proves multi-tasking isn’t more productive…
For those solo parents who think it’s only OTHER people who simply aren’t capable of multitasking—wrong again.
Research proves people overinflate their perceived capacity to multitask, believing they are much more successful than they actually are (Sanbonmatsu, Strayer, Medeiros-Ward, & Watson, 2013). One poignant example cited by participants in the study was their ability to talk on the phone and drive a car. Nearly all believed they did this much better than was actually reflected.
As to whether it’s really a time saver, it’s been suggested 40% of an individual’s productive time is wasted due to multitasking. The shifting of attention from one task to another creates an adjustment period where one needs to then refocus. Even if we’re just talking about minutes to get back on track, this really adds up over the course of a day!
Think about how many times, you started responding to work email, only to be distracted by a text or a phone call? One loses their train of thought and often backtracks to pick back up the momentum of what was previously being worked on. What this boils down to is wasted time!
To further illustrate, in four experiments in which young adults switched amongst multiple tasks such as solving math problems, for all the tasks, time was lost when they had to switch from one to the other. As the complexity of the tasks grew, it took people significantly longer to switch back and forth. When working with tasks less familiar, thus requiring more intellectual engagement, even greater time was lost (Rubinstein, Evans, & Meyer, 2001).
If you’re one of those solo parents who multitasks, research actually proves the more one chronically tries to do more at the same time, the less they produce. Essentially, multitasking makes one prone to being more easily distracted by irrelevant external stimuli (Ophir, Nass, & Wagner, 2009). It essentially becomes harder staying focused on the completion of any tasks due to constantly hopping from one thing to another.
Even more reasons why you shouldn’t multitask…
As productive as one believes they are at doing several things at once, it’s simply not healthy. Being a solo parent runs the risk of increased stress levels if one doesn’t manage their time wisely and strategically. Why make it worse by trying to take on too many things at the same time?
Trying to complete tasks simultaneously creates anxiety. This in turn releases the stress hormone cortisol. Chronically elevated levels of stress can lead to high blood pressure, suppression of the immune system, and damage to the heart.
Multitasking also contributes to mental fatigue, and decreases the ability to retain information. This leads to mistakes and errors. Further, it limits our capacity to prioritize tasks.
Final reason NOT to multitask–research shows it lowers one’s IQ! Another big reason to stop!
Just can’t stop multitasking…
If you need to fold the clothes while watching the news, the risks aren’t significant if you screw up the way you stack the shirts. There’s minimal to lose. Driving and texting—big difference, as you could kill someone.
Learn to weigh the outcomes of your actions and what they’ll mean to you if you don’t complete the task correctly. If you’re on an important client call and need to find out specific information, it’s probably best you stay focused, rather than sorting out forms sitting on your desk. If you lose the client, what would it cost you in income earnings?
Designate Ring Tones Based on Priority
To make the most of your available time, ensure your phone is programmed based on the priority of the caller. For example, setting a specific ringtone for your children and their school lets you know the call is important.
Conversely, if you’re in the middle of a project and a friend calls to chat, doing so could throw your day off balance in terms of what you need to complete.
By setting different ring tones, it’s a more efficient approach to managing the time you do have. For a single parent, working smart is always a priority!
This approach decreases interruptions and keeps those external stimuli down to a minimum, allowing you to accomplish more.
Know the Tasks Well
If you must attempt to toggle back and forth, do it with tasks you undertake on a daily basis. Research shows the more familiar a person is with doing something, the less focus is required.
You can easily jump back and forth setting the table and making pancakes. Learning a new computer program, while also reading work emails, probably isn’t the best use of time. It’s highly likely you’ll never learn the program with that approach!
Set Time Limits
A single parent is usually always limited on time, so set parameters in terms of task accomplishment. Need to have dinner on the table by 6:00 PM? Only take on those tasks in getting this done.
Do nothing BUT those couple tasks you selected. Allowing even more external distractions to interfere will only decrease the capacity of accomplishing anything.
The key to keeping one’s personal and professional life in order as a solo parent requires staying on top of everything. The best way to do this is to prioritize and tackle each item step by step.
Giving each task your full attention simply leads better results! If getting more accomplished is your goal—this approach will get you there!
Ophir E., Nass, C., Wagner, A.D. (2009) Cognitive Control in Media Multitaskers. Proceedings of the National Academy Science, USA 106: 15583–15587.
Rubinstein, J. S., Meyer, D. E., & Evans, J. E. (2001). Executive Control of Cognitive Processes in Task Switching. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 27, 763-797.
Sanbonmatsu, D. M., Strayer, D. L., Medeiros-Ward, N., & Watson, J. M. (2013). Who Multi-Tasks and Why? Multi-Tasking Ability, Perceived Multi-Tasking Ability, Impulsivity, and Sensation Seeking. Plos ONE, 8(1), 1-8. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0054402
Research suggests 40% of an individual’s productive time is wasted due to multitasking.
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