Motherhood, insanity and everyday life.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Just One Thing

As I was walking my dog the other day, it occurred to me that we’ve become a society that no longer does just one thing at a time. A car passed me by and in that car was a man in a business suit. He was driving, presumably to work, and he was talking on his cell phone. It reminded me of one of my former bosses who would dictate letters as he drove to work. And then I realized, that unlike that fellow in the car, I was doing just one thing at that moment. I was walking my dog. Sure, I wanted to listen to the radio while I walked, but my headphones had been “borrowed” months ago by my daughter, so it was just me, the dog, and a couple of plastic bags.

That’s when I realized, we have become chronic multi-taskers. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, when new, best-selling business books were written practically every week (“Who Moved My Cheese?,” “The One-Minute Manager,” “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People”), I was a young mother working full-time and in desperate need of more hours in my day. I’d read these books in hopes that they’d provide the one idea that would make my life easier. None of them really did, but what they all seemed to preach was being more efficient with your time. Don’t waste your lunch hour just eating lunch. Sure, eat your lunch, but then run an errand or two. Now this was something I could handle. No, I couldn’t run a business meeting to save my life, but I could certainly get more done with my free time than the next guy...or girl.

So I started packing more into my lunch hours than my mom probably packed into her entire day when she was a young mother. I worked close enough to home, and various stores, that I could grocery shop, run home and unload groceries, throw in a load of clothes, sort through the mail, and get back to work as I was downing the last bits of my fast-food lunch. I’d drive and make phone calls. I’d visit doctors or fill out camp applications. The important thing was that at all times, when I wasn’t working, I was doing more than just one thing. To me, it was the only way to manage my seemingly unmanageable life as a working mother.

I did this for several years until it no longer became a badge of honor and I’d long for the moments when I was in my car and had forgotten my cell phone – held captive and only able to drive. Or sometimes I’d grab lunch, park my car near one of our parks and read a magazine. Those were the lunches that seemed so wasteful, so frivolous, so relaxing. I’d never allow myself to do that two days in a row. That would be irresponsible of me.

Eventually, I left my job and merged my life into that of a stay-at-home mom. As I worried about life in the slower lane, I still fell into my old habits of doing two things at once. While I waited to pick up kids from school, I’d return phone calls. Doctors’ and Dentists’ waiting rooms became my personal offices where I’d read school newsletters and important mail. Walking the dog became an opportunity to listen to a book club selection on tape.

But lately, I’m starting to teach myself the joy of just one thing. To sit and read a book without throwing a load of laundry in beforehand. To walk the dog and listen only to my thoughts. To drive somewhere and listen to the radio or, gasp!, turn off the radio and listen to nothing at all. I have to tell you that it’s really, really hard. But, as always, I have a hidden agenda.

I think that our next generation, our children, are far too overscheduled. I think they pack more into their days than our ancestors did into a lifetime. And for what? They are stressed out, overworked, under-rested, overfed (eating fast food while riding in a minivan to sports practice will do that) and pretty darn crabby. I recently spoke to a mom during our kids’ graduation week. She was pretty bummed out about all of the celebratory events that were planned and said: “I can’t wait for this week to be over.” I thought that was really sad and I encouraged her to try and enjoy it since this was her youngest child. She definitely had no interest in that piece of advice.

The good news is that I think things are changing a little bit. Lately, I’m hearing parents say that they’re NOT signing their kids up for multiple summer camps because they want their kids to be able to enjoy summer and just be kids. What a novel concept! Alas, in today’s world, it’s still not a popular one.

I know, I know, it’s easy for me to sit here and preach: “DON’T DO SO MUCH! STOP MULTI-TASKING!” That’s a tall order. But I guess I’d like to condone the virtues of doing a little bit less. Pick and choose, or, maybe don’t choose and one day just go with the flow and don’t do anything. That’s right. Get bored. Listen to the silence or the street noises and walk without a soundtrack blasting through your ear buds or a cell phone in your pocket. I think it sets a great example for our kids. Living life one thing at a time.


At 9:27 AM , Blogger queen of light and joy said...

Here!! here!!

Well, said!

At 9:27 AM , Blogger Gypsy said...

The thing that I've never been able to do is sit at a restaurant by myself and not have a book or magazine or newspaper to read. Not having something to block out the other people seems very naked to me. But it's on my list of "to trys."

Great, insightful entry. Thanks!

Here from Michele's today.

At 9:54 AM , Blogger Free to Be said...

I totally get this post. At work, I multitask so much that it seems I am spinning my wheels. Now it's expected though. Sad really.

I stopped by via Michele's day. Enjoy the weekend.

At 10:35 AM , Blogger Rene said...

Well, I'm a Gemini, it's my nature to multi-task. Most of it is mental. As a writer, I'm usually thinking about my stories while I'm performing mundane tasks. Mopping is my favorite creative period. I'm pretty careful about signing my kids up for stuff. My one daughter wants to do everything. My son wants to do nothing. I didn't do the camp things this year, I'm too cheap plus the kids don't seem to enjoy them.

At 10:52 AM , Anonymous rampant bicycle said...

I'm totally with you on this one. Multitasking is a super handy's so important to sometimes do just one thing, let it have the steady love of your attention. It's especially good when that one thing is something pleasant.

Bonus: it's very zen to be mindful of your actions in that way. So do it often enough and there might be a moment of satori in it too. ;)

Hello from Michele's!

At 10:56 AM , Anonymous mominprogress said...

Hello, Michele sent me. But I'm definatly loving your message with this post. Got me thinking about all the things I do to multitask and don't even realize it.

At 1:42 PM , Blogger kenju said...

AMEN! A good post, and a similar subject to one I was mulling over today, namely, how I am preferring silence lately, to TV/radio/CD's. I am attempting to quit multi-tasking too - and it is hard!

Michele sent me.

At 4:03 PM , Blogger Dara said...

I have pretty much given up TV recently, and I used to multitask heavily in front of it. I am reading and walking more and loving it. I totally agree with you. Michele says hi!

At 8:38 PM , Blogger Carmi said...

Howdy, Karen. I've been so busy these last couple of weeks that I've fallen behind on my reading. My apologies.

I can see I've missed so much good stuff. Like this entry. You have once again summarized a finite element of modernitis better than any of us ever could.

Multitasking is the quickest way to ruin, for it doesn't allow us to concentrate on the task at hand. We flip aimlessly from one thing to another, never quite digging into any one task.

As a writer, I do best when the only thing working on my PC is my word processor. I shut off all the IM clients, browsers, RSS agents and other nagging miracles of software science. I focus on my words. Nothing else matters.

At 2:04 AM , Blogger Juliabohemian said...

I have adhd so I try to cut down on the stimulus. If I am watching TV, then that is all I am doing. If I am driving and I have music, should I need to concetrate, it has to go off.

When I was younger (or maybe it was before my accident and apparent brain damage) I could listen to music and read and then some. I just can't seem to think with too much noise anymore. I am only 29!

At 6:35 AM , Blogger Ravvy said...

you know what?
people say women can multitask... some of us better than others...

My solution to doing TOO much is to 'pretend' that i cant infact, multitask... this results in me going slower and doing things at a more 'life like' pace...

its pure genius!!! :P

Michele sent me - from Australia!

At 7:57 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi! Michele sent me and I'm glad she did. I needed to be reminded. Our family is in the process of moving from Minneapolis to Illinios (we'll probably pass your back yard on the way :-) and the amount of stuff to do has me so overwhelmed that I am always trying to be efficiant. If I just stop for a moment, I tend to feel guilty. Thank you for reminding me that it is OK to do just one thing (even if, at the moment, it is meet and greet!)

At 8:05 AM , Blogger utenzi said...

I am amazed at how little free time parents allow their kids. Like you say, Karen, with the multiple sports camps plus music lessons or dance etc kids are "working" as hard as adults. I think it's crazy.

Michele sent me to see you!

At 9:16 AM , Anonymous Pearl said...

Absolutely. The whole multi-tasking has gone on long enough. Being able to do one thing and appreciate that one thing is precious.

At 5:15 PM , Blogger Star said...

I so agree. Usually I'm lucky if I get to lunch on my lunch as I have so many errands planned. I have noticed as well that parents are beginning to cuut back on their kid's activities. I attributed it to 2 working parents and no one to chauffer them around.

At 7:30 AM , Blogger rashbre said...

I'm aways amazed at how much mobile phoning goes on in shopping malls nowadays. less being in the moment and more being 'over there'. or helpless to make decisions. And I kid you not, there was a couple in the supermarket taking photos on a mobile phone of adverts for cars in a magazine last Saturday.

And huya, here from Michele's!


At 8:56 AM , Blogger panthergirl said...

Oh man, I can SO relate. I am the worst. When I'm on the laptop, I usually also have the TV on. I love email because I can be doing other things while corresponding (and that's why I've come to hate the phone. I can almost not bear to have to just focus on speaking to that one person, while doing nothing else!)

It's bad. I've tried taking a yoga class but started going crazy because everything was so SLOW. I felt like I should be doing something else while in downward facing dog (ok, get your mind out of the gutter!). And I can't even imagine Tai-Chi. I'd flip.

You've inspired me. I think I'm going to try and take a walk today without the iPod, without the dog...what a concept!

Here via michele!

At 5:04 PM , Blogger Tracie said...

Too much multi-tasking can definately be a bad thing. I confess that I am a chronic multi-tasker myself, but I am learning to slow down...thanks for the reminder.

Michele says hi!!

At 5:16 PM , Blogger srp said...

Here from Michele and I've been here several times through her but now I am adding you to my blogroll, if that is ok.
I read the first three posts, couldn't stop laughing or relating, especially those flip flops. Mine is no longer a teenager... but just by a couple of months. Unfortunately, they don't lose those teenage habits overnight. Our flip flop deal is the black pair that were left in her dorm room in high school, don't know who they belonged to but she loves them. Never mind that they don't fit, they are worn down to a quarter of an inch in thickness in some areas or that I believe they have permanently stained the bottoms of her feet black. I'm hoping they will get lost in transit to and from college, soon.

Not only can they block you on IM, they can program the cell phones to ring differently for different people. So that cell phone plan you purchased specifically so you could get a hold of them when you needed to only works one time out of 20, if you're lucky. Why? They have a ring tone for "mom" and like our words, it goes in one ear and out the other.

At 6:48 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

After closing down my business in January I promised myself, as you quite eloquently stated, to "live life one thing at a time". My goodness, how our lives have changed :)...we are so much more content and satisfied with who we are and what we have. Nice to hear it's going around! Have a joyful 4th of July!!

At 8:48 AM , Blogger Les Becker said...

As a "Choatic Perfectionist" I know what it's like to be able to multitask your entire day - but end up feeling like nothing got done. I'm still looking for the perfect "schedule". Apparently, I only "appear" organized to the Outside World. Damn, now I have to do dishes...

Here from Michele's.

At 11:14 AM , Blogger KaraMia said...

I have a stay at home sitter this summer for the first time in two years. I too just wanted him to be able to sleep in, play whatever, do whatever.
Thanks for stopping by my blog!

At 5:13 PM , Blogger The Flamingess said...

You are so right. It feels wasteful, lazy or down right irresponsible to do only one thing, or horror-of-horrors nothing. I'm blog surfing and watching TV.

At 5:25 PM , Blogger Yo Tambien Te Mando Besos said...

Bravo!!! I will deffinitely take your advice Karen. Living in Mexico City makes it almos impossible, but I will, I promise.

Here from Michele's


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