My friend, and fellow mama in the trenches (or at least the kitchen), recently wrote a brief blog about motherly multi-tasking on her website The Skinny Scoop.
With her usual humor, Erin captured the modern mother’s conundrum perfectly, “there is a growing body of “expert” literature that claims multitasking compromises productivity and could also be bad for your health and even dangerous. One study specifically says “the consequences of multitasking can be quite severe in situations like driving.” I wonder if they are referring to things like adjusting the radio, handing back snacks, reviewing for 3rd grade Spanish quiz, and reaching around to pick up sippy cup off the floor. All at the same time.”
While I teach mindfulness (paying attention here and now with kindness and curiosity) I must confess that, as Erin suggests, in order to arrive at school before first recess, I often multitask in the morning, and have on occasion quizzed my daughter on her spelling words during our short commute.
And on the day I read Erin’s post, I had just returned from a visit with my extended family in Colorado; the enormous, irrevocable costs of multi-tasking were fresh in my mind. The entire family had gone to see my 78 year-old father perform in Once Upon a Mattress. It was late, and my sister left at intermission to drive the youngest of our extended crew, her two daughters 5 and 3, and her husband home.
One of the girls was over tired, and Suzanne reached back to comfort her. Then she hit black ice. The car veered of the road and up a steep embankment, missing a power pole by inches. And if that weren’t enough of a scare, when the family was sitting in the police car waiting for the ambulance, the police car was hit by another car careening off the road.
This is a dramatic example of the ultimate cost of multi-tasking. And on a daily basis, in very real ways, our collective technological addictions are decreasing our efficiency, affecting our physiologies, impairing our learning, decreasing our IQ (in fact a recent British study showed that mulit-tasking decreases IQ by ten points; this is more than smoking marijuana or losing a night’s sleep), and perhaps most importantly disrupting our connections with the people we love.
As for the accident, the good news is that miraculously everyone was fine. Although recent research (see below) documents the costs of multi-tasking, there is nothing like seeing your sister hugging your mother, and choking out the words “I almost killed my family,” to bring home the very real costs of multi-tasking.
Below are some articles on multi-tasking. Perhaps as you peruse them you can notice your tendencies toward multi-tasking with curiosity, compassion and of course a healthy does of humility and humor.
Is Multitasking More Efficient? Shifting Mental Gears Costs Time, Especially When Shifting to Less Familiar Tasks– American Psychological Association
Media multitaskers pay mental price, Stanford Study
How (and why) to Stop MulitTasking Harvard Business Review
Multitasking Can Make You Lose … Um … Focus, New York Times
Digital Devices Deprive Brain of Needed Downtime, New York Times