One day after a trip to the store I came inside, arms weighed down with so many groceries I literally stumbled as I walked into the kitchen, while trying my best to herd the kids in the same general direction. I plopped everything on the ground and heard the familiar ding of my phone, so I quickly texted a friend while turning on the water to soak my veggies. Just as I opened the fridge to unload my dairy products, I heard a child calling for help in the bathroom. And so it went, my efforts of trying to be a productive mom by multitasking were in full swing.
After 10 minutes of trying to do it all, I took a step back and realized the water was still running, the milk was accidentally put away in the cupboard, the text I started sending was never finished, and I’m a flustered mess.
How do other moms manage to do it all and I can’t even put away my groceries?!
The Truth About Multi-tasking
I felt like multitasking helped me to do so many things, but really, it was just the opposite. I was bouncing from one thing to the next without finishing or enjoying much of any of it. My stress was high, my patience was low, my brain felt jumbled, and I wondered what I was doing wrong.
It was then, I realized, the secret to being productive, actually wasn’t to multi-task!
The Secret to Being a Productive Mom
When searching for ways to be productive without feeling so scattered, I came across the book, “Your Brain At Work” by David Rock.
The secret? Focus on ONE task at a time…because that is all the brain can handle. Sure, routine behaviors like walking, chewing gum, or eating can be done on “autopilot” and allow a person to do them simultaneously with another activity. However, tasks like putting groceries away requires recognizing, sorting, and placing things in proper places, which is NOT an autopilot activity.
A person who tries to multi-task on “autopilot” will end up looking a lot like me when I did it. All those times I was on my phone trying to doing laundry and solve world peace within my home and I felt I couldn’t do it all…it was because I really COULDN’T do it all. The brain is not set up that way.
As a mom, I thought it was part of my job to do it all. Little did I know that by focusing on one task at a time I am much less forgetful, more patient, and life is more meaningful.
It didn’t come all at once, though. While I knew the secret to being productive was to STOP multi-tasking, the process of doing it was like taking an alcoholic away from alcohol. I needed a plan.
Step #1 Eliminate Distractions
There are so many distractions in mommy life. Many of them can’t be avoided; the three year old that needs to go potty RIGHT NOW, the gallon of milk that was just spilled on the table, and the hungry kids who might resort to eating the stash of candy if they aren’t fed in the next 5 minutes.
Those are the tasks that might not make me a “productive mom” but they can’t be avoided. There are others that can.
One of my favorite online figures, Neghar Fonooni recently asked, “Are the necessities really so necessary? Are your obligations really obligatory?” Those words have helped me to reframe and prioritize which distractions I allow to enter my life.
Taking little measures like silencing my phone, turning off all social media notifications, and email alerts were the easiest and first items on my personal list. None of those are things I consider urgent or worth the stress during my already busy day.
Step #2 Create Time for Me
While I can live without the distractions of phone notifications, I do enjoy checking in on social media and connecting with friends via text. So, I create time and space for the things I really enjoy. I personally like to check into social media once or twice a day while the kids are doing other things. I sit down, focus my attention on enjoying social media while it lasts.
Rather than frantically trying to halfheartedly scramble to comment and check notifications throughout the day, and then becoming flustered when my efforts come to a halt by whining hungry kids, I allow myself to categorize my time. The more present I become in the activities I engage in, ESPECIALLY when it comes to my kids receiving uninterrupted time with me, they are typically less needy and more fulfilled.
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The same concept applies to my own chores. Sure I can put a load of laundry in then go about my other tasks, but when it comes to unloading groceries, I stick with what I’m doing and keep my efforts focused as much as possible.
Am I perfect at this? No! The more I practice, the better I become. When I feel myself being particularly forgetful, stressed out, or snippy with my kids, I take a step back to see if I’m trying to be an overly productive mom by multi-tasking. The result has been fewer tantrums from attention-starved kids, less brain fog, less stress, and fewer incidents of leaving the milk near the dryer and water running in the sink while putting dishes away.
Now when I see a multi-tasking mommy, I no longer see her as the most productive mom in the world. I know that the secret to multi-tasking is to completely avoid it. The road to productivity only comes from being focused and less scattered, which is just the way I want to be.
What is your secret to being more productive? Share it with me in the comments.