Reconsidering multitasking

Look at me!
Look at me now!” said the cat.
“With a cup and a cake
On the top of my hat!
I can hold up TWO books!
I can hold up the fish!
And a little toy ship!
And some milk on a dish!
And look!
I can hop up and down on the ball!
But that is not all!
Oh, no.
That is not all…”

Several days ago I wrote a post titled “Patience” hoping that if I gave myself that public pep talk I would find some.  Instead I continue to feel frantic. Partly this is because I’m still spending a lot of my time on things I don’t want to be doing, and then trying to shoehorn in things I consider important and nourishing and fun.

Multitasking has been my modus operandi. Who doesn’t feel like a rock star after accomplishing five tasks semi-simultaneously? And who doesn’t feel important when the calendar is full of meetings and activities and the calls and texts and emails are rolling in?

Well, I may finally be ready to accept that there is a diminishing point of return with multitasking as a lifestyle. For one, multitasking and the distracted rushing that goes with it can turn a person into a __________ (insert your own vivid noun). Recently I drove right through a zebra crossing instead of yielding to a pedestrian (a work colleague! I realized as I passed him too closely). The shame hit me immediately: have I become that kind of person? Second, multitasking can lead to uncomfortably humbling moments, and I’m talking about stupid or wasteful mistakes I’ve  made because I thought I could divide my attention multiple ways—like Dr. Seuss’s Cat in the Hat who “sank the toy ship, sank it deep in the cake” as he and all his props came toppling down from the ball. And then there’s just that frantic feeling that comes from bouncing from one task to another.

In the spirit of keeping things simple, I’m committing to these well-defined changes that I can implement immediately:

1. Drive the speed limit. Make real stops at stop signs. Observe crosswalks. Do not use cell phone while operating the vehicle. (You are confused, right, since these things are already law?)

2. Check Facebook no more than once a day and with a time limit of 10 minutes, i.e. not like a twitchy junkie. Check personal email once in the morning and once at night.

Oh, believe me, there’s room for more. But this will be a good place to start. I’ll let you know how it goes.

The beginning of this journey

This spring, after my family returned from a very positive extended stay out of the country, I started to feel like things were out of whack. I took an inventory and realized my life at that moment had a long list of deficits:

  • Not eating well
  • Not getting exercise
  • Not managing money well
  • Not reading books, going to movies, or attending non kid-centered cultural events
  • Not doing as much as I wanted to maintain important relationships
  • Not using my creativity, and not doing much for personal development
  • Not engaging in philanthropy or making contributions to my community
  • Increasing instead of decreasing my environmental footprint

“Whose crappy life is this?,” I thought.

So my husband and I resumed a conversation we’d been having for over a year about selling our 100-year-old home, which had many nice features and which, over the course of 13 years, had soaked up significant amounts of our time and money with no end in sight. We thought that we could improve our lives fairly quickly if we traded the responsibilities of home ownership for a smaller rented space, agreeing from the start that we would downsize our stuff along with our living space.

We were fortunate to find a condo that had our desired features and more, where the rent will be less than our mortgage payment and where there will be no boiler to replace or (surprise!) leak in the roof. And we were fortunate to not say very many regrettable things to each other during the two and a half months of evening and weekend effort required to get our house ready to sell.

Spending my free time sorting, organizing and hauling stuff to Goodwill and managing Craigslist ads did not in itself make me happy. But taking action was energizing, and getting rid of stuff was even more energizing. When I told people what we were planning I found myself using the word “excited” over and over again. It feels like we are embarking on a new life—and we hope that we are.

We’re not the only ones making this kind of change. I’ve discovered at least a dozen mainstream bloggers who’ve been writing about minimizing and simplifying for years, sharing their stories with honesty and wisdom and providing useful suggestions. I plan to share my own story and ideas—not because what I have to say is different or more valuable, but because more people need to talk about how and why they say “no” to stuff in order to make saying “no” culturally okay.

I’m at the beginning of this journey of simplifying in order to live a better life, and as I go I hope you’ll share your story and ideas too.