According to Dr Adrian Wang, a consultant psychiatrist, “To multitask well, you need to be able to focus on what you're doing, be able to keep track of time, and not easily get anxious. If you’re easily distracted or tend to lose yourself in things and are easily forgetful, multitasking is not for you.”
With technology, increased job demands and ageing parents (as well as young children) to look after, we’re being pulled in every direction. Indeed, while we’ve taken multitasking to the limit, it’s no longer getting us positive results. Confesses Kayla Lim, 31, mum to Larry, 2, and Kayden, 4, “I often find myself checking e-mails while pushing my kids in a stroller when I go for walks, and I feel guilty for not giving them my full attention. The other day, I accidentally left my phone at home when I took the boys to the playground outside my HDB block. I freaked out at first but, actually, it felt amazing just to focus on them. They were definitely better behaved and I was more relaxed, too.” What we’re gradually realising is that multitasking is not saving time — it’s actually wasting it.
Still, when you’ve got small kids, unless you combine some tasks, you’d be making Lego houses all day instead of cooking dinner (or working all day and ignoring your child). And this, apparently, is fine. It’s only tasks that require more brain power that are best left until after baby bedtime. Dr Wang notes, “Our health suffers when you risk piling too many things on your plate without realising it. It makes us moody and affects our sleep, causing headaches and an increased risk of depression in the long term — hardly a recipe for happy family life.
Here are three ways to win at multi-tasking.
1. Plan it
Firstly there’s a rule called Parkinson’s Law, which says that any job expands to fit the time available. “If you devote 15 minutes to cleaning the bathroom, that’s how long it should take. If you don’t plan, the same job will take you an hour,” says time-management expert Allison Mitchell. This is why it’s important to set a time limit, and then get it done. Setting up a few simple systems and creating boundaries between your home, social and work life does take a bit of effort, but the results are worth it, Mitchell adds. “Because the better you are at taking on a million things at once, the more likely you are to be saddled with them for good — definitely not cool.
2. Prioritise it
Secondly, prioritise your activities. Dr Wang’s advice is to “Let go of the small stuff and prioritise what’s important. Don’t try to keep up with the Joneses (or Tans) — instead, do things at your own pace.” Put things into perspective, so you can manage each one more effectively, according to how urgently it needs doing. For instance, spend quality time with your little one, whether it’s on the floor with his colouring book or playing in the park. Junior will be more willing to let you get on with other tasks because he’s had your full attention for a period of time. The other stuff can usually wait. And then you often realise it wasn’t that important anyway.
3. Micro-task it
This do-it-smarter technique divides your time into manageable chunks. Whenever you have a few minutes to spare, write down a list of things you need to get on with. And while you’re at it, “learn to delegate, simplify or just let things go”, Dr Wang suggests. This also helps put an end to procrastination. If there’s one thing worse than cleaning the bathroom, it’s knowing you still haven’t done it.