Father Time is a weekly column dedicated to the concept of time in a parent’s life, particularly a father’s life. The point of view comes from a father of two young sons, both under three-years-old, and how time really is just that: a concept.
Picture this: You’re getting ready for work, at the brushing of teeth phase. You look at your bed and see it’s unmade. Frothy-mouthed, you stop mid-brush to pull up the comforter and fluff the pillows. The busy hand stops brushing, and eventually both hands go to bed making. What have you done just now? You stopped one task to do another. You thought you could save time by venturing off into another separate thing that needed attention. But what actually happens? The completion of both tasks is impeded. You don’t save or gain any time in the process. If anything, some froth from you mouth spills onto the navy duvet, and every one knows you can’t get that stuff out.
It’s called multitasking, and it doesn’t work. Not in your day-to-day life, not with your family, and especially not with your kids. They need your undivided attention. Key word: undivided. So what are you supposed to do if you have to finish that e-mail and your darling son is tugging at you, begging you to play with him?
You go to him. You stop what you are doing and give him what he needs: You. It’s that simple.
Yet, it’s difficult in today’s world where so many things compete for our attention. I remind myself every day that multitasking is a fallacy. If I’m doing a simple household chore, a mnemonic I use is, “task at hand.” The moment my brain thinks it has to go do another thing, I tell myself “task at hand, task at hand.” Complete the task at hand, and then move on to the next thing.
It requires training your brain to recognize that individual things have their own individual needs with their own associated brain and motor functions. In her Health Magazine article “The Multitasking Myth,” writer Amanda MacMillan cites that what we think is called multitasking is merely task switching, stopping one thing and shifting to the next. It drags our productivity down and we make more mistakes.
Ditch multitasking with your spouse and children, and you’ll quickly start to see how much happier they, and you are. A certain pressure is lifted off your shoulders when you teach your brain to focus on one thing. It’s like when we get ready to go to the swimming pool at our complex. It takes about half an hour to dress the kids, apply sunscreen, get some snacks and water ready, get myself dressed, then pack it all up in the double stroller. Inevitably I put clothes on one kid, then switch to getting snacks, then go back to the kid for the sunblock, then go back to putting on my swim trunks, and on and on until that half hour has gone by and it’s getting cloudy out.
A method psychiatrists and productivity experts recommend for people with ADHD, yet applicable to everyone, especially parents, is O.H.I.O.: Only Handle It Once. Simply put, if you start something, don’t move on until it’s finished. A way to make this a reality is to batch up tasks and projects so that you’re not switching so often and actually maximizing your time.
Getting ready for the pool might then look more like this:
- Get self dressed and slathered in sunblock
- Get kids’ snacks ready and packed
- Get towels, toys, everything else packed
- Pack it all into the stroller
- Get your kids up from their naps, dress them, and slather them in sunblock
- Go to the pool already
See how tasks one through four were done without your kids running around in frenzy, knowing they’re going to the pool? See how you focused on the kids, the most important part, last, after you’d finished all those small, sometimes frustrating tasks first?
What it’s really about is isolating chaos into smaller compartments so they don’t build into one swirling storm of chaos the pulls you in. This is indeed the daily struggle and one that, if you learn to control it, will give you back a little more time here and there.
Comedian Michael McIntyre has a brilliant bit about how things that were never “a thing” become impossible when you have children. Without kids, he says, you simply leave the house; walk out the front door. With kids, so many more things have to happen before you can even walk out the door.
This is when it all goes back to organization, Only Handling It Once, and containing the chaos into smaller segments. I have to credit my wife for helping me with those skills, because they are indeed skills. She keeps full diaper bags in both cars, in addition to a stash in strollers and in car cargo areas. She’s a master of managing the small chaoses. In the end, the time gained between managing said chaos, does indeed get you back to the most important tasks at hand. Those little ones that need you most.
Photo credit: Robert Couse-Baker.