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The downside of multitasking

Molly Cerreta Smith loves writing about all things mommy, parenting, food, health and travel. When she's not staring into the face of her Mac, she loves to hike, read, do messy crafts with her kids and compete in BBQ competitions with he...

Is multitasking making you a crazy mom?

Research shows that multitasking actually takes more time and causes more stress than simply focusing on one thing at a time. Get off the multitasking crazy train and regain your sanity.
Busy mom on the phone and cooking dinner

We're not made to multitask

According to Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman, founder of the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas and author of Make Your Brain Smarter, our brains are not designed to handle multiple things at once. She says, "The brain is not wired to perform two tasks at once. Multitasking requires that the brain quickly switch back and forth between tasks and this high performance demand to smoothly toggle back and forth fatigues your brain’s frontal lobes, slows efficiency and lowers performance."

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She adds that trying to do too many things at once causes "brain drain that exhausts the mind, zaps cognitive resources, leads to weakened focus, shallower thinking, reduced creativity and increased errors and lowers our ability to block irrelevant information."

Multitasking makes moms feel inadequate

Maybe moms are simply expected to do too much these days. And when we try to juggle it all, something eventually has to give. Psychotherapist Nicole Liloia, LCSW, says, "Women who try to complete many things at one time often feel overwhelmed and distracted. This contributes to feelings of inadequacy, as well as higher levels of anxiety and depression."

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She continues, "When women work on multiple tasks at once, it puts them on 'overload' and they feel disconnected from the people in their lives. They also tend to perform these tasks in 'autopilot mode,' which prevents them from experiencing life in the present moment and they rush from [one] task to another without being able to appreciate the importance of what they are doing."

Focus on core mindfulness

To help her clients stop multitasking and start focusing, Lisa Bahar, LMFT, LPCC helps them learn mindfulness skills. She says, "This can be washing dishes or clothes, eating or ironing. This will help focus the mind on the ability to [be] fully present and not engage in distractions."

While she notes it can be very challenging at first, she adds that staying mindful on one task "helps with anxiety, dealing with urgency, decreases agitation and, ironically, is more effective than multitasking." She encourages her clients to start slow and build from there.

Meditate, don't multitask

Research psychologist and associate director of Stanford University's Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education Emma Seppala, Ph.D, says, "An intriguing recent study suggests that meditation may help people multitask better. So for mothers who have no choice but to multitask, integrating meditation practice into their schedules may help them do so more effectively and perhaps with less burnout."

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Jona Genova, founder of Samadhi for Peace, agrees that meditation is ideal for combating the stress of multitasking. She says, "Constant stimulation changes our biochemistry, putting us in a perpetual state of urgency that prohibits clear thinking. Meditation is the single most important thing we can do to establish and maintain a healthy, vibrant existence."

Set a timer

Stacy S. Kim, Ph.D., founder of Life Junctions, suggests setting a timer for about 20 minutes, then "ask yourself the question, 'What is the right thing for me to do right now?'"

She continues, "Note that the question is not 'What should I be doing right now?' Be truthful in your answer. Sometimes the right thing is to take a break, or take a walk. Other times it might be fold the laundry, delete emails or draft just one paragraph of the report you're dreading to write."

She encourages moms to be more realistic in what they can accomplish in a short segment of time and to be intentional about how they use their time instead of getting caught up in distractions.

More for moms

How to be a happier mom
I'll take a little me time, please!
Mommy-tasking: How to find more time to spend with your kids

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