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Is multitasking really bad for you?

Naomi de la Torre is freelance writer and stay-at-home-mom with two delightful boys, ages three and six. Naomi has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona, is a self-proclaimed salsa diva, and can make a killer octopus ...

Multitasking vs. mommy-tasking

Anyone who is a parent of small children knows that you can't get through a single hour, much less an entire day, without multitasking. But according to recent studies, multitasking can be bad for our brains and our health.

Are we really putting ourselves in jeopardy by trying to juggle too many balls at once?

The illusion of productivity

Mounting evidence shows very clearly that multitasking is not as efficient as we think it is, and in some cases, it is actually dangerous to our health. The problem is that multitasking comes with the illusion of productivity. Just the word itself has a certain appeal. Multitasking. It sounds so effective. How could doing more than one thing at once really be so bad?

Unfortunately, the human mind has a limited capacity for attention. When we try to complete more than one task at once, our attention becomes divided, we miss critical details and our performance is actually compromised. Instead of multitasking, we are switch-tasking at high speed and our brains don’t have time to catch up. The most dangerous form of multitasking seems to be driving while talking on the phone. This causes a form of attention blindness that makes drivers so distracted that they perform worse than someone at the legal limit of alcohol intoxication.

Bad news for multitasking moms

For busy moms, this seems like horrible news. I, for one, can’t imagine a scenario that involves watching children that doesn’t include multitasking. Tell the truth, moms. How often do you find yourself cooking dinner, breaking up fights, answering phone calls, breastfeeding an infant and overseeing your fifth grader’s homework -- all while trying to keep an eye on your toddler so he doesn’t slink off into the bathroom to taste the toilet cleanser?

Add to this the guilt of (shudder) “multitasking” and you’d be lucky if you get a pot of overcooked macaroni on the table without having a nervous breakdown.

Are moms masters of multitasking?

Fortunately, this cloud has a silver lining. From an evolutionary standpoint, the brains of mothers are very plastic and are prepared to rise to the challenges of day-to-day mothering. During pregnancy and after the birth of a baby, moms’ brains actually change and grow in key areas which help moms to respond more quickly to their babies' needs, help them strategize and plan ahead and actually improve their memory for things related to the well-being of their children. In essence, moms’ brains are perfectly adapted to handle the messy realities of parenting.

Fact or fiction? The mommy brain >>

Live life in the moment

However, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to limit the number of activities you are doing at one time, if you can. While it may be impossible to sort laundry without keeping an eye on your sneaky 2-year-old, you don’t have to talk on the phone, surf the web and post 30-second Facebook status updates at the same time. Live in the moment (a single moment) as much as you can -- even if that moment is covered with overcooked macaroni and sticky applesauce fingers.

Learn more mommy-tasking tips >>

More on multitasking moms

Multitasking for new moms
5 Snacking tips for the multitasking mom
Multitasking maternity clothes

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