Multitasking My Life Away


multitasking my life awayA week or so ago, I found myself multitasking away…

Making a dish for a potluck, while helping my daughter happily put together a book collecting her most recent artwork, while on the phone listening to the details of a new job I was taking, while switching laundry from the washer to the dryer.

AND nothing caught on fire. WIN!

I know you’re not impressed. Why? Because you have your own story of breastfeeding (or pumping), while answering a work email, while listening to your daughter read you a story, while dinner burbled away in the crockpot. AND no one cried. WIN!

Or, you have that story, of the time you single-handedly prepared Thanksgiving dinner for 12 people, while wearing a colicky baby, while handwashing every dish because the dishwasher was broken, while negotiating a contract for work, while recovering from bronchitis. AND nobody got food poisoning from you. WIN!

did get the memo that multitasking is a bad habit and probably killing my brain. I get that practicing mindfulness through yoga or meditation can fix my brain and that I’d feel better about, well, everything if I just breathed and focused on one thing at a time.  What I don’t get is, where the hell is my trophy? I mean come on!

I am WINNING! You are WINNING! We are winning the hell out this multitasking mom thing, and I think it’s time we all got a dang trophy for everything we do get done. WIN!  

Sure, for every awesome story of winning we tell ourselves (I know it’s not just me), there is an equally bad story of LOSING at this way of living. Just yesterday, I found myself putting on makeup while simultaneously wiping down my bathroom sink. The result was makeup in my hair and, really, not a very clean sink. AND then when I looked at myself, I had to change my shirt because I’d been checking my email while brushing my teeth and had dripped toothpaste all over myself. ALSO, I didn’t send that email I should have and now my schedule is all messed up for next week. WAIT, have to remember it’s my nephew’s birthday next week. AND now that I think about it, did I remember to sign everything I should have with my taxes yet…?

Sound familiar?  

More and more these days, there is the creeping sensation that maybe I’m not winning. Is accomplishing five things at once really all that great? More often than not, my multitasking results in me getting three things done, but they’re are all done half-a**ed and often require me to go back and fix something. And if I’m really being honest, the biggest result of my multitasking habit is me yelling at my family, “Why isn’t anyone helping me?! I am not happy!”  

But there’s just so much to get done right? Currently I’m working three part-time jobs. The kids have school and piano and sports and drama. And I can’t even tell you what my husband is doing because I’m not sure we’ve had a complete conversation for three weeks. Throw in cooking, cleaning, bill paying, and is it any wonder we multitask even if we know how horrible it is and how horrible it makes us feel?   

Middle-class families in previous generations had help.

Seriously, have you read Jane Austen? There’s not a single family in her novels, no matter how poor, who doesn’t have a servant. Now, I know that help was exploited, and I would not go back to that time for anything. The small amount of genealogy research I’ve done tells me that I would have been the help back in the day. I would have been paid low wages to clean middle-class families’ houses, take care of their children, and only to go home to feed my own 10 children at the end of the day (modern birth control for the real WIN!).

We should recognize that one reason we all feel so stretched for time is that we do not have the same level of domestic help of previous generations.  At the same time, I acknowledge that there are untold “servants” that I’ll never know but that I do exploit by eating the food I eat and the clothes I wear. My middle-class status affords me privileges that others do not have, and I am able to enjoy many things because of the hard work of others. The fact remains though, that my efforts to become a human octopus are not sustainable and that something has to give.

Except I don’t have any real answers. How do you stop working? Parenting? Eating? I suppose I could stop cleaning and wearing clean clothes, but I can already tell that that would only result in a different level of crazy.

Truthfully, this is the life I have chosen to live and multitasking is just part of its reality.

I’m going to hope that it gets better. I think in another year, I’ll be down to working just two jobs. The kids are getting older and have started to do things without complaining, like empty the dishwasher and fold laundry. And in three weeks, I think I’ll be able to schedule a date with my husband.

In the meanwhile, I’m going to celebrate the WINS I do have, no matter how ridiculous I look and feel multitasking to make them happen. I’ll try to yell less and laugh at myself more. And whenever I do LOSE, I’m going to look at this picture of a trophy I bought myself and feel a little better. And you can too. WIN!


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Mary Beth is a Southern transplant to Vermont by way of California, where she taught middle school. These days, you can find Mary Beth still working in education with a local college and as a playwright with the Burlington-based, Complications Company. She likes to write about things that make her laugh, like how her eldest sometimes channels a 50-year-old British man when she speaks; everyday tragedies, like being the only person in the house who seems to know how to change a toilet paper roll; and things that keep her up late at night, like climate change, school shootings, pandemics, and if she remembered to pay her car registration or not. She is a co-founder of Complications Company.


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