Multitasking has got a bad name of late. Plenty has been said about the benefits of focusing your mind and energy on the task at hand in order to achieve optimal results. This is all well and good if you are doing something technical such as re-wiring your house, or something to deliberately focus your mind, such as Tai-Chi or portrait painting. When it comes to more mundane tasks, such as ironing or mowing the lawn, however, most people would appreciate an element of multi-tasking.
The key to effective multi-tasking at home is to combine tasks which require different types of effort. For example, combining dusting the living room with making a phone call to your bank (using a speakerphone) works, as dusting requires more physical input and the phone call require your mental attention. In comparison, dusting whilst cleaning shoes would be extremely frustrating, as would making a phone call whilst writing a letter. Tasks such as driving require a combination of mental and physical effort and you shouldn’t combine these with other tasks, especially when the potential negative consequences include injury and loss of life.
Other tasks which require different types of attention can also be combined effectively. Take folding clothes and stirring the pot, for example. In this case, you’ve got to a stage in your food preparation which still requires your attention, but at only a minimal level. You can stay within a short distance of the pot and focus most of your attention on completing short tasks – folding items of clothing. Tasks like this can easily be combined with others which require mental focus, such as having a conversation.
Any time you need to formulate a complicated plan, it can be useful to multitask. Rather than sitting at home with your chin in on your fist, trying to figure something out, ponder over it as you take the dog for a walk. Mental and physical stimulation go very well together. In fact, some people have an elliptical trainer at home in front of their laptops – combining their work out with work. Others set up a rower or a treadmill in front of the TV to catch up on their favourite programmes as they get fit. You can scroll down here to get an idea of what kind of equipment would suit you best.
One great way to multitask, which some might see as cheating, but which will reap great rewards is to teach your kids what you are doing. This way you are bonding with your child, keeping them entertained, and training them to be able to do a job themselves, all whilst you are ticking off another chore from the list. It might take you a little longer, but it’s worth the investment.
One common complaint people have is that they don’t find enough time to spend with family and friends. Successful multitaskers can get around this problem easily by inviting friends around for coffee whilst they do the ironing, cooking etc. Most people will understand and know that they still have your attention even though you have your hands full. Don’t invite people over for coffee if you are going to be making phone calls or using the computer. You won’t be able to give them your full attention and you’ll just come off as being plain rude.
Any time you need to draw up a list, see if you can do it whilst multitasking. In many cases this will make your list-building more efficient and accurate than if you simply sat down and decided to draw up a list of who to write Christmas cards to. Let’s say that every time you remember someone you need to send a card to, you add their name to the list. Likewise, every time you receive a card, their name gets added to the list. Perhaps you go through your contacts, writing a card to each – these get added to your list, too. Next year, you won’t have to go through the rigmarole of deciding who to send a card to anymore as you’ll already have your list from the previous year!
Above all, when it comes to multitasking, remember the maxim: Do three things well, not ten things badly.