The Value of Singletasking


Photo by eamoncurry123, via Flickr

I’m a multitasker. Shocking, I know. But it’s true. I’m a make-lunch-while-feeding-baby, scribble-notes-in-grocery-store-checkout-line, do-spiritual-reading-while-nursing, scrapbook-while-watching-TV kind of girl. A girl after Martha’s own heart.

Not that I don’t appreciate Mary. I want to be Mary. I crave silence and stillness, yet I always begrudge the time. And the logistics of making it happen keep getting harder. (I never realized how much I depended on respite providers for that…now that Julianna’s in school all day, I can’t call them in to watch kids anymore.)

I don’t think I’m alone in this. I think we’re all more Martha than Mary these days. Too many side trips, too many voices yelling “listen to me!” Texting while driving (or sitting at the stoplight), checking the game while out to dinner–connectedness is a hazard of modern life.

But I’m starting to appreciate single-tasking. These days I spread out the scrapbooking paraphernalia on the floor, and instead of turning on a movie, I leave all the electronics silent. Everything else fades away; I’m giving myself the luxury of a completely nonproductive pastime. It feels less crazed, more like soul food.

Every so often, mindful of the speed at which babies become toddlers, and toddlers preschoolers, I set the book aside and simply stare at Michael while he is attached to the breast. I tickle him, watching the progression of his laugh from the corners of his eyes to the angle of his cheeks to the audible guffaw that vibrates, mouth to breast–and sometimes makes him lose his latch, and tip his head back to grin and say, “Sssthhhsthhh!” I ruffle his hair, play handsies with him, stroke the lengthening line of his body, trying to commit the sensation to memory.

The mornings, here in the early fall, are cool and dark at 5:30 these days, the humidity down, the starscape brilliant. This week I spent a couple of mornings sitting wrapped in a throw on my deck, drinking in the  miraculous beauty, and the way it changes every day. One morning, and only one, a star perched atop a spire of the moon like a freckle. By the next morning it was gone, I don’t even know where. If I hadn’t taken the time when I did, I’d have missed the moment altogether.

I will always be a multitasker. With four kids I have to be–with four kids, a house and other commitments, even more so. But I’m looking for the opportunities to press pause and relax into one task,  done well. It’s another way to live mindfully. A way to be present in my own life.

3 thoughts on “The Value of Singletasking

  1. In Italy there is a saying, e` dolce fare niente, which is to say, it’s sweet to do nothing; it’s a reminder to be/live in the moment. I am an early riser, so I know what it’s like to have those moments to yourself before the world (our at least our little corner of it) wakes up (I loved your image of a star perched on top of the moon like a freckle).

  2. YES! The research on multi-tasking is fascinating – we all think we can do it, and do it well, but studies show we actually can’t. We do everything worse when we do it distractedly. I know this, and see it in my own life, yet I continue to think I can cram more into each second that it allows. Trying to remind myself there is need of only one thing is often my daily mantra.

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