I want to be a single-tasker

This story starts in McDonald’s.

(You guys, nearly all my stories start in McDonald’s these days. McDonald’s is where Life Happens, and don’t you forget it.)

Henry sat swinging his legs in the high chair next to me. He requested the kite song to supplement his fish fingers. Who can argue with that partnership? I turned away from my conversation to look at him, and bellowed ‘Let’s GO FLY A KITE! Up TO THE HIGHEST HEIGHT!’ There was vibrato and everything. I like to do that song justice, because Dick van Dyke deserves it. Henry’s eyes widened, his mouth opened, and he looked at me like he’d never seen anything so brilliantly wonderful.

Of all the things about motherhood I adore, that look is in the top five. I get it when I turn away from what I’m doing, look him square in the face and hand over all my attention for a moment.

I don’t think I get it enough. Attention is a hard thing to give, all at once.

I am busy, of course, and about to get busier. I’ve always got a list of seven or eight things on the go, and mentally reorder and reprioritise as I do them. Multitasking is more comfortable for me than single-tasking. I can’t wash up without listening to the radio, I never read without stopping to flick through my phone, and talking to Henry is something I do while doing other things: the laundry, a batch of editing, driving the car, washing my hair in the bath.

Which makes me think there must be power in doing just one thing at once. Not all the time, and not for everything. But for people, yes. They want you to turn towards them, look them square in the face and give over all your attention for a moment. I suppose the fact that giving over attention is so very difficult makes it the best kind of gift to receive.

So I want to practice one-personing this week. Just for a few minutes a day – a phoneless moment on the sofa with Tim, a quarter of an hour eating ice lollies on the windowsill with Henry, a few minutes’ writing in the quiet with me.  Where I put everything else away and hand over all of me, all at once. Want to do it too? I think it’ll be something to see.

(Not you, though, washing-up. Not you.)

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12 thoughts on “I want to be a single-tasker

  1. One to one, as you say, is so important. Yet, can be so difficult with everything else attracting our attention. I wish you well on your quest to “practice one-personing” this week. And maybe ever after?? I feel it is important and right you also mention “one-personing” with yourself. That can be the hardest to achieve, but so worth while and it makes the “one-personing” with others flow better too.

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    • Yes, I completely agree. I find when I don’t put even a little time aside just to be by myself, all my other relationships start to suffer. Not sure if that’s true of everyone, or just people who are more introverted in temperament…

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  2. Great blog, even my cat demands one on one, If I stroke her she looks to check I am looking at her all adoring, if I dare to stroke and glance away she will go off in s strop. To be fair she is a very old and quite demanding cat. When are you due? is it very soon?

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    • I’ve seen a couple of those studies, and found them terrifying and also disturbingly accurate. Amazing how you can start to crave constant notifications and lose the habit of concentration. I’ll listen to this one with interest – thank you!

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  3. Well, I believe in both single and multitaskting as the task/s demand. I am mostly multi tasking too, thinking/planning about something I want to do while doing something else. But times like conversation with husband are strictly single tasked. All the best to you for the “one-personing” attempt. I’m sure Tim and Henry will highly appreciate it 🙂

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    • Absolutely. In fact, I think if you can combine fairly ‘mindless’ tasks like housework with something that makes you think – like a talk or radio show – then it’s a better use of time. And the best conversations can happen when you’re both doing something else together. But I think building in one-on-one time for a few mins a day has to be a good thing too!

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  4. natalie hacking says:

    oh how i know what you mean. i once noted that with baby ethan (my third, mind you) i had a moment where i was multi-tasking to the max: talking on the phone, nursing ethan and using the loo (too much information?) all at the same time. and what is wild is that i was doing all of this unbeknownst to the fact that i was indeed doing these three things. skilled — that is what i am. i so agree with you that slowing down is what is what i want to find myself doing but i’m often (read: all the time) too busy multi-tasking to actually do it. (par example: “self, remind us later to stop multi-tasking and enjoy small moments more.” “noted, now hurry up and finish these two jobs as there is a queue of many more things that need doing”.) it is the ever-present mary/martha conundrum i struggle with nearly every day – some day i’ll get myself sorted out…

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    • Oh yes, I completely agree. Slowing down vs actually getting necessary things done is a hard one. But I do think one of the things Tim and I can do is reduce our phone time – most of that fiddling isn’t necessary, as habitual as it is!

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