Several years ago, some bright spark put the idea out there that women were the unequalled queens of multi-tasking, and that men weren't particularly good at it. Big wow, as we used to say at school! The regularity with which this piece of "research" is referenced nowadays has almost certainly planted a plethora of seeds and encouraged some women to believe that they're not working hard enough if they're not carrying out two or more tasks simultaneously at least some of the time. I know this is one of my worst domestic habits (and there are plenty more). The promise of saved time and greater efficiency lures me into setting impossible targets for myself and failing spectacularly to achieve them.
Can I make a phone call whilst weighing out ingredients for a cake? (No. I inevitably select the wrong flour which, if not noticed before mixing everything into the bowl, either results in a biscuit-like cake or an over-inflated and messy disaster, requiring that the oven then be scrubbed. Time is thus wasted, not saved, and there isn't even a nice piece of cake to enjoy whilst tediously cleaning burnt-on muck off the oven.) Is it possible to hang washing on the line whilst holding an eight-month-old? (Yes, just about, but the slow pace of the enterprise means it might well have started raining by the time you've got it all pegged out. And don't even attempt to hang out a duvet cover under such conditions.) Shall I save time by ironing whilst watching a couple of episodes of Dharma & Greg? (Why am I sullying an hour of great TV? Furthermore, I'll have to watch it again in order to understand said episodes properly, and I'll have to rewind the DVD every time the audience laughs uproariously because I've inevitably missed a hilarious one-liner, wasting more time.) And, the thing is, I know that everything I've placed in parentheses here is completely true. But of course I carry on trying to do too much at once because I'd love it if our house wasn't constantly messy and dusty, and it would be fantastic if I could manage to lay my hands on a clean baby's bottle or pair of toddler pants or coffee cup on a regular basis rather than just once in a while. Believe me, I'm not aspiring to be Superwoman here: there's no chance of that. I'm just hoping to survive and remain sane! But, to continue in this alliterative manner, I simply end up stressed. Which is silly. So silly! I do actually quite enjoy housework, but shoot myself in the foot with my ridiculous multi-way approach to carrying it out.
I receive a daily devotional from Joni and Friends by email, and yesterday the message I received contained a lovely and timely story on this very theme. Joni Eareckson Tada (who broke her neck in a diving accident in 1967 and has been quadriplegic and wheelchair-bound ever since) went to spend a day with Corrie Ten Boom, the Dutch holocaust survivor and author of The Hiding Place, and her carer Pam. They enjoyed a relaxed day together, which included plenty of activity but seemed peaceful and stress-free at the same time. When Joni and her friends commented on this, Pam explained "Corrie and I never do lots of things at once. We don't sit outside, read and enjoy chocolates. We space everything out so we can truly appreciate the individual pleasures of each activity." What a wonderful attitude to take to life! The mere prospect of a day filled with activity where each task is completed one at a time makes me feel calmer about all the hundreds of things that need to be done. And, even better, it makes me believe that I could enjoy carrying out all these tasks far more than I do when I'm trying to do something else at the same time. I do concede that ironing should probably be carried out to the accompaniment of a musical soundtrack at least. But multi-tasking's overrated, that's for sure. If you're a woman, don't let anyone convince you that you ought to be doing it. I'm sure that even the most tedious of tasks can become far more pleasant if you're not trying to complete them alongside three others, and conversely the most delightful of pastimes shouldn't be marred by the interruption of another. Enjoy your pleasures one at a time!