We use the term “multitasking” quite a bit. While it may be possible to do two things at once physically (walking and chewing gum at the same time), I’m not sure it is possible to do two things at once mentally (at least not voluntarily). Have you ever tried to reply to email and simultaneously carry on a telephone conversation? What about listening to your wife over dinner while watching Sports Center in the background? See what I mean?
According to Dr. Rene Marois of Vanderbilt University, scientific research indicates that the brain can’t do two things effectively at once. Our minds, no matter how complex, still can only think actively about one thing at a time.
Here’s a typical example from my life: I pick up my son from school. My favorite radio sports talk show is discussing breaking news regarding my favorite football team. As I’m trying to listen intently to every detail, my son begins to tell me about his day at school.
I try to listen to both the radio and my son. I can even feel my brain trying to switch to my son’s conversation and for the as the radio personality pauses and switch back when my son pauses. The result? I don’t comprehend what either is saying! At this point I get really frustrated and have to make a decision:
1) Turn off the radio and listen to my son,
2) Ask my son to wait while I listen to the radio.
Asking Bryce to wait while I listen to the radio isn’t always a bad idea. Breaking news regarding severe weather or impending danger should be treated with priority. Further, to a degree, Bryce needs to learn that he is not the center of the universe and that sometimes he has to be patient.
Most of the time, however, I need to turn the radio off. It allows me to spend time focusing on what’s really important –my son.
Placing your focus on family seems simple, but it’s not always as easy as turning off a radio. What about turning off certain things in your brain?
For example, I struggle with leaving work at the office. It is very difficult for me to shift gears from thinking about projects, strategies, and loose ends to dinner, bicycles, and board games.
At the same time, my son has the gift of talking… a lot! He is a natural communicator and loves to give me every detail about everything going on in his world.
What really makes it frustrating is when my mind is thinking about something work-related and my son wants to tell me about the picture he drew, the story he read, the game he invented, the imaginary friends he created, and the cartoon he watched –all in intricate detail.
What I am learning is that it takes incredible discipline to intentionally ignore work and purposefully listen to my son. The issues may be different for you. Your struggle may not be with thinking about work, it may be thinking about relationships, housework, hobbies, or shopping. No matter what the issue, it always comes back to a battle between the urgent and the important.
Like Paul, we must “take every thought captive” (2 Cor. 10:5) not only to discern right thoughts from wrong thoughts, but also to determine if it is the appropriate time to contemplate those thoughts.
Have you ever had a “light bulb” come on in your mind just as your spouse engages you in conversation? What do you do? What about when you have mentally arrived at a solution to a major problem at work right as your son asks you to listen to the story he made up? What if there is no pen or paper handy to jot down your thoughts?
Are you willing to risk losing the idea for the sake of focusing on your family?
I have to confess that far too many times I have acted like I was listening to my son while secretly thinking about my idea. I have gone into “uh-huh” mode and not heard a word he was saying more times that I would like to admit.
While this may sound harmless to some, I beg to disagree. Why? Because every time my son interrupts my train of thought with a question, story or thought, it is serious business to him. What I consider an interruption, he considers an invitation –an invitation into his world.
You see, in thirteen years my son will be a senior in high school. On graduation day, I don’t want to have “small talk” –I want to have deep, meaningful conversation. But that can’t happen if day after day, year after year, I continually ignore his invitation to come into his world.
I don’t want to be the parent who wonders what is going on in his child’s life –I want to be a part of his life! Jobs, ideas, solutions, may all come and go –but I will always be Bryce’s dad. Nobody else can fill those shoes.
So will it be easy to block out work from my mind in order to listen to my son? No, but it will be worth it!
And its not just a matter of guarding against the thoughts themselves, but it’s also a matter of guarding against the anxiety of unresolved issues! I must resist the temptation to worry about work while I am at home and instead choose to “not be anxious about anything” (Philippians 4:6).
Ultimately, it boils down to whether or not I trust God’s sovereignty. If I am going to be obedient to him, I have to place my priority on being a dad. Since that is what God has called me to do, I have to believe that He will provide for everything else. He knows all of my work-related issues and, better yet, he knows the all of the solutions too!
So here are some ways I am going to try to eliminate multitasking my family:
1) I’m going to keep the radio, TV, and internet to a minimum to avoid distractions.
2) I’m going to keep paper and pencil (or iPhone) handy to take notes when vital so that my mind is free to engage in meaningful conversation with my son.
3) I’m going to remind myself as I leave the office everyday that my identity is not in my work, but it is in my Savior who calls me to be a faithful dad.
4) I’m going to leave issues at the office.
5) I’m going to trust God when I need to let an idea go.
I’d like to hear from you. What competes for the attention you should be giving to your family? What skills have you learned to help you avoid multitasking your family?