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Multi-tasking in the home.

Byline: Do you stare open-mouthed at those who seem to do a dozen different things and do them all well?

Do you stare open-mouthed at those who seem to do a dozen different things and do them all well? Does it never cease to amaze you that this tiny chit of a thing can run her own clinic, operate in a couple of large hospitals and bring up two perfectly well-adjusted and high achieving kids, entertain and socialise without breaking a sweat? This, while you slave over the stove, plead for hours before the nourishment gets down your children's throats, are usually to be found in bathroom slippers and with uncombed hair, skulk in a corner at Parents and Teachers' Association meetings because you dread to hear how your progeny have done, and don't have time to catch the daily newspapers, leave alone take up a job!

How, we wonder, do some people carry everything off with E[umlaut]lan while we stumble at every step? What is that special quality that they have that we can't seem to get hold of? Everywhere we turn we hear about multi-tasking - about being able to do a dozen things at a time. Surely if others can do it, so can we!

Sometime ago, when I watched my mother direct her attention to one task at a time, systematically, concentrating totally, managing near perfection in what she did, I'd laugh. "What a waste of time," I'd say, breezing around the place, hurriedly chopping vegetables as I stirred a pudding, or knitting and reading as I'd learnt from the wonder women of North India who manage to keep those needles constantly clacking, along with everything else they do in the freezing winters. "Do two things at a time and work gets done in half the time!" was my conviction.

Mother didn't bother to reply. We had passed the stage of the younger learning from the elder. What she'd had to say had been said long ago: "To do two things at once is to do neither," and I wasn't listening anyway. Not when I had so much to do with juggling job and deadlines and home and child and dog and outings and friends.

Multi-tasking became my mantra and stray bits of information I picked up along the way about women being better at this than men added fuel to my energy and I'd be ever ready to try my hand at something new, even though both hands were already occupied. I was sure that I could grow a third and fourth one and a couple of extra legs as needed and put the best of jugglers to shame.

Everyone around me got used to the multitask 'efficiency' of my home - they 'loved' the slight caramel flavour of the chocolate fudge, which hadn't got burnt, oh no, just slightly stuck to the pan as I mistook turning the pages of the book I was buried in for moving the ladle in a steady stir. As for that curry that was overcooked because the hiss and whistle of the pressure cooker hadn't penetrated my involvement with the sites I was looking up on the internet, why, it had made a wonderful kheema (mince meat) gravy, hadn't it? The only problem was reproducing the taste and consistency - maybe if I could recall which was the website that blocked my auditory senses.

Finally, even I realised that this desire to do everything - that too, at once - was making me more of a clown than a juggler - dashing here and there, doing this and that, forgetting more than I remembered, achieving multiple messes, re-doing and constantly improvising to save the situation.

The energy and creativity that went into finding solutions to multiproblems created by multitasking was exhausting! And to top it all, now, after I found it out for myself, studies show that multitasking isn't a good idea and leads to problems like stress, anxiety, memory problems, etc.

So, despite my modern 'learning', the super efficient tools at my disposal, all those extra arms and legs I'd sprouted, it seems that Mum was right, after all!


Cheryl Rao is a journalist based in India.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Date:Jan 10, 2009
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