Unitasking - 31 Days of Sabbath : 11

It started because I was tired of calling my kids the wrong name.

“Na .. Con .. you! You on the couch!”

All moms do it at some point. But for me, it had become an epidemic. A little self-examination, and I diagnosed a scattered brain. My black belt multitasking skills had chopped up my concentration. I couldn’t focus to save my life. Even when I was sitting still, my mind was chasing thoughts that flew like scraps of paper in a windstorm.

The phenomenon isn’t unique to me. The last few years, a myriad of studies says multitasking isn't as efficient as we want to believe, that the deluge of data we face every day drastically affects our ability to focus. Stanford researchers found multitaskers "do not pay attention, control their memory or switch from one job to another as well as those who prefer to complete one task at a time." One of the world's leading brain scientist even believes the technology barrage is "rewiring our brain," that while the multitasking stops, our thinking remains fractured. (Wondering how your brain is doing? You can test your focus here.)

There are many strategies to combat this. I would gently suggest Sabbath should be at the top of our list. For what is a day of rest but a day of learning to pay attention to what is right in front of us? Sabbath, by definition, is a time of sacred unitasking.

I tried this myself, back in August. The final three weeks of summer, I tried to do only one thing at a time. No checking Twitter while I waited for the Star Tribune site to load. No looking at the forecast at a red light. No reading blogs while listening to Connor tell me a story. I even turned off my beloved Pandora so I wouldn't be distracted while cooking dinner.

I'll be honest with you: It was a hard three weeks. My brain has almost completely lost the ability to focus. Even without outside distractions, I would find myself standing in the middle of my closet, with a blank look on my face, wondering why I was in there. I would daydream when I tried to play with my kids. And yes, I still got their names wrong, occasionally.

But. I got them right more than usual. In the end, I found my unitasking experiment taught me the following things:

1. I can only do one thing at a time. No. Really. I might think I can do two things a a time, but I'm really just switching back and forth between two tasks. All those times I called one of my kid by the wrong name? It was almost always because I was talking distracted.

2. Social media is a blessing and a curse. I am grateful for the friendships I nurture on Twitter and Facebook. But because both streams of information update in real-time, I find it impossible not to sneak a peak whenever I am the slightest bit bored. (Read: I run to my computer every five minutes.) Solution? Shut it off. The last three weeks of August, I checked Facebook and Twitter just twice a day -- once in the morning, once at night. And because I use Tweetdeck to update both, I shut the program off the rest of the time. This made it harder for me to sit at my desk and mindlessly surf Twitter -- something I realized I do a lot, to my horror. Exiting Tweetdeck also got rid of the pop-ups that announce something new is posted. Otherwise, I was -- what one researcher called -- a "sucker for irrelevancy."

3. Unitasking is hard work. It took a lot of mental energy to do only one thing at a time. And my productivity decreased, for sure. But you know what? I enjoyed life more. Once the internal swirl stilled to a mere breeze, I found it easier to be present in the moment. I noticed more, thought more, prayed more. I lived more intentionally, less on instinct. (Funny that unitasking requires intention for me, while multitasking has become default.)

4. Ultimately, I need Sabbath. Taking one day a week to unplug and set myself before the Living God is cleansing. I am reminded of how big God is, how loved I am. Life's stresses become largely irrelevant. My ship is righted. I am able to set my face toward the coming days with a quiet peace and joy, knowing that God goes before me.

My prayer is that Sabbath will renew my mind and restore my center. I don't want to live distracted. And someday, maybe someday, I will call my children by their rightful names without having to concentrate.

Let it be, Lord. Let it be.


  1. Unitasking IS hard work. It's truly a challenge. Thank you for writing about it with such thoughtfulness. Makes me want to be more intentional with it, more purposeful.

  2. Wow. Very thought provoking. It makes me a little embarrassed at how "good" I am at multitasking (or switching back and forth between two things). Lately I've been trying to sit quietly more. No computer. No phone. No music. Just silence. It is hard to shut down but something I definitely need to work on. Sabbath makes for a happier wife , mama and person.

  3. This is something I should think about. I feel like I thrive on multitasking, but really, am I doing anything well? Or just barely doing well enough on a bunch of things?

    Good to see you blogging so much! I went and started a new blog in hopes of getting my blogging mojo back. It seems to be working, for now.