Day 43: The curse of multitasking

A hummingbird at rest in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is one big invitation to stop multitasking, but San José is all about it. This is partly because of all the traffic. How are you not going to distract yourself with your phone while on a bus for two hours or sitting motionless in a car?

Yesterday I announced triumphantly to my husband that I had written 3,500 words of my novel on the way home. He looked appropriately alarmed. I explained I had just turned on voice-to-text and narrated aloud, producing such sentences as “She miss being and not T cozies” but capturing a huge chunk of action nonetheless.

Somehow this morning, while thoroughly distracted, I stumbled on this six-year-old piece by a young mother that says it all. I never had a moment of panic the way she did, but I think most parents today have experienced that panic in smaller ways, which is why her piece resonated so much: it’s the panic of that sudden return to the self, the kid tugging on your sleeve, the “Why am I even doing this right now?” mini-epiphany that fades away the next time technology beckons. We think that something needs to be done now, and it doesn’t. Our kids, who are always now, get less of us as a result.

I don’t think that’s always so bad. It’s fine for kids to be ignored sometimes: it balances out some of our weird helicopter-parenting era and gives them some time and space to create cool things. Sometimes, when I’m busy and my daughter wails, “I’m bored!” I even smile to myself, knowing that with luck, this declaration means that thirty seconds later I’ll find her immersed in an amazing game of her own creation. Only we, the parents, know the difference – the difference between insisting on five more minutes to finish writing something that really matters to me, and half-listening to her story because I’m dealing with some work email that no one even expects me to answer til the morning.

Has anyone out there, reading this, found ways to become one-taskers more often? I have a very pretty Phone Box that I need to dust off and start to use again, but I’d love to hear other ideas. Most of all, I hope to listen a bit more to the rest of Costa Rica, the land that lies outside these city limits, full of places that call to all of us to do only one thing at a time.

I’m a writer in San José, Costa Rica, on a year-long quest to share daily posts on inspiring people, places and ideas from my adopted home as a kind of tonic during a rough time in the world. Sign up (top right of this page) to receive a little dose of inspiration every weekday in your mailbox; tell a friend; check out past posts; and please connect with me on Instagram or Facebook! You can also find me churning out small, square poems on any topic under the sun (here on the site, on Instagram or Twitter). 


2 thoughts on “Day 43: The curse of multitasking

  1. I don’t have any earth-shattering, miraculous solutions for not multitasking, but I wanted you to know you’re not alone. I think that we, as women, have it the worst. Somehow, instinctively, I think women are more prone to multitask. Maybe it’s the traditional role of providing food, taking care of kids, taking care of the home, and in the modern world, also working. And it’s completely incongruous to be in a place like Costa Rica, where the rest of the world comes on vacation, while we’re working and multitasking until life becomes like, “Oh, yeah, there’s another toucan.” Or, “Yes, I guess the rainforest that is everywhere is kind of cool.” My strategy is to carve out a week, or a weekend, or even just a day to go somewhere in nature and to have my phone tucked away. Often I don’t even pull out my phone to take pictures, feeling that it will distract me from being present in the place and moment. Sadly, I don’t carve out this time enough. Mostly I just long for it, deeply, while working straight through another weekend, weeks on end (life as a freelancer). But I know how deeply important it is to stop, renew, recharge, do one thing at a time, just stare at a hummingbird, watch clouds, listen to the sounds of nature, have an impromptu 3-hour lunch with a friend with the phone away and not worrying about how many emails I should be reading. So, thanks for this post. I’ll join you in the call to set aside multitasking more often. 🙂


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