From my experience, the most exceptional multitasker is the rural African woman whose daily chores start at dawn and end close to midnight. Among her daily tasks is taking care of her brood of eight plus children, her husband, the sick relatives , the shamba and the animals and chicken in her household. She is so wrapped up with her work that she sometimes forgets to take good care of herself. I would say that everything gets done but at a high cost to her.

She neither has the luxury of a helper in the house or any appliance like an electric kettle or blender to grind the millet or groundnuts. Not even the electricity to light up her house for that matter!

To finish all the countless chores, she has learned to multitask: working on two or more tasks simultaneously or performing a number of tasks in rapid succession. One may argue that though the tasks are many, they are simple so she can wash the plates and cups while carrying her toddler on the back and at the same time stirring the boiling beans on the charcoal stove. She is able to do this because she has been forced to learn to batch similar tasks together. Quickly, she moves from one task to the next. But since she is human too, she knows only too well that for the most difficult task that require attention and focus like grinding millet or preparing posho, she works on it as a single task.I take off my hat to her for working with such dexterity.

When sleeping women wake, mountains move. – African Proverb

Some studies done by psychologists have shown that most of our brains lack the ability to perform multiple complex tasks simultaneously. One study found that only 2.5 % of people are able to multitask effectively. Our brains are not wired to quickly switch from one task to another especially when doing complex tasks like driving through heavy traffic and talking on the phone. This can be dangerous and can cause mistakes. In a congested place like our city, a number of young men and women have fallen into manholes or have been hit by boda-bodas (motorcycle taxis) or reversing vehicles while talking on the phone. When doing simple tasks like walking in less crowded places, it is possible to listen to music using ear phones too. However, it is difficult to do two complex tasks together because multitasking divides our attention and focus resulting in poor performance.

One study done with university students in America showed that college students who tried to multitask took longer to do the assignments and scored low average grades. The more we multitask, the less effective and productive we become.The human brain is wired to focus on one task at a time as it increases effectiveness and productivity. The psychologists recommend spending at least 20 minutes on one complex task before switching to the next. It frees your brain to focus on the next task.Tell that to the African rural woman!

The here and now is all we have, and if we play it right, it’s all we’ll need.’’ – Anne Richards

Some of the daughters of such rural women have been empowered by education and given opportunities like their male counterparts to become Chief Executive Officers, University Professors and politicians. They are now spending more time in their offices, performing more complex tasks like chairing meetings, interviews, webinars. The nature of their jobs has forced them to become monotaskers. Monotasking enables them to focus on one task or project at a time just like the surgeons in an operating room. Monotasking is about time management- making the most of the time you have as you perform a demanding task. It reduces mental errors, unleashes your creativity and relieves you of some stress.

This kind of monotasking is called TIME BLOCK- block off time to focus on your important tasks or project. It is usually done for each week in consideration of your goals, tasks and commitments.

How to make a Time Blocking schedule for the week:

1. Make a list of tasks and commitments for the week in agreement with your goals.

2. Prioritise the list- allow 2-3 priority tasks per day. Priority tasks take the prime slots.

3. Consider your daily tasks like responding to e-mails, return calls, check Social media accounts.

4. Create Time blocks for the routines of the day like morning and evening exercise.

5. Protect your time- resist the urge to give up your priority time for something that can wait. Avoid interruptions during your protected priority project time.

6. Be flexible to accommodate the unexpected like illness.

Effective use of time blocking can help you achieve the following:

  • To take control of your day.
  • To focus your attention.
  • To account for your time.
  • To ward off procrastination.

You can extend the time blocking schedule to cover the next five-ten years of your life at any stage.

You focus on the priorities in your life at that particular age : what gives purpose and meaning to your life in agreement with your values, principles and beliefs. The American Business coach, Michael Hyatt, refers to it as freeing up time to focus 80% of your time on the 20% most important things in your life.

20-30- Professional development

30-45 – years of multiple roles; career, marriage and parenthood. Trying to balance the personal with the professional.

46-59- Midlife crisis- reflecting on the meaning and purpose of your life and making the necessary adjustments.

60+ – Independent and authentic : what you see is what you get.

I am now over 65 years of age and time itself has helped me declutter my life as the demands on me decrease.By the time I was fifty my children had started leaving for university. In seven years, I had become an empty nester. This gave me an opportunity to reconnect with my husband and to nurture my interest in my second career of creative writing. Thankfully, my first career, medicine, feeds into my creativity superbly.

The nurturing instinct in me pushed me to pick one girl from the clinics where I worked and take her on as my daughter. She had lost her mother and her father had remarried leaving her with her maternal aunt. She badly needed to be mothered. Since then, she has thrived; graduating from the University of Botswana with a BSC in Public Health last February!

As time goes by, I continue to declutter my life –removing the unnecessary while concentrating on the most essential like relationships, writing and giving back to the community. I have learned to organise my time efficiently; to create an ideal environment that endows me with a peaceful and enjoyable life. I am now busy focusing on what gives meaning to my life, what I love and enjoy doing. My late father always demanded 110% commitment to what each one of us chose to do, little wonder then that up to now I still give my all to what I engage in.

“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.’’– Amit Ray

“Forever is composed of nows”.- Emily Dickson

My grandmother was a remarkable multitasker and my mother was a terrific one in her time. I have been a multitasker at home but a monotasker at my place of work due to the nature of my work. My daughter is more or less a monotasker at the office and at home. She is blessed with a husband who is a hands-on father to their daughter, who enjoys cooking and barbecuing. She has domestic helpers, multiple appliances like a washing machine, cake mixer, vacuum cleaner, microwave, and a grinder. She can order any food she wants from any restaurant via a courier or engage the services of a catering team if she wants to entertain family and friends at home.

Who knows? In this digital technology era, the Japanese way of using robots to care for the elderly- filling in for missing workers, may find its way into our private homes! Unfortunately, for the rural Ugandan woman, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Undoubtedly, she still performs her litany of domestic chores with amazing dexterity.

QUESTION: Would you describe yourself as a multi or mono tasker?

Published by

Jane Nannono

I am a mother of three, a medical doctor by profession, who has always been fascinated by the written word. I am a published author- my first fiction novel was published in March 2012 and is entitled ' The Last Lifeline'. I self -published my second fiction novel entitled ' And The Lights Came On' . I am currently writing my third fiction novel and intend to launch it soon. I also write short stories: two of them - Buried Alive in the Hot Kalahari Sand, Move Back to Move Forward were published among the 54 short stories in the first Anthology of the Africa Book Club, Volume 1 of December 2014. It is entitled: The Bundle of Joy.

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