They say you should be careful what you pray for.
A few of you know that I’ve been searching for a paying job for the last few months, in amongst the steady stream of visitors and birthday parties we’ve had.
Continuing the thread on switching off from a virtual life so I can tune in to the real one…
Yesterday, I touched on the fact that human beings are actually lousier at multi-tasking than we think.
When I was writing “The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help – or Hurt – How You Lead,” I asked for examples of body language that sent negative messages. Here’s an email I received from an office worker in an insurance company: My boss drives us crazy with her mixed messages. She says things like, “You are always welcome in my office” and “You are all an important part of the team.” At the same time, her nonverbal communication is constantly showing how unimportant we are to her. She never makes eye contact, will shuffle papers when others talk, writes email while we answer her questions and generally does not give her full attention. In fact, we don’t even rate her half attention! Then she wonders why her staff doesn’t seek her out.
What you call multitasking is really task-switching, says Guy Winch, PhD, author of Emotional First Aid: Practical Strategies for Treating Failure, Rejection, Guilt and Other Everyday Psychological Injuries. “When it comes to attention and productivity, our brains have a finite amount,” he says.
Contrary to popular belief, multitasking doesn’t save time. In fact, it will probably take you longer to finish two projects when you’re jumping back and forth than it would to finish each one separately… “What tends to save the most time is to do things in batches,” says Winch. “Pay your bills all at once, then send your emails all at once. Each task requires a specific mindset, and once you get in a groove you should stay there and finish.”
Experts estimate that switching between tasks can cause a 40% loss in productivity. It can also cause you to introduce errors into whatever you’re working on, especially if one or more of your activities involves a lot of critical thinking.
At the last World Economic Forum, Yahoo! (YHOO) CEO Marissa Mayer shared that she checks her smartphone more than 150 times a day. It was a proud admission that feeds the myth that multitasking is the new modus operandi for smart, connected leaders. In fact, research has shown we work better when we concentrate on one thing at a time.
The myth persists, however, that multitasking is the best way to work. Peruse any job website and you’ll find literally thousands of descriptions making it clear that those who can’t handle “multitasking” need not apply.
Actually, that Forbes anecdote hits me the hardest, because it’s the mirror to my face. How many times have I tried to “spend time with Arddun” while doing the housework? How many co-painting projects have been secretly supplanted by a quick flick through Facebook? I went to visit my colleagues at my old corporate stomping ground a couple months ago, and another part-timer and I commiserated about how We Are THAT Mother. The one checking her work emails on her phone while her daughter is yelling, “Look at me, Mummy!” as she tries out the same toddler stunt for the 276th time — climbing UP the slide.
(On a side point, why is it that we feel like we’re “getting the day off work” when we’re home parenting our children? It’s the only reason I was driven to check in on my corporate projects while with Arddun. The truth of the matter was that my days home with Arddun were also my “work” days. I have a duty to be fully present at ALL my workplaces… even if the workplace also happens to be home and I’m teaching my daughter how to spell her name with toothpicks.)
Of course, being present – which I personally define as giving my All in the moment – isn’t just about stepping away from the gadgets. The bigger narration is about the lack of focus and discipline – especially when the unexpected crops up. “Firefighting”, we sagely called it when I was a pencil-skirted, killer-heeled corporate mover with a much smaller waistline. Yet I’m finding more and more that the principles of effective time management in the office need to be applied in my home life just as diligently, if I want to bring back focus and discipline in my home life.
So here’s what I’ve been trying out.
Exhausting? Not really. I’ve gotten this process down to half an hour and it’s well worth it. I don’t get to do it every day – there are some days I struggle out of bed, or rush off to an appointment. But I have noticed that when I don’t plan my days well, I default to non-essential but urgent tasks. Those are the days when Tony comes home from work and when he asks what we’ve been up to, I frankly can’t remember what I’ve accomplished.
Micro-managing my daily schedule also has the added bonus of forcing me to do one thing at a time. Okay, maybe TWO things at a time. Which is the limit of what we beautiful, pitiful human beings can handle anyway, according to the French.
I missed the whole of last week, which only sharpens my appreciation of those who successfully set aside the time to blog regularly amidst their own crazy schedules. And so today, I present to you a bit of a bumper crop of gratitudes. And hopefully I get to finish this post in time, too!
For the last six months, I’ve been working part-time for The Gideons in Australia . Twice a week (and a few nights in between), I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to work alongside a bunch of professional, conscientious, servant-oriented, fun, gracious, genuine Christians from all walks of church life. As with any job in the third sector, the people are largely there because they want to be there, and they believe in the cause. It has taught me a lot about the ministry and the Lord’s work outside of my immediate church family, and the breadth of their vision based on strong convictions and sound doctrine has been a humbling thing to uncover.
My last week with The Gideons ended on Friday, and it involved late nights every day of the week leading up to my finish – which explains the quiet on the blogging front. I’m glad to say that I got to give a satisfactory handover, even though frustrating external circumstances meant that I could not finish the second phase of the project within my time with them, as I had hoped. But I dare say we will be in touch with one another. It’s been a work environment that truly embraces families, understands and supports the need for flexibility (and this includes providing the technological means to do so), and trusts its workers. Looking back, I could not have orchestrated this better – which only goes to show that God is the ultimate and consummate Project Manager.
I participated in the Global Call to Prayer for Iraq and Syria on 29 September, even though my understanding of politics and chaos in that region is patchy at best. Specifically, I prayed for Christians in that region who seem to be trapped in the middle of a deadlock of extremist ideals, and whose suffering is the quietest because their numbers are few – and dwindling ever more. But their plight is no less dire, their women and children no less traumatised and their spirits torn to shreds as they are systematically raped and tortured, and as they watch their husbands and fathers die cruel deaths. I prayed for them all, but I prayed specifically for the minorities on the 29th. Because they are voiceless and bleeding.
And I cannot tell you how grateful I am to have been born Singaporean. To have emigrated to Australia which, for all its secularism, still collectively singles human life as sacrosanct no matter how diverse our individual views on God may be. It is not because I am smarter, more diligent, more resourceful… my current state in life, in the grand scheme of things, has little to do with my individual accomplishments. I was born into a different world and had privileges bestowed on me. It could have been very different.
If you’re interested in being a part of this, the next prayer is on Sunday 5 October.
For the most part these two weeks, the weather has been fabulous. We try to make the most of the good days outdoors, especially when winds are tolerable. Went to Floriade last Tuesday, and to John Knight park again this afternoon. And a few random on-the-way playground visits in between. Considering I could predict the weather report in Singapore verbatim by the time I was 7 years old, I love that I’m now in a “city” (glorified country town) that has such a wide variance of weather conditions.
The drawback to living in a fairly affluent inland Territory with a small population is the price gouging. Houses here just cost more to build, which is why we ended up driving to Sydney to buy all the lights for the new house. We ended up saving about 25%, excluding the time and fuel it took us to drive there and back. That’s saying something, considering that we’ve chosen to LED everything except one lamp. The 老板娘 (lady boss) also threw in a feature lamp for Arddun’s bedroom, and upon finding out that we are expecting a boy, got a “boy lamp” for Boy Blob’s bedroom. It has a lenticular print of cars racing. Very cute.
Our flying visit to Sydney meant that we crashed at the Whitcombes’ overnight, and they were very gracious in accepting us at late notice. It was just lovely to see their new home, and to wake up in the morning and breakfast with them. Arddun and Abi got along great, and I suspect both girls would have liked more time together. Worshipped with the church at Macquarie before heading over to IKEA at Ryde (of course). Don’t quite know how it happened, but because Arddun had been such a patient and uncomplaining chicky throughout the weekend while we pottered around in a pokey lighting shop until sundown, we left IKEA with a gigantuan plush toy dog as a Thank You. She’s delightfully named him “Wags”. I think we both figured it costs a whole lot less than a real dog AND we don’t need to spend evenings walking it, so why not.
I am getting slower and more tired with each passing day, but that in itself is such a gentle reminder of how well this baby is growing. And he is growing. My obstetrician keeps saying he’s an average size, but I feel a lot bigger this time, and I have the stretch marks to prove it. While Arddun used to give me a series of butterfly kicks in the right ribs, this boy does the butterfly stroke across my entire mid section. He definitely lets me know when he appreciates the food. I feel like I’ve hardly blogged about the poor kid this time ’round, compared to the many posts dedicated to Arddun during my pregnancy with her, but in truth, he makes his presence known every waking hour (and sometimes while I’m asleep still). I am achier and lumpier and older and more wrung out energy-wise this time ’round, but I know I’m really going to miss this when he’s finally born. Exactly two months to go from today! Crazy or what! I’m so glad I have these last two months to spend with Arddun intensively before we become one bigger happy family. I’m so grateful to Tony for working so hard, and that he has a job that allows us to do this.
Oh you crazy household device – where have you been all my life?! Singapore’s not big on steam moppery, and we had been persuaded – early in our marraige – by a chatty man in Godfreys Belconnen to sink Too Much Money into a heavy hoover wet vacuum. But then I read a post on Facebook about someone else’s steam mop purchase. And so I marched into Harvey Norman and got one. And it takes a fraction of the time to mop my floor, and even less water, and… and… I sound like a Stay At Home Mum. Which makes the next item even more of a nail in that coffin.
I have NEVER watched Grey’s Anatomy, but I thought I’d try and lo, I am hooked and watching it after dinner and wanting to rent all 8 seasons AT ONCE. Because nothing salves migraine, strep throat and the sniffles like a medical soap opera.
I’m actually nervous about my maternity leave extension, as much as I’m thankful for it. A large part of me wonders if it’ll hold the same level of joy once everyone goes back to work like responsible corporate mothers, and my handout from the government ala paid parental leave dries up for good. Which is why it’s heartening to know that other friends are planning to do the same, because at least I don’t feel so oddly decadent and like I’m shirking my social responsibility and wasting my corporate juices. Or whatever.
So glad to have Sarah, Bailey and Charlotte for company, going forward. Here’s a photo from our visit today. Looks like there’ll be many more to come.
The tardiness can be explained – we’ve been modemless, and even though I could still get to the interwebs through my iPhone, I really don’t enjoy blogging through a handheld device. So here’s my Thursday’s Three Thank-yous, a day late but better that than never, etc etc.
I love friendships so lasting and genuine that you can pick up from where you left off, despite weeks and months of not talking or seeing each other. I have friendships that stand this test across years and oceans, but today I’d like to focus on Arddun’s Mad Aunt Maree.
Mad Aunt Maree is not actually a blood relation, nor is she actually mental or angry. But she loves me and my child dearly, and we happily return this affection. I haven’t seen Maree in a yonk, so it was lovely to catch up on ANZAC day over a cuppa. Nothing tremendous – we just mooched around the Canberra Centre and looked at pretty things. But I came away feeling refreshed, refilled, and actually heard.
“Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.” — Karl Menninger, American psychiatrist
So on Wednesday night, our wireless ADSL2+ modem-router went kaputz. Quite a bummer really, since the NBN is going to roll out to our suburb soonish (I’ll believe it when I see it), and we’ll need a different kind of modem then. And I don’t know about you, but the internet has become one of our home essentials. There’s water. There’s electricity. There’s natural gas. And there’s the internet.
So on Thursday late afternoon, Tony went and bought a crazy modem that does everything – ADSL2+, VoIP calls, NBN thingies… It even works as an answering machine, where messages get emailed to us so we get to listen remotely. And instead of arriving on Monday like they told us, the courier came bounding up our front steps early this morning and bashed on our screen door like a man possessed, till I answered it with hair disheveled, baby freaked out and crying on my hip, and a half-snarl etched on my face.
Note to self: thank God for overnight courier services, and for the money to buy crazy modems quickly and easily.
Other note to self: get doorbell.
Edit 28 April, 9:55am: Since playing with the modem, Tony’s discovered that the Crazy Modem (yes, capitalised now) also has an alarm, is able to divert calls between certain hours to voicemail, and has an iPhone app where we can apparently turn our mobile phones into landline handsets. Or something. We haven’t figured out the last bit because the instructions are in German. But whoa mama! Things have changed since the last time we looked at modems, eh?
After much soul-searching, I’ve decided to extend my maternity leave for another twelve months. Nothing’s official, but there’s been a conversation with Big Fat Organisation, and I’m doing the paperwork now. And I know how blessed I am to be able to do this. To even have the option. I’m surprisingly nervous, partly because I feel guilty about not going back to earn money, partly because I have crazy imaginings of my corporate muscle atrophying… but mostly because I feel guilty about not feeling guilty enough.
Because this feels deliciously right, staying home with our child to play mommy. This feels like I get to have my cake AND eat it. Isn’t it bizarre? That in our day and age, the option to stay home and take care of house and home should feel like a privilege? I am turning into a 1950s housewife and all the feminists are probably stoning me remotely for reversing decades of bra-burning progress, but I am happier than I’ve ever been in a long time, and it’s scaring me.
I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, and maybe it will eventually. But for now, I’m so thankful, I could kiss the sky.