I am definitely becoming more prone to ranting in my middle age. Take multi-tasking. It is on a bit of a backlash at the moment. Having had a bit of a surge in the past, there have been a few studies and books, etc, of late that show, apparently, that it means you don’t focus on any one thing sufficiently. Well, duh.
Speaking as someone who has singed the dinner on many, many occasions due to answering a last-minute email or breaking up a sibling war, it is a given that you may lose a slight sense of focus if doing too many things at the same time. But what if you have to? What if you just want to sit down for five minutes at the end of the day and combining tasks [I call it the splurge] is the only way to get to that point? Yes, of course, you can cut down the tasks and prioritise, etc, but what if every task is essential eg cooking, splitting up a sibling fight, doing a Skype call that can only be done at 6.30pm because the other person is on a different time zone and only has a short window of possibility…
What if keeping up with emails is the only way to stop being deluged and drowning and you had to catch up on the emails because you took an hour out earlier to pick up a sick kid or drop them at a GCSE or whatever? These are the swings and roundabouts. And yes, delegation to a partner, if you have one, is obviously a good thing. Perhaps I have too many children and too much work so multi-tasking has become the norm for me, but I think sometimes the people who write this stuff about multi-tasking are not actually aware of any of the trade-offs that go on every single hour of every single day.
Take the ‘mental load’ – a phrase that puts my teeth on edge in exactly the same way that ‘mumpreneur’ does. What is the mental load? Apparently, for some, it is housework, picking up socks and knickers and the like, pushing the button on the washing machine, washing the plates. I am not a fan of housework and attempt to do as little as humanly possible, but I do not consider it to be a ‘mental’ load of any kind.
The stuff that occupies brain space is not washing the plates, although in our house the sink seems to magically refill as soon as you turn your back and clearly it takes up time and there is an argument about who does most of it. What occupies brain space is forward planning [I’m talking about the next hours, not the next years] and logistics – how am I going to get to two distant locations when I only have 23 minutes to do it and there are multiple roadblocks in the way; how am I going to get the packed lunch together when all the bread has gone and I have zero time to get to the shops plus only 4p in my purse; who needs what costume for what special day and will the sheet that I used for Victorian Day work for Tudor Day, etc, etc.
It is also thinking about other people’s needs – talking through anxieties with kids, seeking support, talking through homework problems, talking through friendship issues, inviting friends around, just generally making sure everyone is as happy as humanly possible even though it is an impossible feat to get every child at the same level of happiness at any one point in time.
Housework is only a mental load if you’ve never really thought about it before. The one bit I remember from Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In book is the beginning where she is forced to park a long way from the office and waddle in, heavily pregnant, because no one has thought of what this might feel like as they have never had to. The same thought comes to mind with regard to lack of sanitary bins at work – some research out last week showed this was a problem in some workplaces. It’s probably not a deliberate policy, but it is one that makes certain people feel excluded, as not quite properly accepted in the workplace.
Only by including people, talking to them and, more importantly, listening to them, can you understand what it is you don’t actually know. That applies across the board, but certain voices have not been heard sufficiently and that affects everything in the workplace [and, of course, beyond], from research studies to sanitary bin policies. Of course, it also applies in reverse.