Multitasking or Context Switching?

As women, we have an innate ability to multitask INCREDIBLY well.  Probably too well. Multitasking is what keeps me from drowning. I had a conversation with my husband recently about this and he informed me that he was the KING of multitasking.  My initial reaction was to stifle a laugh. I thought, “He knows NOTHING about multitasking.”

Our conversation churned in my mind for several days and I finally came to the conclusion that he was right… he IS a great multitasker.  I have seen what he juggles in his job and it is nuts. I also realized that what I am good at (and what every working mom I know is good at), is hat switching (otherwise known as context switching).  Multitasking and hat switching are NOT the same thing.

Here is a recent example of a 3 hour window of my day with extreme hat switching:

Hat = myBeeHyve: I’m at my desk testing software. Phone rings and it is the school calling.

Hat = Parent:  Her teacher is on the other line telling me that for the 3rd time this month, Grace is convinced her spacer has fallen out in her mouth and is SURE she needs to get to the orthodontist immediately.  I get in the car

Hat = Network Marketing CEO:  On the drive to school, I listen to voice messages from my team and return a call.  I pull into school.

Hat = Mom:  In Grace’s classroom, I look in her mouth and yet again…the spacer is just fine. Just a piece a food caught.  Crisis averted. Back to car.

Hat = Network Marketing CEO:  Return 2 more phone calls on drive back home.  Back at desk.

Hat = myBeeHyve:  Return to testing new software release.  20 minutes later the phone rings and I see it is the pediatrician calling back.  We have been playing phone tag for 3 days so I need to answer.

Hat = Parent:  Discuss latest concerns and set up appointment for next week.  Call done.

Hat = myBeeHyve:  Finish testing.  2:30 pm alarm goes off.  Time for school pick up.

Hat = Mom

You get the idea.  Context switching is NOT a good way to operate. I avoid it at all costs…but as a working mom, it is often flat out unavoidable.

Multitasking is different. Multitasking is when you are juggling a lot of tasks with the same hat on.  This is when you have your Mom hat on and are packing lunches while prepping for dinner and giving a spelling test at the same time.  As moms, we do this ALL the time…with one hand tied behind our backs.

My husband’s job requires him to multitask ALL day long.  But…he is wearing the same hat all day long…his “working” hat.  He is right…he IS the king of multitasking. However, I believe that working moms are the QUEENS of hat switching (or context switching).  This is NOT good. It is hard. Constantly switching hats is EXHAUSTING and means that NOTHING is getting done very well.

So, here is what I try to do to avoid this.  At the start of each week, I work hard to try and time block my day.  I reserve large chunks of time on my calendar for each “hat” I wear in an attempt to get fully focused time. For example, this week I have a 1-hour block reserved to make phone calls with my “parent” hat on, I have multiple 3-hour blocks reserved for “myBeeHyve” hat, several 30-minute blocks for “network marketing CEO”, etc.  By setting aside times to tackle certain tasks that require a specific hat, I can get more done.

Obviously, there are days (like the case above) where you just have to deal.  Life happens. Kids happen. Spacers happen. But, if you take the time to plan pockets of time, more often than not, you can keep your sanity a little more.


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