The age of hypertasking

The age of hypertasking

Anxiety dawns slowly.

Every morning, I wake with the thought, “Does anybody have a game tonight?” Followed closely by, “(Expletive), did I wash his/her uniform?”

There are bigger things in life to worry about, but this time of year, I have no time for world crises. I haven’t even watched Will and Kate’s nuptials.

It’s the end of the school year. Time for teacher retirements and band concerts, Field Day and Fun Day, class parties, field trips and, yes, fifth-grade promotion ceremonies. Not to mention baseball.

Oh yeah, and my job.

“Scramble” has become our way of life.

In the course of a few hours last Tuesday evening: I finished up a story at work, picked up my kids from school, took my son in for a physical (which we originally showed up for the previous Tuesday until the receptionist informed us we were a week early), dropped him off for a haircut, raced home to get my daughter ready for her baseball game, went back to pick up my son, made the kids their favorite makeshift dinner (quesadillas), hauled everybody to my daughter’s baseball game, did an interview via cell phone in my van (scribbling notes on a random piece of paper because I forgot my notebook), dashed home after the game to update the story, got everybody ready for bed (my husband was working), then stayed up late writing a feature that had technically been due at 5 p.m.

“So what?” you say. “My life is just as hectic.”

That’s my point. This was not an unusual day. And I’m not alone.

Everyone I talk to — especially parents — is crazy-busy.

Multitasking is old news. (If you Google “multitasking moms” you get 1.4 million hits, by the way.) We have all progressed to hypertasking.

No longer do I just make breakfast while checking my children’s homework and throwing in a load of laundry. That’s for rookies.

I also check email and Twitter to see if anything has exploded overnight (literally or figuratively), call a contractor who I pray can replace our gutters for less than $1 million, email the parents at school (yes, I am a room mom) and frantically clean the bathroom in advance of my mom’s visit. All before taking the kids to school. And going to that job-thingy.

My friends are divided into two groups: early risers (up at 5 a.m. to get everything done before the kiddos are up) and night owls (up until 1 a.m. to get everything done after the kiddos go down). And I suspect there are some with clean houses (you know who you are) who never sleep.

What I’ve been finding lately is that I don’t know how to operate when I’m not in crisis mode.

After a frenzied spring, I recently had two weekends in a row with very little scheduled, other than a baseball practice here and there.

Did I use that time productively and, say, paint a room? Or indulge in one of the books that’s been piling up on my nightstand?

No.

I spent a lot of time (a) feeling unsettled because I didn’t have an immediate deadline looming and (b) putting off things I could have finished early but still fretting about them.

I didn’t tackle any of the jobs I keep reserving for that mythical stretch of free time that never seems to come. When it finally did, I frittered it away.

Looking back, I did get some things done. I planted grass seed, pulled weeds, had friends over, made a dent in the laundry, bought my brother a birthday present.

Maybe that’s enough. My goal, like so many others, is to slow down and relax (while, somehow, doing those big projects).

There’s a reason we all flock to Real Simple magazine or the best-selling book “Getting Things Done.” We are overwhelmed, strung out, tired.

A friend of mine said recently she is striving for simplicity by paring down her family’s schedule and trying to focus on the things they feel are important.

Easy to say, so hard to do.

So I’m asking, you busy moms and dads: How do you do it? How do you stay organized, achieve balance, keep your head from exploding? Dry-erase boards? Google calendar? Lots of wine?

I have some strategies:

  • Divide up the job: I never finish anything in one sitting anymore. I have learned to be satisfied with incremental progress. Eventually it gets done.
  • Keep the laundry moving: It’s never-ending and will eat you alive if you don’t do at least a load a day.
  • Seize the moment: Gone are the days I dither over purchases. I’m there, it fits, it’s reasonably priced. Sold.
  • Take pleasure in small accomplishments: Watching my new grass grow, recycling a pile of papers, getting my flowerpots out for the season.

And what helps me is the walk to and from school every morning. It forces me to breathe the outdoor air, talk to my kids with no distractions, feel the sunshine, smell the lilacs, hear the sound of kids squealing on the playground. And enjoy the camaraderie of other parents who are in the same boat.

On the walk back home, I am almost relaxed.

Then it’s time for — what’s that called again? — my real job.

_________________

Give us your advice, parents! What are your tips for staying sane? Leave a comment below!

Reporter Julie Wurth writes and blogs about family issues, social services and the University of Illinois for The News-Gazette. Her column, "Are We There Yet?" appears in the News-Gazette every other Tuesday. You can leave a comment below or contact her at jwurth@news-gazette.com or follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jawurth

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Ted Wolf wrote on May 24, 2011 at 12:05 pm

This is a very accurate description of modern life. Even work for me has been do a little here and a little there and hope that I get done what I need to get done by deadline. In our house it's a real team effort. Of course we're matriculating out of the frenzy with only one child left at home and she'll be a senior this fall. In retrospect, I wish I could have savored each individual moment more because the memories that I'm left with are as jumbled as the events themselves.

Julie Wurth wrote on May 24, 2011 at 12:05 pm
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Ted, I think that's true for all of us. That's why I take so many photos! I want to be able to go back and remember.

Mary Schenk wrote on May 24, 2011 at 3:05 pm

Amen to all of this. I had to let my subscription to Real Simple lapse. I didn't have time to read it. Of course, I never skip the newspaper.

Jodi Heckel wrote on May 24, 2011 at 3:05 pm
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I feel just as busy and frazzled, but don't seem to get nearly as much done as you do! A load of laundry a day? No, I wait until there aren't any clean socks or underwear left ...

Julie Wurth wrote on May 25, 2011 at 9:05 am
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Well, there's always a backlog at our house, so I can't say I keep up, either. I feel like imposing a laundry catch-up day. For one whole day everybody has to wear the same clothes they did the day before. Of course, we couldn't go anywhere with other people around.