A Mother’s Day Surprise 

When my son was in second grade, he brought home this Mother’s Day acrostic poem:

As honored as I was by this owsome” tribute, I was gutted by the appearance of multitasking —phonetically rendered in 8‑year-old print. Of all the superlatives Henry could have listed (and that he thought I’d be pleased to hear about myself), this was a top adjective! It isn’t exactly a warm and fuzzy attribute. If you had to choose whether your child saw you as a generous shoulder to cry on or a boss at getting stuff done, which would you choose?

This little piece of artwork functioned as a spiritual red flag for me. I had inadvertently passed on to Henry the idea that efficiency is a virtue and that multitasking is a healthy way to manage work … and maybe people. 

Now I’m not saying multitasking is something to be ashamed of. There’s great value in being able to attend to several things at once when the situation demands it. But multitasking as a habit can be problematic. It can become a source of pride or a block to love. 

I’ve always been a little too fond of multitasking. It makes me feel like I’m beating the clock and piling up accomplishments. Checking off tasks is so satisfying that I’ll sometimes make my to-do list with a few items I’ve already accomplished, just so that I can go ahead and tick those boxes. But I’ve come to recognize that this task-oriented mindset can be crushing to those around me. When I’m in that mode I don’t give people the attention they need. 

A small step I can take toward nurturing inward simplicity and outward love for others is singletasking” — choosing to do just one thing, and to do it with my whole attention. Multitasking is often my subconscious strategy for squeezing in more than I’ve actually been asked to do. It’s my attempt to do God’s will and have mine too. The discipline of simplicity confronts this inward attempt to serve two masters. So, for me, singletasking is a powerful discipline that puts my own kingdom in check. If God prompts me to multitask, then I should do it. But if it is my own strategy for squeezing in more than the Lord wants me to do, then it isn’t helpful. Jesus’ words can be my checkpoint: few things are needed — or indeed only one” (Luke 10:41).

Usually fewer things are needed than we think. 

Even if you have a real complicated situation on your hands that can’t be singletasked,” there are still things you can drop. Let’s say you’re getting one kid ready for school while the other one is sick and you have a work meeting starting in 48 minutes. This is a high pressure situation with a lot going on. Of course you can’t choose one kid or the other. You probably still need to get to work, too. But is there anything you’re still hoping to accomplish for accomplishment’s sake that you could relinquish? Maybe this isn’t the day to make the PTA meeting and your book club. Situations like these aren’t cut and dried. Each one is unique and requires discernment about what to hold onto and what to let go. But we can prayerfully consider the question: 

What is actually needed at this moment? Are any of the tasks I’m still holding onto unnecessary?” 

Much of what I feel like I have to accomplish isn’t truly required. It’s only on the list because I decided to put it there, or maybe someone else is expecting me to do it. But when I choose to pare that list down to just a few things, or indeed, only one, it is a life-giving, love-enhancing movement. 

A few small steps I’m experimenting with:

  • Edit the to-do list before I plunge in. I use a little planning app on my computer where I type out the day’s tasks. I can put chunks of time alongside each task and discern whether my expectations for what I will accomplish today are realistic. If they aren’t, I need to ruthlessly scratch things off of the list for the sake of doing my job well and giving the people around me the attention they deserve. 
  • Clear the deck for immersive work. I work from home, so I can control a fair amount of my work environment. But the downside is that housework is always staring me in the face. So it has become an important discipline to honor important jobs by setting other things aside and clearing a mental, even physical space to do this one thing well. For me this often involves printing off the editorial project of the day and walking somewhere outdoors where I can work peacefully. On the walk there, I pay attention to God — either headphones-free, or with a carefully selected podcast or meditation to listen to. When I get to my spot, the change of scenery and absence of laptop carves out a space where I can pour my heart into this particular task with joy and focus. 
  • The Slams laptop shut” principle (An internet meme for the end of the work day). I tend to keep working on and off throughout the evening if I leave my laptop open. But if I shut it, I’m less likely to return to it and more likely to put on tennis shoes, go run around the yard with the kids, enjoy making dinner, and read before bed. 

Helping Kids Singletask

I have to admit that mostly I’ve tried to teach my children how to multitask rather than how not to. 

Talk to me while you’re putting the shoes on.” 

Finish that homework on the ride to school because we’ve got to go!”

But there are small ways we’re slowing down and resisting the pseudo-virtue of efficiency:

  • Make eye contact. Gently and gradually we are working toward the goal of making conversation with better attention. I might tell the kids to hold the ball for a second while we talk about that. Or put the toy down, or get up off the floor so you can see my face. I can get down on their level, and ask that they engage with me face to face. These skills for human interactions will translate well into a child’s life with God. To turn toward” God we might want to do something with our bodies that will help us focus.
  • Limit or ditch personal, handheld devices. Something beeping or buzzing or updating in a child’s periphery is an attention-dividing presence. It doesn’t have to be there. This is one of the easiest ways to nurture a child’s ability to enjoy immersive work and deep connections with people. 
  • Sit down for family dinner. Our purpose at dinner is to eat together and to talk together. Other things can pause while we have dinner — TV, games, homework, digital communication. That stage between a high chair and about 2nd grade can be excruciating as children tend to pop out of their seats 100 times per meal. But hang in there! Before we had kids we lived in a house that didn’t have a kitchen table. William and I got into a habit of eating on the sofa while we caught an episode of something. When Charlotte was a baby we realized that wasn’t how we wanted dinner to be in our family. So we made the switch to eating at the dining room table. We’ve kept that up for the past 13 years now, with rare movie-night exceptions. It isn’t any major victory to singletask mealtimes, but I know that if we didn’t make the effort it would be just one more part of our day where we’d be trying to do 3 things at once, and we would be less connected with each other because of it. 


Lord, help me to keep You at the very center of my life. When my desire to accomplish exceeds my desire to love, call me back to Your good way. Remind me that few things are needed” — fewer than I often think. Guide us and the children in our care to the little ways we can step into the freedom of simplicity. Amen

Essay copyright © 2023 Grace Pate Pouch.

Image: Casorati, Felice (18831963) 1912 Girl on a Red Carpet

Text First Published December 2023 · Last Featured on Renovare.org December 2023