Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Multi-tasking: a Lesson From the Clothes Line

(This is the post I had ready to go when I got the news that my daddy had passed away. Thought I'd  publish it anyway, since my brain is still a bit mushy around the edges. Thankfully the in-laws offered to take care of Thanksgiving. I'd completely spaced the holiday. Family - it's so good.)

One summer, I camped out on a mountainside in a big purple bus. Without running water or electricity. In order to wash clothes I poured water into an old wringer washer with a gravity-fed water tank and then ran the clothes through the motorized wringer. Thank God for the motor and a generator to run it. It took me three hours to wash two loads of clothes. Then another hour to hang the sopping wet, heavy things out.

It was long, hard work. But  as I sat back with my aching muscles and a cup of tea, watching the clothes flap in the wind, an intense feeling of accomplishment would surround me. I haven't  felt the same kind of satisfaction since.

Life in Suburbia can take on the frantic pace of a 500 mile marathon. There's so much to be done and so very little time to do it in. The experts tell us: 'Multi-task! It will fix everything!' Like any woman needs to be told to multi-task. She invented the concept. Heck, she grew six more arms as soon as that first child was born. Problem is, that baby grows up and we never stop trying to do it all. Multi-tasking - humph. It's the bane of every woman's existence.

These days, I'm living the same rushed life that I went to the wilderness to escape. It's so easy to slip into the 'gotta-do-gotta-go lifestyle. Toss a load of clothes in the washer, teach a math lesson, put the bread in the oven, toss the clothes in the dryer, answer an email, teach a grammar lesson, try to fix the computer glitch, remember that the bread is the oven and needs to be checked on, while the clothes are finished and wrinkling in the dryer. I feel productive to begin with; I'm getting so much done. Then things begin to move too fast and it spirals out of my control like so many juggling balls. The clothes are dumped in a chair to be folded 'in a minute', the bread is burnt, and the computer is showing it's more adorable side. And heaven only knows what my son managed to get out that grammar lesson. I'm left frustrated at not being able to keep up. Unfortunately, scenarios like this happen more often than I like. I'm always tryng to squeeze one more thing into the day. And I suspect I'm not the only one.

When I washed clothes on the mountain, any breaks in the process didn't entice me to fill it with one more chore. Those brief respites were time to watch the clouds scud across the sky or admire a wildflower my son just picked. The work was so exhausting; I knew I'd need my strength for the next part.

In suburbia, the work isn't physically demanding. And that's the problem; we are not physically tired, therefore we keep up the pace. But, mentally demanding work deserves the same respite. Time to just sit and allow the mind to wander rather than race is not a luxury. It's a neccessity. We need our strength for the next part.

I've been reading @zenhabits's new book, Focus. So much of what he says mirrors my own lesson from the clothes line. My mind was far more alert when it focused on the one big thing for the day. The work was demanding and hard, but my mind was clear and calm. I was happy. Now a days, all this ping-ponging from one thing to  the other that I keep doing just makes me crabby.

I'll learn not to make bread on a day that I'm washing clothes and teaching. If I'm teaching, then that should be all I'm doing. If I have clothes to wash, I'll have to set aside an hour or so just for them close to the end of the dryer cycle. Hopefully, I'll find those odd moments in a day to just ponder the shape of a cloud.



  1. So sorry to hear about your father. A big loss.

    Mine died twelve years ago.

    Thoughts on focus are really good....

  2. You are wise beyond your years. You need to post this on the home school loop, lots of newbies, and not so newbies, need to hear it.

    Take care and see you on the ice,