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Multi-tasking this holiday season without losing your mind

By Sara Martel

As I negotiate the piles of cardboard boxes overstuffed with Christmas decorations tucked away in a corner of my basement, a feeling of déjà vu and of that familiar stress that accompanies this time of year sweeps over me. Didn’t I just take these Christmas decorations down a few weeks ago? Oh how time flies.

Another calendar year has come and gone and ‘tis the season to be jolly. And ‘tis the season to be cooking , baking, entertaining, finding the perfect gift and the perfect little black dress, sending out Christmas cards, attending office gatherings and cocktail parties, decorating our homes with the latest Martha Stewart trends, and how can I forget all the other responsibilities that come with being a mother and wife and entrepreneur. Just when we believe we can handle the craziness of the holidays as a proud member of the gender that has seemingly mastered the art of multi-tasking, we are told by the latest research that multi-tasking is a myth. What? You mean there is a reason why I feel like I live in a constant state of organized chaos?

Researchers say multi-Tasking is like a mental traffic jam — and they have the data to prove it. They say that for the most part, humans simply can’t focus on more than one thing at a time. What we can do is shift our focus from one thing to the next with astonishing speed. And when switching from task to task, you think you’re actually paying attention to everything around you at the same time. But you’re not. Think about writing an e-mail and talking on the phone at the same time. Those things are nearly impossible to do at the same time. You cannot focus on one while doing the other. That’s because of what’s called interference between the two tasks. They both involve communicating via speech or the written word, and so there’s a lot of conflict between the two of them. Researchers say they can actually see the brain struggling.

Feeling overwhelmed? Throw out the expectation that you can multi-task fifty things at once. And take a deep breath. Here are three effective ways to juggle your to-do list this holiday season and any time of year for that matter.

  • Get all of your to do’s in one place. Gather them from all the various places you store them (sticky notes, notebooks, your brain, etc) and write them down in one place. Once all your to do’s are in one place, group them into projects. Make sure to only use projects that you’re currently working on right now. Things that you’d like to do someday, but aren’t important at the moment should be filed away in a ‘Someday’ folder.
  • Spend time every Monday morning to organize and prioritize your to do list for the upcoming week. Do this in a quiet place where you can concentrate on what’s really important. Go through each of your “Projects” and tag things that need to be done this week with “This Week”. Tag anything super important with “Important”. When you’re done, you will have a big list of things that need to be done this week. Then select about five of them that are tagged with both “This Week” and “Important” and put them in the “Today” list. Repeat this each day, moving a few items from “This week” to “Today”.
  • These days we live in a technological jungle. We may find ourselves preparing a meal, while checking our blackberries for the latest reply from our potential clients and listening to our kids recount their day all at the same time. E-mail can be a big energy sucker. Don’t check your email until you’ve ticked off at least two important things on your “Today” list. This is vital to making sure you don’t get distracted by what other people deem to be important for you. This will leave you feeling refreshed and empowered. As a wise man once said: “Your inbox is a to-do list that anyone in the world can write to.”
  • Don’t forget to do one task at a time if possible. You will be able to focus more on the task at hand and get it done more effectively and quickly than trying to get three tasks done at once.


On that note, I am signing off, and then pouring myself a cup of java while I decorate the tree. Just leave me a voice mail or drop me an e-mail if you need me. If it’s not urgent I‘ll get back to you in the morning.

Sara is a Healthy Girl coach with the popular on-line community Healthy Girl, she is a Speaker on health and wellness , a freelance writer and blogger on all issues dealing with women over 40 who seek to be inspired. Sara is a mother of two children and happily married for 17 years. She would love to hear your stories of re-invention.

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