The faucet is leaking, toys are strewn on the floor, and the lack of check marks on my to-do list is painfully obvious. I need to head downstairs and start a writing project while the kids nap, but I see a load of clean laundry dumped on the couch. Should I fold that now? Maybe I’ll bring it upstairs. Oh! There’s the estranged sock I’ve been looking for and the pajamas my son needed last night. I stop in my tracks, wrinkled clothes still in hand. What was I going downstairs for again?
My distracted self eventually makes it to the basement office, and there’s a pile of clean sheets dumped on the armchair. Crap. The laundry baskets are upstairs. Maybe I do need to stop and finish the laundry. No wait. I’m supposed to be writing.
I finally sit down at the computer, determined to utilize these few quiet moments when my toddlers sleep to put thoughts on paper. Without even thinking, I pull up Facebook. I just checked Facebook on my phone, right before I almost started folding laundry. Do I hear a baby crying? I forgot to schedule their pediatrician appointment. I’ll have to do that later. Why am I still scrolling through Facebook?
I feel like I live in a constant state of distraction. Many times, the distractions are good things – interesting articles, worthwhile projects, and responsibilities that require immediate attention. But my mind is so scattered in my attempt to do it all that I’ve lost my mental bearings. Distractions become the focus, and those things that deserve my focus are deemed distractions.
Other times, I have an opportunity to intentionally work, spend time with others, or rest – yet distraction remains my modus operandi. If distractions outside of my control are absent, I come up with my own to fill the void. My mind feels like an internal pinball machine, thoughts and ideas bouncing around incessantly. I can only hope they’ll land somewhere worthwhile.
In her book, The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp writes:
In an accelerated, overachieving world, we all take pride in our ability to do two or more things at the same time: working on vacation; using an elegant dinner to hammer out a business deal; reading while we’re groaning on the StairMaster. The irony of multitasking is that it’s exhausting; when you’re doing two or three things simultaneously, you use more energy than the sum of energy required to do each task independently. You’re also cheating yourself because you’re not doing anything excellently. You’re compromising your virtuosity. In the words of T. S. Eliot, you’re “distracted from distractions by distractions.”
In our culture that values usefulness and productivity, it’s easy to believe that if we don’t multitask, everything will fall apart. A friend will be offended we didn't return their text message. Dinner won’t get made. Our looming deadline will go unmet. And we definitely won’t have time for ourselves unless it’s coupled with a task – listening to our favorite podcast while doing the dishes, reading a book while waiting for our kids at school, watching a movie while sending emails.
Many times, maybe even most of the time, we have to multitask, and distractions are inevitable. Multitasking is not necessarily a bad thing. But what would change if we allowed ourselves, just for one day – or even one afternoon – to do, as best we can, one thing at a time? In an age when we’re so prone to multitask and riddled with distraction, have we lost the art of focus?
When we allow ourselves to let go of the burden of multitasking, we prioritize better. We’re forced to acknowledge we can’t do everything, and something needs to give. We recognize we are human, and we have limits – and we even allow others around us see our limitations. We no longer believe we’re invincible or perfect, so when that reality becomes glaringly obvious by 9 a.m., our world is not upended.
I strive to work hard, and I do want to be productive. But I’m learning to focus. I can more fully enjoy playing with my kids when my attention is on them, not the email notifications popping up on my phone. I can get finally get the laundry folded when I don’t let the pile of dirty dishes interrupt me. I can rest with a cup of tea and a book at the end of the night instead of filling the silence with mental clutter.
It doesn’t always work out as I plan. Yet even so, I’m learning to let go of what is good and embrace what is best, and to give myself permission to do a few things well rather than half-heartedly attempting many. And I find that as these lessons sink in, my days are marked not by restlessness and distraction, but by thoughtfulness and intention. There’s a surprising freedom and joy that comes when we let go of “doing it all.”
Whole Wheat Pumpkin-Cranberry Muffins (Egg Free!)
Adapted from The Kitchn
Yields 12 regular-sized muffins
Cooking spray or muffin liners
1 cup white whole wheat flour*
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar
1 1/3 cups pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling!)
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup roasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds), optional
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a muffin tin with cooking spray, or use liners. Set the prepared pan aside.
In a medium bowl, stir together the flours, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder, soda, and salt. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the butter and brown sugar. On medium speed, cream the butter and sugar together, mixing for about 1-2 minutes. Add in the pumpkin puree, applesauce and vanilla extract, mixing after each addition.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, and stir with a wooden spoon or spatula, just until combined (don’t overmix!). Gently fold in the cranberries and pepitas.
Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tin (I like using an ice cream scoop for this). Top with a few additional pepitas if you’d like.
Let the batter rest for about 10 minutes before putting it in the oven. Do not skip this step! (read why.)
Place the muffin tin in the oven and bake for about 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let the muffins cool for a few minutes, and then place them on a wire rack to cool completely.
*Note: ”White” whole wheat flour is still 100% whole wheat – it’s simply one particular type of wheat. It’s milder in flavor and lighter in color than some other whole wheat flours. You can easily find it at many grocery stores (I most recently purchased a bag at Trader Joe’s).