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Tired Of Multi-Tasking? Why Not Give Life-Guarding A Try?

What do you miss when you multi-task? Maybe it's time to try life-guarding.

Carrie Knowles
Source: Carrie Knowles

I get up three times a week and push myself to do an hour workout at the local pool. It’s a deepwater exercise class. My theory, and it’s a good one, is that you can’t really hurt yourself in the water: i.e., you can’t sprain an ankle or a knee, chip a tooth, or skin an elbow while “running” around in the deep water.

This morning, in the middle of the class, I happened to look up and notice the lifeguard. He was just sitting there, elbows on his knees, intently watching us as we stretched, kicked, and paddled our way from one side of the pool to the other.

This is what he always does, but what struck me this morning was that he wasn’t doing anything else. He wasn’t multi-tasking. He wasn’t reading a book, talking on the phone, checking his text messages, looking at his calendar to see if he could meet with someone in the afternoon, paying a bill or answering a question. He wasn’t doing anything but his job: watching us, making sure we were safe.

He was, in the truest sense of the word, life-guarding.

Funny what you can miss when you are constantly working in overdrive mode, doing what you always do, not stopping to think about what is going on right in front of you.

Although in the five years I have been doing water aerobics, there has never been a situation where the lifeguard needed to jump from their tower to rescue one of us, I was grateful he was there this morning. Instead of rescuing me from drowning, he saved me, for that moment, from thinking about anything but exercising and getting stronger.


Imagine how different we would feel if we spent the day life-guarding rather than multi-tasking.

Not so quick…and not so easy, you say. Multi-tasking seems to be what’s expected of us as employees, parents, or just modern-day people. It is not enough anymore to do one thing at a time and do it well.

In the demanding get-it-all-done-and-dinner-on-the-table world we live in, our attention is rarely focused. It is always being stretched and tugged upon.

But, does it have to be?

What if we resisted the temptation to do it all and just stopped multi-tasking? Cold turkey. No excuses.

What if we turned off our cell phones, pushed away from our computers, and quelled those screeching voices in our heads shouting shoulds and coulds every minute we attempt to slow down? What if we pretended that the most important thing for us to be doing at any given moment is just one thing? It wouldn’t matter if the thing we were concentrating on at the moment was swimming laps, meeting a deadline at work, trying to explain fractions to one of our children, fixing dinner, or having a cup of coffee with a friend.

It wouldn’t matter what task was at hand. What would matter would be that all, yes, all of our attention would be on that one thing and nothing else.

When our children were still at home and I was juggling being a writer/wife/mother and trying to get dinner on the table, I got caught and called out for not being truly present. The kids were right. While I was stirring the soup and answering homework questions, I was thinking about a paragraph that needed to be rewritten before I submitted the piece to the editor.

I was not present.

I was physically there but thinking about something other than the task at hand.

In a nutshell, that’s what multi-tasking does: it takes us off the very task that is in front of us. And, the task I was escaping from by thinking about what I thought I needed to do for that article was the task of being with my children.

Truth is, I should not have even been stirring the soup or wondering if I needed to add more salt. I should have pushed aside the assignment I was working on, put the spoon down and paid attention to them. I should have been connected to the moment.

I should have been life-guarding.