Multi-tasking – is daydreaming while doing chores a problem?

The biggest way my daydreaming holds me back in life is the amount of time it steals. All the time I spend daydreaming is time I’m not being productive. And when I realised that, I got creative. I swapped pacing for chores.

I don’t remember exactly how I did it, but I learned to daydream while washing up, while folding laundry, while getting dressed. Instead of having to go outside and pace, I could daydream while doing things I had to do anyway. That felt more productive. So I told myself that that sort of daydreaming wasn’t a problem. But is it? Is it OK for us to daydream while doing chores?

As with everything, there are pros and cons. I hate doing chores. For the most part they don’t provide me with enough mental stimulation, so I get bored and lose focus. If I have something to keep my mind occupied, it’s a lot easier to start the chores in the first place. I told myself that daydreaming was as good a way as any to occupy my mind. But recently, I’ve been asking myself whether that’s really true.

The problem with multi-tasking

One problem is that not all chores are created equal. Some are more compatible with daydreaming than others. For example, I can do the dishes or clean the kitchen while daydreaming, but I can’t declutter my cupboards. Decluttering involves constant decision-making – do I need to keep this? Where should I put that? And I can’t make those decisions while daydreaming. So I clean instead. I pick the chores that can be done while daydreaming and ignore the ones that can’t. It’s better than ignoring all of them, but it still means a lot of important things don’t get done.

Another thing that happens is I find non-essential tasks to do, just to prolong my daydreaming time. For example, yesterday I was daydreaming while getting dressed. But when I’d finished getting dressed, I was deep in a juicy part of the plot and I didn’t want to stop. So I folded a set of laundry just so I could continue the daydream. Yes, the laundry needed folding, but what I should have been doing in that moment was working on my book proposal. The laundry could have waited. My daydreaming led me to prioritise something less important over something more important.

The final problem with daydreaming while doing chores is that the chores take longer. It’s taken me a long time to admit that to myself, but I do slow down when I’m daydreaming. I pause. I forget what I’m doing. They’re only little pauses, and it’s not hard to get back to the task at hand, but those little pauses add up. It probably takes me 50% longer to complete any given task if I’m daydreaming while doing it.

What can I do about it?

So, for the next week I’m going to try an experiment. I’m not going to daydream while doing chores, and I’ll see if I get more done. But I’ll need something to occupy my mind. So I’ve compiled a list of things I can use instead of daydreaming:

  • Mindfulness. Present-moment awareness can be very grounding and is a great way to bring your attention back to reality when you realise you’ve drifted off into a daydream. But it’s also mentally exhausting and gets boring after a few minutes. I’ll use it to quickly bring myself back to the present, but it’s not a replacement for a longer daydreaming session.
  • Talking to someone. One of the rules I use to control my daydreaming is that I never daydream when I’m in the same room as another person. I also don’t daydream when I’m on the phone. So having a real-life conversation, whether in person or on the phone, is a great way to stop me daydreaming.
  • Listening to podcasts. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a huge fan of the Mel Robbins podcast. Two doses of inspiration every week, usually about an hour each – that gives me a lot of time to get some chores done.
  • Connected daydreaming. If there’s no-one around to talk to and I don’t have time for a podcast episode, I can use connected daydreaming. I can talk to one of my characters about my real life. This isn’t cheating. Connected daydreaming is grounding in a way that paracosm daydreaming isn’t. It holds me in the present moment rather than encouraging me to dissociate from it. Connected daydreaming serves the same function for me that mind-wandering does for non-daydreamers. It helps me reflect on my life and plan for the future.

If you’re like me and you tend to daydream while doing chores, maybe try not to for a few days and see what happens? If you don’t feel you’re any more productive, you can go back to daydreaming without feeling guilty, knowing that, in this context at least, daydreaming is a harmless way to keep your mind occupied while doing something you have to do anyway. But you might surprise yourself and discover that your daydreaming is slowing you down more than you realise. Let me know how you get on.

[Image by HeungSoon from Pixabay]