Why some successful parents say you can't "have it all"

In a recent Entrepreneur Article, entitled "You Can't Devote Yourself to Your Business and Children at the Same Time," real estate notable Barbara Corcoran told readers that women in both business and motherhood cannot have it all. And she is correct. You can't do two things at once. The notion of multitasking actually, does not exist. Yet, we believe based on our building community, more is possible if we take steps of focus our attention to a single task at a time.

Excerpt from the article:

"Corcoran said on Tuesday that while you can have it all, she believes you can’t have it all at once. More specifically, Corcoran -- who had her first child when she was in her mid-40s -- firmly believes that if she’d become a mother at a younger age, she could never have grown the Corcoran Group into a 1,000-plus person firm.

"When she had her son about 22 years ago, that all changed. For one, her schedule was less rigid -- instead of 7:30 a.m., she’d get to work around 9:30 after dropping him off at daycare. But more important, her focus was divided. “Once I had a sibling rivalry playing out in my heart, I felt I could never succeed as well again,” she said."

"She realized it was time to sell the company when her star salesperson marched into her office and accused her of caring more about her son than her employees. “She was right. I realized I couldn’t be spread one arm here and one leg here ... you can’t do that as a mom.”

While Corcoran saw parenthood and executive life as an impossible combination, what can be brought to light from her message is that attention cannot be divided to produce clear focus, in other words, multitasking. Multitasking is a common term broadly (and mistakenly) associated with any life situation whether it linked to work or home life. If we look at it through a cognitive lens, multitasking as we know it only means the whipping of attention back and forth at a fast rate.

The idea of multitasking doesn't make us more efficient, and it costs us time (Rubenstein, Meyer & Evans, 2001).  In other words, most of us operate on task ineffectually, by saying "I want to do this now instead of that," when the "that" can be the most difficult or challenging task we are putting off. By replacing it with another task or flip-flopping between multiple tasks we are tricking our brains into thinking, we are "working," when we are just exhausting our mental efforts and wasting time.

While we agree that multitasking is bad, we think that if one is disciplined about how he or she spends time between work and life, he or she CAN have it all at once (contrary to what Barbara says)…maybe not all at the same minute, but definitely within the same year, month, week, and even day. In other words, the tradeoff between career and life doesn’t have to be in chunks of multiple years, but can be hours within a day. That is what we mean by work-life integration, and it requires a tremendous amount of mental discipline and focus.

We think that it’s important to rethink multitasking by seeing multiple tasks as a single point of focus, and here are few recommendations to help:

Categorize your to-do list. By creating separate lists for work and home tasks, you can organize your responsibilities into clear areas. It's hard to quantify the importance of a weekly conference call to joining your child in art class. Ranking each two separate lists will priority the categories, not those you care. By having lists in general, you can reward yourself mentally by seeing your accomplishments and reduce your likelihood in forgetting items.

Limit distractions. Social media, returning emails, watching television, etc. while seeking to accomplish other tasks like paying attention to your kids or your colleague on a call only limits your attention to the task at hand. You aren't doing yourself any favors by doing two things simultaneously, because as researchers note, that process is impossible.

Capitalize on small increments of time. Any working person with lots to do can take advantage of 5 minutes. When spare moments materialize, use the time to accomplish a task. When you "only got five minutes," sometimes you can surprise yourself with how much you can get done. On the flip side, when you are time limited, say to yourself, "I will work on this task for "just five minutes." Mentally, you will feel better carving out a few moments to focus.

Clean up at the end of the day. Reduce clutter in your brain by reducing the clutter around you. Cleaning your workspace gives you a clear slate each morning to start your day so you can focus on one task at a time. Single attention focus will make you a more efficient worker and a better attentive parent.

Sources:Rubinstein, J. S., Meyer, D. E., & Evans, J. E. (2001). Executive control of cognitive processes in task switching. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 27(4), 763.