Please Take a Number

I’m a mama of 4, and we home school.  Additionally, my children expect to eat, remain hydrated, and constantly create craft projects of all kinds.  This means that someone is asking me for something approximately 8 billion times a day.  The other day I was having a moment when the constant asking got to be a lot, and I thought to myself,  “I wish these people would take a number.”  And then it hit me – they could take a number. Thanks to the wonder that is Amazon Prime, I was able to find and order one of those paper number dispensers like they have at delis for less than $20, and the please take a number system was born.

I don’t always ask my kids to grab a number, but in those moments when the level of their demands becomes too much, I call out, “It’s number-taking time.”  The kids think this is amazing and funny, and plays into all the little one’s best “playing store” desires.  When we’re on “Take a number” system time, the rules are as follows:

  1.  One number per person. You can get a new number when your original request has been completed.
  2. Unless there is an emergency, numbers are responded to in order.
  3. There is one request allowed per number.
  4. Requests which take a significant amount of time to complete (making banana bread or cutting fringe on a giant piece of fleece are recent examples) will be scheduled in my calendar during your number, but will not be completed at that time.
  5. Interrupting me to ask what I am doing or when I am going to do your task only slows the process. I will gently remind you of this.

That’s it. And let me tell you, it is amazing. A range of research on multitasking, defined as completing two tasks at once or rapidly moving between tasks, over the last 30 years has found the same thing: it dramatically reduces productivity, despite people feeling more productive when juggling multiple demands at once. This is terrible news for anyone with children, who also want to do all the things required to live, run a household, and pay the bills. 

Anything we can do to reduce our amount of multitasking will likely help make us calmer and more productive in the long run. While some multitasking is no doubt unavoidable, especially with children in the mix, the “please take a number” system has allowed me to focus on one thing at a time in a different way. I can give a child my full attention to read a story, for example, and the other kids know that they will be getting a turn for their project as well. I can better keep track of what I am doing and what I am supposed to be doing next. I don’t forget about the kid who asked me politely once, and then let it go because the other kids were more insistent. 

I feel calmer and more focused on the thing in front of me when I know that there’s a system in place to keep track of what is next. What do YOU do to stay organized???


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