I now skilfully pee, clean my teeth and read the paper, all at the same time

Multi-tasking should carry a health warning. This obsession with efficiency, so crucial to industrialists and entrepreneurs alike, has turned me into a tyrant. I first discovered multi-tasking in the features pages of glossy magazines.

"It changed my life," said a housewife from Idaho.

"I'll never stop it," said a businesswoman from Inverness.

As a new mum, I was willing to try anything that would buy me half an hour's peace. When my daughter started bawling, I would pick her up, dandle her loosely on my lap, and start reading her the article I was writing. This cleverly combined being a stay-at-home mum and meeting deadlines. She now knows all there is to know about class consciousness in this country, the wrongness of retaliation against Afghan civilians, and racism in Britain.

It seemed a perfect way of combining domesticity with professionalism. Soon, the amount of duties I could complete simultaneously became a personal competition. Sitting on the toilet one morning, I spotted my toothbrush and - Eureka! - grabbed the handle from my seated position, squeezed the tube of toothpaste on to the brush, and began to clean my teeth. "Just think," I sighed to myself, "there are people out there who still stand over the sink to brush their teeth, wasting all these precious seconds." By the end of the week, I was skilfully peeing, cleaning my teeth and reading a newspaper, all at the same time.

I go to the shops on my bike. I'm not being eco-friendly - the trip is an opportunity to both exercise and walk the dog. Poor old Taz. She runs miles alongside the bike every day. She's so harassed by cries of "Get a move on, dog!" that she multi-tasks by peeing at a jog and sniffing lamp-posts at the same time.

Now, a year on, strangers are paying the price for my personal-efficiency drive. The builders, monkeying around on the scaffolding outside my windows, are the latest casualty. They used to work with a merry, bawdy good humour. We had cups of tea together each morning, and we'd exchange pleasantries. Then came deadline day. Outside my office window, just above my computer screen, hovered a pair of shorts and two chunky, hairy thighs. "What does that bird you've been knocking off call your penis?" asked Fat Bob at full volume. There was a muffled reply and raucous laughter. I snapped the blinds shut.

"Deadline, deadline, right." I rummaged around for notes as more chuckles flooded through the open window. Stomp, stomp, stomp. Size 11 boots clumped inches from my knitted brows. A heated debate on Arsenal's chances this season followed, and then it was back to Darren's dangly bits.

I leapt up, hurled my notes into the air and screeched insanely: "Oh for fuck's saaaaaake!" A stunned silence followed, which I was too furious to appreciate. I was unable to combine being pleasant with being at work. My husband found me some time later standing in the middle of my living room, arms thrown wide, my face a mad rictus of fury. He backed out of the room and didn't come home again until much, much later. Now the builders try to tiptoe (unsuccessfully) past my window. This makes me really crazy, because there is nothing worse than sneaky-sounding creaks.

I guess we must accept that there are activities that should never be combined. Working from home may seem a brilliant idea, but you fail to be successful at any single task. You are not a full-time mother, but nor are you a full-time journalist or partner. Friends of mine who are into multi-tasking provide further cautionary tales. Tom likes to bring his social life to work. He snorts cocaine before, during and after every business meeting, and calls it a performance-enhancing drug as if he were an athlete struggling bravely for a medal. Tammie smokes spliffs in traffic jams on the M25 to calm her nerves. Efficiency drives, I've got to tell you, may well be ruining as many lives as they save.

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2001 issue of the New Statesman, What would you do?