The trick to making dinner appear in a reasonable amount of time is in the planning. Rachael Ray makes 30 minute meals work because she puts the water on to boil first, gets her aromatics chopped and into a pan, preps the rest of her veg and her protein and before you know it, it's all done. (It also helps that she has herbs and other things pre-washed and chopped. Oh, and that bevvy of professional cooking staff of food stylists doesn't hurt...) In this way she can make a multi course meal or two in just a half hour. It seems like a cooler trick than it really is. If I put a little thought into it, I can make the components of a dish come together fairly quickly.
I have watched people burn garlic because they were busy chopping onions. I have seen people do entree, side dish and salad in turn, start to finish. I have witnessed the workings of the kitchen grind to a halt, waiting for water to boil, while other tasks pile up behind like rush hour traffic. I have committed some of these offenses, too. Then, several years ago, I made a 14 course tasting menu for Darling Husband for Valentine's Day. I took the afternoon off of work to do it, and had planned each step down to the letter. I wrote each step out, then ordered them to be sure I didn't suddenly turn to cook a protein that should've gotten a spice rub 30 minutes ago. It was challenging but rewarding and taught me a lot about time management in the kitchen and being realistic about my abilities.
Studies have shown that people don't multi task well. We think we do, but in reality we give diminished attention to each task. I believe this, and yet I don't see how you can cook effectively without it. While my meat is searing, I'm cubing potatoes. While my asparagus are roasting and my catfish is marinating, I'm making the stove top stuffing. While my pasta is cooking, I'm tidying up the kitchen and putting away the leftover cabbage.
I love when the different components of a meal are all finished and waiting, the kitchen is tidyed up, the plates are out to serve, and I can just take a deep breath. The last bit is finishing up cooking and there's nothing to do until it does. It's a very calm moment.
My page a day "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff" calender made this observation (paraphrased): our minds are like snow globes. When we rest and do nothing, we allow things to settle down. We are refreshed and ready to shake up the world again, resources renewed. I like the snow globe moments after the flurry of cooking and before the socialness of eating.