Friday, September 30, 2011

The Lost Art of Multi-Tasking

I’ve noticed that it gets harder for me to focus and pay close attention to more than just one thing at a time.

When I was in high school I could be doing homework at the kitchen table while my mom and dad would be discussing their day or some bills or family matters; my brothers would be rough-housing with each other and my sister might be joining in with them or doing her own homework while talking to any one of us.

As always the television would be running in the background like some crazy, demented uncle just babbling to himself, no one really listening. Yet the TV always had to be on, that was a given.

Even with all of this going on around me I had no trouble concentrating on and understanding my homework while still keeping track of all that was going on in case my parents might mention going to the store; in which case I would put in my order for them to “bring me something”.

Then I got married and became a mother. Anyone who has been a parent knows
that you have to have a remarkable ability to multi-task. There is dinner to be prepared, laundry to be done, diapers to be changed, homework to be helped with, stories to be read, baths to be given, tears to be dried, knees to be bandaged, shoes to be tied again and again and again…those never-ending shoes to be tied!!! *sigh* and a husband to pay attention to as well, and the same demented Uncle TV babbling in the corner the whole time. Somehow, miraculously I managed to do all of this and do it well without losing my concentration and bandaging dinner while tying my husband’s shoes instead of the children’s!

Then I went back to school and again had to use my talent for multi-tasking and concentration during those study sessions with my study group when we would meet at the local El Torito and attempt to come up with a presentation while eating chips and salsa and drinking margaritas and listening to Mexican music and Mexican waiters and waitresses, not to mention the customers. But even this was a breeze; I think the margaritas really helped the most!

Then with degree in hand I landed a job managing a large insurance agency. Talk about having to have great concentration and the ability to listen to 100 things at once and keeping everything straight. But I managed to train and assist several agents, balance the books, prepare bank deposits, handle the VIP clients and keep my bored boss happy by pretending I really did care about what he was saying.

But I got tired of the rat race and the long 10 to 12 hour days and decided I would find something easier, 8 to 5, Monday through Friday, and I got the job I have now which is a breeze compared to managing the insurance agency.

I’m noticing though, that my ability to multi-task, to concentrate on more than one thing at a time, is diminishing. Sometimes I’m concentrated on one task and someone will come in and tell me they need or want me to do something and I see them talking, I see their lips moving, I hear words coming out of their mouths and I seem to be able to make the appropriate, “Oh, Uh-huh, I’ll get right on that” responses but then they walk out the door and I’m left wondering, “What the heck did they want? What am I supposed to do? Where am I supposed to go? When am I supposed to be there?”

I also notice that while I used to be able to sit in my living room and read a book while listening to a TV show or sit at my computer and write a blog post while watching TV, I’m unable to do that anymore. If I read and watch tv I can get through the pages but not comprehend what I read, let alone remember what I just read. And blogging with the TV on? Forget about it! I now have to turn the TV off, even muting doesn’t help as I still have great peripheral vision and it’s distracting to me to see the flashing changes on the screen.

Could this phenomenon be the result of getting older? Is that just what happens? Or is this Adult ADD? Or is it just that I am out of practice in multi-tasking as this new job is so much more low-key?

I don’t know, but it’s frustrating because I have lots of TV I want to watch while I read and work on my blog. I also have emails that I want to read while I check my facebook, tweets I want to make while I bind policies. What’s next? I won’t be able to drive and listen to the radio at the same time? Walk and chew gum? Pat my head and rub my tummy?

Anyone else going through this? Have any suggestions other than locking myself up in a room with no distractions?


  1. I've always seen myself as a good multi-tasker. Now I'm not sure that's a good thing. If I'm multi-tasking, am I giving anything my best? I may say I'm watching a show while I blog, but I often miss a key part. That's okay, because we can just hit rewind. (Modern technology at its finest.) There's no penalty for lack of attention. As I write this, I'm watching tv and thinking of what I still need to do before I can go to bed, so I might not be the best one to give advice.

  2. I'm fighting the multi-tasking impetus that plagues me. All my life I've seen it as a 'good thing' but I know that all it does is exhaust me and keep me from doing one or two things really well.

  3. Grammy Goodwill and Pondside - I'm going to respond to both of you at once as you pretty much said the same thing, that if you multi-task then it keeps your from doing your best at the task at hand. It's best to do one at a time. I've always been proud to be a jack of all trades and a master of none. Maybe it's time to be a master at something. Thanks Ladies! Good advice!

  4. I have read that women can multitask and men can't. Testosterone changes the brain function. I believe that. My wife and I will be having a conversation while I am driving. If anything is going on besides empty road I have to remain mute. I can't do anything at the same time as something else. If I read, I read. TVs and radios off, and no conversations. If I watch TV no conversation except at the commercials.

    I imagine that women that are good at multitasking may find less need for it as they age, and perhaps practice makes perfect. If multitasking is a function of estrogen levels, then one would expect that ability to decrease after menopause. I am not sure if multitasking is related to estrogen, but men's single-mindedness seems to be definitely tied to testosterone--perhaps not even serum testosterone, but rather the flood of testosterone in the womb that masculinizes the fetal brain.

  5. We tend to blame anything on age, but not always for the right reason.

    In this case, what happens is that as we age, we become aware (perhaps unconsciously) of the fact that we spend our precious time and health (of eyes, ears, body) on stupidities .

    I gradually stopped watching TV (except the news and very few programsa ), and ceased to read fiction (life is so much more interesting).

    I feel that the TV bla, bla, bla, the infantile music broadcasted, the loud voices, are a disturbing factor while I'm working at something, and not only then.
    I feel the above gets on my nerves not because I'm older but because I'm wiser.

  6. I've never been good at multi-tasking. I'm so easily sidetracked that it takes me forever to complete a task if I try to do more than one thing at a time.

  7. Sextant - That's a great explanation. Maybe that's it. Menopause! I've been lucky that I've not had any of the symptoms most women have, hot flashes, mood swings, maybe this is my one symptom?

    I know it is true that men are not great multi-taskers having had to work with many men in my lifetime and realizing that when they were focused on something there was no use talking to them as they didn't listen or more correctly, couldn't.

  8. DUTA - Your explanation is equally plausible. As we age we definitely do become wiser and choosier with what we want to waste our time with. I watch very little TV, I have my shows that I like, such as Dancing with the Stars or American Idol but once they are done I immediately turn off the TV. Great observation.

  9. Paula - Perhaps there is something to be said for doing one thing at a time and doing each one well instead of doing 100 things and doing each one half-ass.

  10. Yes, yes ,yes....if you find strange sentences or words randomly throughout my blog, it is probably caused from listening to the news while blogging and I typed what I heard. But I felt better recently when my nephew turned in a lab report with the line, "Hey, what's up?" randomly in it. He had been typing the report while on facebook and put his 'what's up' in the wrong place. haha. Teacher circled it and put question marks by it. haha.

  11. Rebecca - So funny! I never thought about that while I'm writing a post and facebooking at the same time. I guess I better proof-read!

    I'm always worried that I'm going to make some comment on a business email at work while I'm simultaneously commenting on someone's blog or facebook post. You will happen!

  12. Alicia, this is common among women our age who are going through perimenopause, premenopause or menopause. Your hormones are probably out of balance. The same thing has been happening to me amongst other things. I've been doing lots of research on this. I went to the bookstore and bought several books on the subject. One of the books is called, From Hormone Hell to Hormone Well. I think there's something to it. Lack of focus and concentration is one of the many symptoms. Sometimes it sucks being a woman, but I wouldn't have it any other way. :)

  13. JarieLyn, funny you should mention this about menopause today. I just happened to be talking earlier with my sister in law and my brother was with her and I was telling her about several symptoms that I've been experiencing and I know that he's getting worried about his wife going into menopause.

    Yes, we as women do have our issues, but I wouldn't have it any other way either!

  14. Oh, Alicia, rejoice that your ability to multi-task is slipping away. Wouldn't you rather curl up with a cookbook, or grapple with the question of why a plastic fork would be left on a toilet paper dispenser? Multi-tasking involves doing a lot of work at the same time. Where's the joy in that?

  15. Ms. Alicia I have a bone to pick with you.

    Your damned second image (lower, younger, sexier one) is driving me crazy. Not the image itself per se, but every time I see it i get an earworm of the I Dream A Genie theme song including the sound effect when she did that thing with her nose. It lasts for days. You know I am not sure, it may be the tune from Bewitched. I don't know, I didn't watch either show, but my wife watches reruns of them every now and again on one of the weird cable channels. What ever theme it is, it is driving me nuts. Wait I can even hear the canned laughter. Aaaaaaaagggggggghhhhhhhhhh!

    For those who don't know what an earworm is, although I am sure you have suffered with one, you can read about them here:

    Da dA, da duh, da da da da da duh, da dA, da duh, da da da da da duh.....................................................................................................

    Pan to an image of Edvard Munch's The Scream!

  16. Sextant - UhOh! I hate when that happens. I'm pretty sure it's Dream of Jeannie. She really does looks like Jeannie doesn't she? I think it's the way she's sitting.

  17. Well mystery solved, it is the tune from Bewitched. I saw an Electrolux appliance commercial with the blonde from the Regis ?? Show. The commercial plays the tune and I asked my wife what it is from.

  18. Sextant - Well glad that is cleared up. I've seen those commercials with the blond girl. I wish laundry and housework really could be that easy.

    Unfortunately knowing what the song is from still doesn't get rid of the earworm :-)


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