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Multitasking Myth

Feb 06, 2015 09:24AM ● Published by Peri Kinder

I’m terribly efficient. That doesn’t mean I’m efficient. It means I’m terrible at being efficient. I always imagined myself to be a high-functioning multitasker but only recently learned that’s not possible. 

For instance, I’ll start writing a brilliant column, only to remember I didn’t make my online credit card payment. So I’ll jump to that site to pay down some Christmas bills when I realize I never tossed the laundry into the dryer. 

I’ll head downstairs to take the slightly sour-smelling towels out of the washer and remember I was supposed to order pizza for dinner. So I grab my phone to order a half-veggie/half-heart disease pizza when it hits me that I never took my multivitamin (for two weeks straight). As I run back up the stairs to swallow a pill the size of a mango, I remember that my column is due in two hours, so I head back to my computer.

That’s not multitasking. It’s having an attention-deficit-disorder seizure. Instead of actually completing one task, I have a multitude of jobs half-done at all times.

People brag they can do several things at once. I can also do several things at once; I just do it really poorly.  

In order to save time, I’ll brush my teeth while putting on deodorant. I clench the toothbrush between my teeth, trying to open the antiperspirant with one hand. Then my electric toothbrush shakes out of my mouth, hits the floor and sprays toothpaste and spit all over the bathroom rug. Instead of saving time, I’ve added 10 minutes to my routine.

Or I’ll decide to make a salad and try to make only one trip from the fridge to the counter. I’m carrying olives clasped under my chin, spinach squeezed between my knees, peppers balanced on my elbow and mushrooms perched on my head. 

My husband walks in and asks, “What are you doing?”

“Making a salad,” I hiss, because I have a bag of walnuts clamped between my teeth.

He watches as I walk pigeon-toed across the kitchen and try to place everything on the counter. If I was in a sitcom, there would be a laugh track as I juggle all those items before I hit the floor and everything lands on my head.

As he leaves the room, he says, “Enjoy your salad. And you left the fridge open.”

(I sense a poisoning in his future.)

Dr. Glenn Wilson, a real-life psychology professor at Gresham College, says these situations can actually lower your effective IQ by 10 points. Many studies prove the human brain isn’t designed to do several things at once. My dog (who doesn’t have a human brain) already knows this.

Ringo the Dog does the opposite of multitasking. He spends all his attention sniffing one pile of leaves thoroughly before moving on to the next urine-soaked shrubbery. But I can make cookies, scrub bird droppings off the back window and change my grandson’s diaper all at the same time. Of course I’ve burned the cookies, smeared the bird poop and put the diaper on backwards. Ringo does everything right the first time.

So now that I’ve wasted time debunking the benefits of multitasking, I really need to get dinner started. But a catchy tune dances across my mind. I bring up iTunes and spend 30 minutes downloading songs. Then I remember I need to sub a cardio class this week, so it’s over to YouTube to get new ideas for the BOSU ball . . .      
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