Monday, March 29, 2010

Multi-task? I can’t even multi-think anymore.

Once upon a time, I could multi-task. Honest. Or at least I could do two things at once. These days I find that if I don’t pay close attention while pouring water into the coffeepot, it’s likely to dribble down the side. Then I’m not sure how much water is actually in the pot, and the number of scoops of coffee I’ll need to put in is all out of whack. And all I was doing was thinking about whether to have Cheerios or—my favorite—Honey Bunches of Oats for breakfast.

Sometimes I’ll try to be efficient by carrying several items from the kitchen table at once. For example, I’ll have, in one hand, a crumpled, used napkin and a bottle of ranch dressing. In the other I clutch a crossword puzzle I want to continue working on upstairs. If I don’t concentrate, I know the bottle of dressing will end up in the trash, the crossword puzzle in the refrigerator, and the dirty napkin accompanying me to my bedroom. So I concentrate, and I usually get it right. But I swear I didn’t have to give this kind of mundane action that much thought when I was younger.

It’s also risky for me to have more than one thought in my head at once. But who can stop multiple thoughts from popping up any time and any place? We’ve lived so long and seen so much that our internal reactions to the slightest stimuli are instantaneous. But if one of my thoughts is an important one I want to be sure to remember, heaven help it. If I don’t write it down—and recall where I put the piece of paper—it’s gone. One exception is worry. I seem to be able to have multiple “what if” thoughts in my mind at the same time, each vying to see which can cause me the highest anxiety.

I’m heartened by research that says people never could really multi-task and complete every task well. Still, I’m sure I was better at this at an earlier age. Or is my aging memory rewriting history? If that’s possible, I’d like to order these new historic memories: I was very popular in high school, I was valedictorian of my undergraduate class, I excelled at sports, and…….and what? I swear I had a fourth thing in mind—an important one—a second ago, and now it’s gone. I rest my case.