Why does the house smell like smoke? Because I am incapable of multitasking, that’s why. Last night, not for the first time, I burned dinner. All I was trying to do was to tell my wife about my day at work and in true form forgot to turn off the oven in time to salvage half of our meal. Steph first noticed this multitasking gap years ago when she realized that I was unable to simultaneously unload the dishwasher while talking to her. Without even realizing it, I always either stop unloading the dishes to finish the conversation, or I stop talking to focus on properly putting away the dishes. I am a singularly focused person. While in college, I worked at Chick-Fil-A for a time and came face-to-face with this problem. One evening, not long after starting to work there, I came into work and was asked to man the drive-through head set. This seemingly innocuous task soon revealed my true colors. While working the headset I also was expected to make all of the drinks for the drive through customers, including the blasted milk shakes. After having made about 3 drinks/milk shakes, I lined them up on the window sill in a frantic hurry to continue taking orders when all of a sudden the drive through cashier opens the sliding window knocking all of my precious drinks to the floor. I was so flustered and running behind that I removed the headset, set it on the counter, and said, “someone needs to get that.” And, I walked away. It wasn’t my proudest moment.
So why this talk of multitasking you ask? Because my employees at work are quickly realizing that I am a terrible multitasker. I cannot work on my computer while simultaneously listening to them on the phone, or listening to them talk to me from over the cubicle wall. I have a singular focus to the exclusion of all else. This has its pros and cons. While being so focused on a task at hand whether on my computer, in a meeting, or reading a book, I am often oblivious to other possibly important stimuli. I frequently get overwhelmed when multiple things are happening at once. And, I’ve sometimes been accused of downright ignoring people (which for the record I don’t do on purpose because I think it’s rude, I simply don’t always pick up on other people’s presence when I’m attending to something else). On the other hand, when I am focused, I retain a great deal of information, analyze situations fully for maximum understanding, and am usually able to complete tasks putting forth my best effort and providing excellent results. In a Forbes article entitled “Why Multitasking Doesn’t Work”, written by Douglas Merrill, he says:
“When you’re trying to accomplish two dissimilar tasks, each one requiring some level of consideration and attention, multitasking falls apart. Your brain just can’t take in and process two simultaneous, separate streams of information and encode them fully into short-term memory. When information doesn’t make it into short-term memory, it can’t be transferred into long-term memory for recall later. If you can’t recall it, you can’t use it. And, presumably, you are trying to learn something from whatever you are doing, right? Instead of actually helping you, multitasking works against you. It’s making you less efficient, not more.”
Now, I’m not going to use this very well written, respectable article as an “out” for not learning how to attain to multiple stimuli in an effort to increase awareness of my surroundings, however, I may reference it and hand out printed copies to anyone who comments on my singular focus as a deficiency. In the meantime I’m not going to text and drive, work at Chick-Fil-A, or catch all the gossip at work while typing up a report. And, I’ll try not to burn the house down the next time I cook. Who wants dinner?