As I write this first sentence, I’m on hold with my insurance company-again. I’m also listening to phone messages, soaking my whites in bleach, taping an episode of “Next Food Network Star,” stretching my quads, doing a few Kegel exercises and sipping my coffee, which I know is bad for me again this month, because I read it in “Prevention” while I was standing in line at Vons this morning.
It’s taken years of practice, but I’ve finally ratcheted my level of multitasking to “Rock Star,” and now I find out that there’s some new research that says multitasking actually slows you down. I had to push my 1:15 ’til 2:30 and ignore my email, but I managed to get myself to the library to get a peek at psychiatrist Edward Hallowell’s book, “Crazy Busy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap! Strategies for Coping in a World Gone ADD.”
You don’t think I have time to actually buy and read a book about busyness, do you? But I skimmed it, for free, and I really tried to focus on the book, and only the book, during the 13 minutes I calculated it would take the meter maid to get to my illegally parked car.
The good doctor, who specializes in Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), says that it is literally impossible to pay conscious attention to doing more than one thing at once. Instead, you end up paying conscious attention to several tasks in succession, and not doing any of them very well. When you switch your brain between tasks you end up wasting, rather than saving, precious time because your brain continually has to restart and refocus.
Are you kidding me? And here I was thinking it might be time to have another baby now that there’s a breast pump with a car adaptor (the Pump in Style) on the market. Just don’t drive over any bumps while you pump.
My husband-who would never dare to sully the experience of watching ESPN by matching a pair of socks, even when they accidentally whack him on the side of the head-has sworn by the do-one-thing-at-a-time-theory for years. Has hell finally frozen over? If not, he can’t possibly be right.
And yet, other experts also support the movement towards uni- tasking. A study at the University of Michigan found that multitasking leads to expensive “time costs.” Team leader Dr. David Meyer says that the additional time required to switch between one task and another tends to increase with the complexity of the chores involved. And that over the long run, the time required to make these switches may lead to a 20 to 40 percent decrease in actual productivity.
A 40 percent decrease? I can’t afford that. As much yammering as I do about how busy I am-and I am actually pretty busy-the reason that I need to multitask is to make sure that I also have time to read novels, catch a movie once in a while and take a long lunch with a friend.
Sometimes I’m almost embarrassed to admit that it’s more important to me have a social life than it is to have a clean house or actually bake the cookies myself. Sometimes there’s this undertone of bragging or one-upmanship when people, especially moms, talk about how busy they are. And I’m always a little self-conscious that I, as the mother of one, will never be as busy as my nut job friends who have four or more children. But I work! C’mon, give a girl a few points.
Of course the trouble with writing about busyness is that it makes you even more hyper-aware of how you spend each moment. It’s exhausting. If I didn’t have to change the laundry loads, write a speech, pick up the trash, and take out the kid, I might take a nap.