Sunday, January 17, 2010


My husband Alan can expertly perform seventeen jobs all at once. Seriously, I've seen it. I'll walk by his office on any given day, stick my head around the corner and ask, "Hey, have you seen my yellow sweater?" That's usually when I notice that he is on the phone, leading his fifteen area directors in a conference call discussion regarding topics like Guest Loyalty and Financial Results. As he talks, he checks his e-mail, responds to a friend's college football predictions on facebook and buys a tie online. He is also shining his shoes for tomorrow's business meeting. Because I never seem to remember that 90% of the time when Alan is in his office, he is on his phone, I clamp my hand over my mouth and whisper "Sorry!" Still talking, Alan waves away my apology, then gestures for me to follow him. Together, as he scolds one of his managers for "bad food cost," we descend the stairs to the laundry room where he fingers a stack of folded clothes and produces my sweater (he washed and folded it while he was on the phone with his secretary at the home office that morning). He kisses my cheek and heads back to his office, probably to solve world hunger and global warming while simultaneously filling out an expense report. It's like watching Barishnikov perform an intricate pas de deux, sheer poetry in motion.

Although he's the best I've ever seen, Alan's definitely not the only person who excels at multitasking. A few days ago, when leaving the check-out at the supermarket, the receipt showed that our "super-saver" card did not scan properly, thereby causing us to lose-out on valuable members-only discounts and gas points. We brought the receipt to the customer service window at the front of the store where a heavily mascaraed, high school-aged girl stood leaning on the counter, cracking her gum. "This ought to be excruciating," I thought as I approached her. I don't know exactly what "crow" is, but you can bet I was eating it shortly after I handed "Elvira" my receipt and explained the problem. She said it was easily fixed, asked for my card, and began an extremely involved, yet machine-like efficient process of typing, swiping cards, stapling receipts, filing, and making change. That, in itself, would have been impressive, except that in the middle of her lightning-fast keyboard tapping, she answered the phone, addressed the caller's multiple questions, gestured to a nearby employee to begin her break, and formed a really impressive pink bubble with her gum. I was entranced!! I told her so.

"That...was...AMAZING!!" I exclaimed when she had finished.
"What?" She looked afraid.
"How you did that...with...EVERYTHING!!"
"Ok," she responded, then rolled her eyes, smacked her gum once more and disappeared in the back.

I guess I admire this particular skill when I notice it because I am blessed with absolutely NONE of it myself. When I talk on the phone, even with a friend or family member, I must (MUST) be sitting down, doing absolutely NOTHING else, usually with one finger in my opposing ear so I won't be distracted. If Alan approaches to ask a question, I must hold up a "wait a minute" finger, ask my phone friend to "hold on," then turn back to Alan. Sometimes I'm able to drive and talk, but when I do, I frequently end up lost. It's quite sad, actually. When I was in school, I hated that I could never study with the radio on. Unless I had complete silence, it was all too distracting. Even now, when I read a book or even write this post, I can only have soft, instrumental music playing in the background.

I've always wondered if, like my lack of direction, this is just a genetic deficiency, or if it's actually something I can work to improve. Is there some kind of exercise I can perform daily that will strengthen my talking-while-emailing-and-listening-to-Aerosmith skills? I honestly don't know. Maybe there's a support group for the tasking-challenged that I can join. We can discuss how hard it is to schedule a doctor's appointment when the dog is scratching on the door and whining to go outside -- maddening!

There IS a bright side to my disability, however: remedial tasks are seldom boring to me. When I worked as a temp in NYC, my favorite jobs were the ones where my boss would place several stacks of paper on my desk, along with a stapler. Then, he/she'd say, "These need to be collated, then stapled. Should be about 300 copies there, probably take you all day." I'd usually respond by rubbing my hands together in delight, then proclaiming, "I'm ON it!!" Easy task + no distraction = Joan Heaven! You can say it, I already know...pathetic! But here's the other silver lining to my freak story: if you were to call me right now and wanted to talk, you may rest assured that you will have my full and undivided attention. I will sit down, plug my other ear, and listen intently to every word you speak. I am all YOURS. All yours, of course, until Trixie has to pee...

Thanks for Reading!!


CentFla said...

I am making your dinner while I type this comment.

Hilarious baby!

JenTaft said...

If it makes you feel any better, recent brain research has indicated that multitasking is a myth. Our brain can only process one thing at a time.

I gotta tell you that having a human being's "full and undivided attention" is a rare and precious commodity these days (I can tell you with certainty that 9 and 10 year olds hardly ever bestow it upon their teachers) and you should count it among your assets to offer it so regularly.

Melissa {Suger} said...

Got to love a man and pink gum chewing little lady multi task moment. I was right there along with you as they typed, and talked, tapped and snapped. Loved it.

Kellyansapansa said...

But I thought the multitasking gene was exclusive to women? Wow, another illusion shattered!

FourJugs said...

I actually read a scientific study that said women are better multitaskers than men, but they end up doing completing the tasks slower and sloppier than if they just focused and did one thing at a time. The story of my life.

Thanks for visiting fourjugs earlier and welcome to the blogosphere! We (me and my writing partner Lucy) are actually pretty new, too. Have fun! That's really what it's all about.

Jane Lively

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