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Recently, I heard of a study that says people who multi-task don’t really get better at it over time – they actually lose their ability to concentrate.
I don’t doubt the accuracy of this finding. My job requires me to multi-task all the time; I’m constantly switching from editing to writing to laying out pages, all the while trying to keep organized to make sure all the information readers need gets into The Trimble Banner each week.
There are some weeks when I manage to keep all of those balls in the air without dropping one. There are some weeks when I can’t seem to juggle anything, and I forget to publish something or write something, or even cover something important.
And then there are weeks – sometimes months – when I forget to do the simplest things ... like get my keys out of the car before I lock the doors. Generally, I’ve realized over the years, that if I do this once, I’ll do it several times over the course of following weeks.
Lately, I realized that it boils down to straying from my routine. For instance, this morning I got up earlier than usual and forgot to take my vitamins and medications – something I do every day after I take the dogs outside for their morning constitutional. On my way to work, I realized it had completely slipped my mind.
Yesterday, however, was the pièce de résistance ... my masterpiece.
I was chatting with library director Kathy McKown, and we were commisserating that the older we get, the harder it is to remember those little things.
I told her how, over the course of about a week, I had forgotten to turn off the headlights of my Jeep when I got to work in the morning. Both days ended with someone [in one case, my Dear Colleague, Hilda] attaching jumper cables to my car so I could get it started.
It happened the first time on a Thursday and again the next Tuesday. I couldn’t figure out why. For years, I have successfully remembered to turn off the lights; in fact, there is a warning bell that lets me know before I get out of the car to turn them off. Was that warning bell not working? I hadn’t a clue.
We laughed over it, then she left and I went back to what I was doing. At 5:15 I realized the irony of our conversation, when I left the office to drive to Monday’s Fiscal Court meeting. I put the key in the ignition and – nothing.
I’d done it again. Just a week after the last time. This time, though, I remembered that I’d left the car running while I took my camera bag from the passenger side of the car. I reached over the seat to turn off the car and take the keys. I’d done this so I could listen to a segment of my favorite morning radio show.
Of course, I didn’t hear the warning “ding! ding! ding!” for the headlights, and left them on.
I’m doomed, I guess, to repeat these bone-headed things, as being a multi-tasker doesn’t really allow you to always maintain those important routines. But, I’ve vowed that I’ll never have a dead battery again – I’ll turn off the ignition – and my headlights – only from the driver’s seat.
Wish me luck.
Phyllis McLaughlin is the multi-tasking editor of The Trimble Banner.