Difficulty of multitasking depends on tasks

By Helena Rodriguez

My former editor, Scot Stinnett, shook his head one evening when he walked in and saw me simultaneously developing film, eating dinner and proofreading a story.

I thought I had this multitasking thing down perfect:

Once every minute, jiggle the stainless steel container with the film developing solution and the roll of film inside. Then get back to the story I was proofreading. Then take a bite of my burger. Start the process over again.

I was killing three birds with one stone. Or maybe it was the other way around. Maybe I was getting stoned at once by three birds.

Sometimes, I even designed news pages while also developing film. This was back in the old days of paper and pencil, before computer layout programs: Jiggle the container with the film developing solution, draw the lines on the layout sheet for my stories and X out boxes for the photos.

I thought I was accomplishing a lot at one time. But according to many research studies on multitasking, this was probably slowing my brain down, not to mention my sense of focus.

While I was getting several things accomplished at once, not one task had my full attention and this often costs me more time down the line, time having to go back and fix mistakes I didn’t catch before.

On several occasions I’ve experienced “brain overload,” something many of you can probably relate to. I think this is largely due to multitasking.

An article on www.techblogger.org reports:

“Multitasking boosts the level of stress-related hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline and wears down our system through biochemical friction, prematurely aging us.” On a short-term basis, “The confusion, fatigue and chaos merely hamper our ability to focus and analyze, but in the long term, they may cause it to atrophy.”

I’ll spare you the scientific mumbo jumble now. In laymen’s terms, this mean’s multitasking makes you stupid and slow.


I think many of us associate multitasking with getting a lot of things accomplished in one day, and yet multitasking is counter-productive to that. It’s more productive to do one thing at a time and then move on to the next.

My daughter laughs at me because, with my information overload, I often keep a detailed daily list of things to do in my planner. But no matter how small the task, it feels good when I go through and check off each task one at a time. I find that when I get stressed out, it’s when I don’t have a plan and I feel lost, trying to tackle many things at one time.

Recently, I blamed my hate for multitasking on the limited number of full-blown, home-cooked meals I make a week. Or maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe it’s because I try to multitask that I hate cooking full-blown meals.

I’ll start cooking spaghetti and then I find myself wanting to watch the news while the meat is browning and the spaghetti is boiling. I hate just standing there looking at the pots.
But then when I have several things going on at one time, several pots cooking on the stovetop, food in the oven and food still on the table waiting to be to chopped and mixed, then I often come close to burning a meal.

That’s not to say I can’t multitask while cooking. I just hate doing it. And yet I often find myself multitasking in my car and in other more inconvenient places. Maybe I have selective multitasking disorder. Yeah, that’s it.

Like my daughter, Laura. She has no problem texting, eating dinner, watching TV and talking to me at the same time. But when I tell her to do laundry, while studying, it becomes a complicated multitask and she complains. But I’ve seen her do this and more. She’ll go to the laundry room to move the clothes from the washer to the dryer, while holding her cell phone between her ear and shoulder, and while holding a book in hand.

With my selective multitasking disorder, I’m fine surfing the Internet, watching TV, talking on the telephone and polishing my nails at the same time. I can also handle walking and chewing gum at the same time. Just don’t ask me to walk, chew gum, blow bubbles, do a handstand, send a text message and wave to you as you pass by, all at the same time.

Helena Rodriguez is a freelance columnist. She can be reached at: