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Picture this…a redheaded mop-top...

Posted Sep 29 2008 4:20pm

Picture this…a redheaded mop-topped woman is standing at her stove stirring spaghetti sauce with a cell phone tucked between ear and shoulder and holds a house phone to the other ear, pausing only to run over to her laptop sitting on the kitchen island to check her email.   She’s able to also brown ground beef on the stove while making sure the sauce doesn’t burn, entertain the dog and his bone, and shout out the back door to her hubby with information on how long it will be until dinner.

She’s a multi-tasker.   She revels in her ability to juggle ten different balls in the air without one dropping to the ground.

Now fast forward seven months later…the mop-top gal can’t seem to engage in a spirited conversation at the same time she’s stirring the proverbial sauce.   She used to be able to read while watching Lifetime movies, text message while enjoying the evening news, type/talk/answer the phone/open snail mail all in unison.   Multi-tasking is now a mirage.

Sure she was disappointed at first.   She would pride herself on getting the work of two employees completed solo in an eight hour day.   She thrived at the thought of being everything for everyone simultaneously.   Now she must fully concentrate on the task at hand, and depending on the task often without the scent of interruption, if she wants the task completed accurately and on time.   

Not everyone sees this as a negative though.   In fact her boss proclaimed that it was a good thing she was slowing down a little these days; perhaps her co-workers could finally keep up with the old gal.   Mop tops aren’t easily convinced though.   She wondered: Is multi-tasking really a good thing? She began an Internet search to answer her question and her initial results provided this stunning statement:

For years we have somehow swallowed the myth that multi-tasking makes us more productive. But research has been telling us for some time that the negative is really true: multi-tasking is harmful and counterproductive. – Bruce Keener

This piqued her interest and she continued on.   There’s actual scientific research about the topic.   Researchers at Vanderbilt University have set out to change the mindset about the necessity of multi-tasking as noted inthis New York Times article.   She read about howshifting mental gears can actually cost folks important timeon the job and in life in general.    She also learned that she hasn’t been alone.   We’re actually all part of a verynew, multi-tasking generation.   She read abouthow mistakes can and will happen when the brain (even a non-damaged one) is overloaded.

If what the latter article suggests is true, that 45 percent of people in one study feel they’re expected to do too much at once, maybe we all have set ourselves up for unrealistic expectations.   If our mop-topped gal wouldn’t have been a thriving and productive multi-tasker before her life changed, would anyone have expected her to be able to juggle the work of three people at once? Likely not.

Yet another challenge for Persons with M.S.: Getting colleagues, family, and friends to recognize changes not as negatives or indications of poor performance, but rather just what they are – changes – and nothing more.

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