"Why don't you finish making lunch before trying to wash the dishes?" he asked me. "And you're getting the checkbook all wet." I grinned at him and responded coyly, "I'm multi-tasking!" "Well, don't do that," Hubby retorted, "You suck at it."
I dismissed him with a chuckle. I suck at it? How can you even say that?. I'm the queen of the multi-task, I thought. Watch me buzz around, getting stuff done! Not just some stuff, but ALL the stuff! All at the same time! I'm the model of efficiency! I'm the future of human evolution! Jealous much??
But as I glanced around the kitchen, I realized that all my bravado was one for my fat "Who You Tryin' to Fool" file. In reality, I was standing in the middle of a disaster. I wasn't buzzing around the room so much as I was bumbling. There were dishes spread out all over the counter, interspersed with cans and boxes - I had no idea which plates were clean and which were dirty. The checkbook was indeed wet and smeary. And I noticed the baby sneaking past me, back and forth from the pantry to the table, carrying boxes of crackers, handfuls of chips, cookies, and Sour Patch Kids. It was taking me so long to fix a simple lunch that the little one had clearly given up all hope of ever being fed, so he smartly took matters into his own hands. Meanwhile, the older boy sat at the laptop computer whining something about "Mom doesn't even care that we are starving to death!"
In those days, I thought of myself as an expert multi-tasker at the office as well. One of my specialties was reading and responding to e-mail while I was listening to and writing down my voice mail messages. I especially dislike both of these tasks, so doing them at the same time--doubling my productivity while cutting my misery in half--made the most logical sense to me.
Only here's the problem with my brilliant logic surrounding this issue: With my unmedicated ADHD, attending to one conversation often requires Herculean effort on my part. For me to actually comprehend a person speaking to me through voice mail while I am simultaneously writing e-mail to an entirely different person on an entirely different topic is actually not possible. It may not be possible for anyone regardless of the state of their executive functioning. But I, in particular, should have been forbidden by law to even attempt it. And yet, that's how I handled my messages and morning e-mail for a long time. This, I now realize, was not actually multi-tasking. It was buffoonery.
So why did I approach my work this way--both at home and at the office? Well, I'm busy, for one. I've got a lot of stuff to do, and not enough time to do it all. And then there's the ADHD. One of the primary ways my ADHD manifests is with serious difficulty sticking with one task or activity too long; and by "too long" I could mean two minutes, depending on how much I dislike the task. I've always felt the urge to rush through things I had to do. I defined "accomplishment" as getting it over with. And so my brand of "multi-tasking" seemed to serve the purposes of getting lots of things over with without having to spend much time on anything. The moment I got antsy or bored, I moved on to something else, and then something else, and then something else. . .
Of course, the downfalls of this approach are obvious:
- Working this way, I actually got very little done. I didn't finish things; I quit them.
- What I did complete, I often completed poorly.
- It was inefficient. It actually took much longer to complete tasks than it would have had I just been able to focus on them in the moment.
- It was horribly stressful.
- It negatively affected other people. It caused my kitchen to be a disaster area in which my husband couldn't find a spot to set down his soda can, and in which my son slowly starved to death. . .that is until he and his brother found the Slim Jims.