Multitasking

On Sunday the Little Miss was watching television in our bedroom while I was rocking the baby in the rocking chair. The Little Miss left the room for a few minutes. The TV remained on. I wasn’t watching it, and I have a pet peeve about a television playing when no one is watching it. She returned to the room a few minutes later with paper, and markers, and set down in front of the television to draw and color.

“Are you watching the TV,” I asked, “or are you coloring?”

The Little Miss stood, gave me a stern look, and said, “Daddy, I’m multitasking.”

She is her mother’s daughter.

I know this because I have no knack for multitasking. I used to. Back in 1999 and 2000 when I got my pilot’s license, I was at the pinnacle of my multitasking proficiency. I doubt anyone can safely fly an aircraft in Los Angeles airspace without having the ability to multitask: flying the aircraft, talking to air traffic control, looking for traffic, and studying a chart or checklist, all at the same time.

As I have grown older, this talent, such as it was, has all but withered, and can’t be relied upon. This, perhaps, has served as my singular motivation for seeking out ways to automate repetitive tasks over the last few years. Rather than trying to do multiple things at the same time myself, why not have a computer, tablet, or smart phone do one or more of them for me?

Kelly is a multitasking master. She makes it look effortless. Like a baseball player who has a swing so natural they don’t even think about it, I’ve seen Kelly do four or five things at the same time without breaking a sweat. Not so, me.

If the television is on and Kelly is talking to me, I usually have to ask her to mute the volume or turn the TV off. I can’t focus on both at the same time. Although I often want to listen to music while I work, I often find it too distracting. If I listen to the music I slow down on my work. Or, I don’t hear the music.

I’ve found that the Little Man has taken after me in this regard. If he is getting dressed in the morning, he can’t do it with the TV on. He’ll stand in front of the TV with one arm in a sleeve, and the other poised to go into a sleeve, but staring distractedly at the television. I empathize with him.

I often listen to audiobooks while doing other things, but it can be precarious. Most frequently, I listen to books while I walk. This works well for the most part, but if my mind wanders even the slightest—hey, when did they start building that building?—I have to rewind because I won’t have heard the last ten or twenty seconds of the book.

Problem-solving is part of my job. Last week, I had a particularly complicated math problem I was working out in some code I’d written. I was at the kids’ school, in the carpool line to pick them up, and standing around with the usual crowd. Someone was trying to talk to me but I had a hard time replying because I was trying to work through the math problem in my head.

Automation has mitigated this for me. I’ve written a lot over the years about how I’ve automated different parts of my daily life. This takes some of the burden of multitasking off my brain and transfers it to a computer. Still, I am always impressed by someone like Kelly who makes multitasking look easy. She can make the kids’ lunches, while holding the baby, and talking on the phone.

I can do all of those things, too. Just not at the same time.