When I was in college and law school, it seemed that I could handle a wide variety of things all at once. Music, television, a book, studying, food, talking with a friend. It felt like I could take in all kinds of information and stimulus from a wide variety of sources, absorb it all, and keep right on going. Watch three TV’s at once to get three football games on a Sunday morning — no problem.
Now, I find my ability to multitask my brain has declined significantly. I don’t know if it’s a function of growing older, a function of wanting to get a higher degree of comprehension and quality in what I do, or (what I most strongly suspect) it is an increased vulnerability to distraction.
The Wife likes it when we watch TV together, and one of us does something on the laptop. But I’ve found myself growing irritable and unable to complete a task when the TV is on, The Wife is talking, and I’m trying to write or prepare a class or even play a game on the computer. I just can’t handle all of that mental activity. In fact, when the TV is on, that seems to pretty much override everything else. The TV seems so loud.
The same thing happens at the office. As I’m trying to complete a task there, I have found myself feeling irritated at conversations and the sound of activity outside my door. This is particularly true as I am trying to adapt to a voice-recognition tool in the hopes that it will increase my productivity. The technology is pretty cool, but I have to think more about what I’m saying than I do when I just type — my brain has been trained to think and express itself through my fingers on a keyboard for more than twenty years and I find I’m better at it than dictating into a headset.
Maybe I overstimulated my brain when I was younger and now I’m paying the price in a diminished capacity to compartmentalize my intake of information. And maybe some of that stress is just the result of things that are new and unfamiliar, maybe it’s the season or health issues (both The Wife and I seem to be getting a lot of headaches recently). There are things we can do about this but it seems to be increasing. I like hanging out with The Wife in the living room, and I like being social with other folks in at work, but if this keeps up I’m going to need to isolate myself in my offices in both locations if I’m ever going to get anything accomplished.