Lost for words – the dangers of multi-tasking?

I am pretty adept at multi-tasking. I usually have at least a couple of trains of thought running along in my head for a start, and that is without adding in the things that I do. For the most part I manage it quite well but sometimes I can feel over-committed and this can cause me to feel stress. I have also noticed that my memory is much worse than it used to be. I can struggle to access words which is not something that ever happened before. I worry that this may be a sign of something serious, but really, I wonder if it is just down to too much information to remember for one mind. I wonder if being lost for words is the danger of over multi-tasking.

Environmental Issues

At work multi-tasking is required as part of what I do. I can be teaching a lesson at the same time as managing a safe-guarding concern. I sit at meetings where I literally have four roles to play. My work is responsive as well as being preemptive and I can be fire-fighting at the same time as planning and carrying out an intervention. I walk along the corridor and am required to jump from one thing to the next on my way to my destination. I am continually interrupted and the course of my day is altered without warning. It really is about spinning plates.

Through all of this I will carry the information held about more than 200 young people in my head. I will be able to access, use and share that as and when required.  I will be able to recall what is needed, recount what has happened, and take on board new information and store it away. I can problem solve and console and draw on experience and training in order to support. So why can’t I remember a word I want to use or the name of a place I have visited? Why does the information about certain things seem to slip so easily through my fingers?  Is it because I have too much to remember and it just doesn’t seem important?

Categorise and Conquer

I have noticed that multi-tasking also still works well for me when the activities are connected. Being in the kitchen for example. I can bake a cake, make meals for the dog, prepare the dinner and still carry out a conversation with HL about the upgrade of the shower room. Simple tasks are also no issue. I can clean the house and plan a lesson or a piece of writing. I can walk the dog and talk about ideas for The SafeworD/s Club. I can help one of the kids with their homework and plan a weekend away. However, multi-tasking works less well for me these days when it involves different sorts of activities.

For example, I really struggle to concentrate in certain situations if there is something else going on in the background. I find it hard to write a piece for my blog with the television on. I feel bad for HL because he is the sort who likes to click on those videos and clips on social media that I would never stop for. I find it so hard to keep my focus when he is tapping in and out of different clips and there is irregular noise coming from one of his various devices. Usually I can block something out if it is not of interest but somehow that seems to be an issue in this case.

When I am writing it can go one of two ways. I either become so wrapped up that I don’t notice the small engagements like someone coming into the room and saying hello, or the little things can seem like huge interruptions which then take my attention from me. I can become very absorbed in something if it interests me, so why does it seem to come and go?  Have I lost the ability to multi-task or is my concentration simply not what it was? Are there just certain things which irritate me enough to cut through my train of thought?

Emotionally Involved

Most of my interactions involve emotional output or input. They draw on my thoughts and my feelings and my empathy in ways that more factual information doesn’t. I wonder if I have over stimulated that part of my brain to the point where the other part has been diminished. Perhaps it is age but the pruning process for me seems to be huge. Have I over multi-tasked to the point where I have affected my ability to focus and retain?  It feels a little like my brain is a library of resources and some of the sections have grown really big while others have not been used and have been closed down.

I am not a neurologist and don’t know if there is any logic to what I am saying here but this is how it feels.  For example, I have never been much interested in numbers, although I do appreciate their value and my need to use them. I find now that I can no longer retain new numbers at all. I don’t remember the number of my hotel room, or the floor of the carpark, or a simple date. It doesn’t matter what I do to try to remember it, I just can’t make it stick. Letters and words have always been different as I feel I have something more to hang them on, but numbers just pass me by. Try as I might, I don’t engage with them and it has got worse of late.

I can still remember old phone numbers but now I can’t seem to retain anything new. It is like my ability to learn by rote has been depleted and unless there is an emotional response from me, I won’t be able to remember it. A city like New York was so confusing. The whole thing is based on numbers, all of which are different but may as well be the same, as they are no sooner uttered than they are gone. I know if information isn’t needed then it can drop away, but I need to be able to remember things and take on new facts. I don’t like the feeling that my memory is finite storage device and for something new to be kept, someone old will need to be pushed out.

Have I over Multi-Tasked?

So are loss of memory, lack of focus, and the inability to retain certain types of new information the cost of  being able to multi-task?  I wonder if they are. Have I trained my brain in a way which serves my life well, while not realising there could be a price to pay? I don’t know. What I do know is that my inability to perform well on certain levels is a nuisance and a frustration to me. If it is down to age then I don’t like it and have considered getting one of those apps that makes me do word and number games to ‘sharpen up’.  I also know that my requirement to be all things to all people all of the time is not destined to change anytime soon so I guess it will be a case of sucking it to see.

Which brings me to another of my multi-tasking abilities …….


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  1. I understand so much of this, the struggling for words and inability to focus, as well as the worry that it is something more serious (my grandmother got vascular dementia) great post ?

  2. I like your musing here, and am comparing it to myself, wondering if you are right about the over-multi-tasking, whether that might be the reason I can’t seem to remember some things. I still multitask a lot, but have decided to pay more attention to being focused, as I seem to never do anything 100% but all of it at 90%. Or maybe it’s just the time of the year that makes me feel like this. I mean, I can still sit here and write while my husband is watching a movie, or write and keep one eye on my Twitter timeline, and at work I can be busy with something on my computer and follow conversations in the office. So my ability to multitask is not gone, I just feel I can do better with some things…

    Rebel xox

  3. I think this shows that you are an excellent multi tasker and that maybe you expect too much of yourself. Also maybe HL needs some headphones for his distracting video watching, Christmas present?

  4. Ahhhh so sorry, kiddo … it happens to the best of us … women that is … meno brain fog is your likely culprit. For me, it came in the like proverbial thief in the night. Initially I thought I was losing my mind, literally. Early on, in the pre meno phase, meno also brought a friend called malapropism (nasty little bugger) … luckily said friend got ditched early in the relationship. I used to say, in the early days of my menopausal experiences, my brain cells have deserted me at the time of my career when I need them the most. And for the most part they’ve never returned … hugs! … it can be a most frustrating experience … nj … xx

  5. My first thought is overload and my second thought is stress — meaning that the more we try to cram in our brains and the more stressed we are, the harder it can be to retain certain things. I know that my memory isn’t what it once was, so I rely on lists and notes all day long. When I don’t write something down, it’ll play over and over in my head in an effort NOT to forget it (which I guess is a form of mental multi-tasking) but it makes me an anxious mess. And it could be that because we have most information at our fingertips (smartphones and the internet), we don’t have a NEED to remember certain things and maybe we’re all in danger of losing that function eventually. For you it’s numbers. For me its steps in a recipe or simple tasks that I never needed to write down before. Or maybe we’re busier with our lives than ever, and our brain can only keep up with so much.

    All that to say, I sympathize completely.

    • Thanks Kayla. This makes a lot of sense. I don’t feel stressed but there is a lot of stress for me day to day. I wrote things down on lists too but I know what you mean about mental lists and they do play over and over so there could be something in that. Thank you. This is helpful ?

  6. “So are loss of memory, lack of focus, and the inability to retain certain types of new information the cost of being able to multi-task?”
    I think lack of focus for some can be the way our lives just distract us at every turn – phone bleeps saying check me – laptop dings saying email here – TV shouts watch me, watch the news – social media screams, pay attention
    – And this is all before we have cooked, cleaned, attended to the kids been shopping. Constantly jumping around.
    I personally don’t think mult tasking can be detrimental as it often involves a person using copious amount of brain power but just shut the noise of so u can concentrate fully on your multi tasking and not tend to the minor irritants of the modern day – switch em off i say! lol
    May xx

  7. I have always relied on my memory. It has always been exceptional. But I am finding it a little less reliable these days. I have theorized that there are some sections in our brain that we can fill up! To put more info in, we have to remove data to make space. For instance in my job I meet a lot of people. Some of them I’ll see for years and years (permanent co-workers). Others I’ll see frequently for a shorter period of time as they work through our system. I learn their names swiftly but when they eventually move on, I forget their names swiftly as I learn their replacements’ names. So I’ve come to theorize that I have only so much brain space allotted to names. (Better than thinking my brain is letting me down)

    • I feel like that too. I am not sure but think it seems likely so good to hear you agree. I do think that there must be more storage though. We just need a way to tap into it! ?

  8. Actually there is a lot of logic in what you’re saying. I’ve read some research that states no one truly multitasks. We may go back and forth quickly, but we can only concentrate on one at a time. Yes, we are able to simultaneously do multiple activities because one or both is on autopilot. But concentration for the human brain is one track at a time. So…it appears you’re completely normal! ?

    And as I get older and forget things, I’m standing with the theory it’s simply because we’ve got so much more to remember!

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