Monday, April 2, 2007

HTT, can a mono- and multi-tasker live together in harmony?

Dear HTT,

I am a multi-tasker. At work, I often have two different documents open, while checking my email, and talking to someone on the phone. No joke. And when it comes to household tasks, I can be cleaning the kitchen, doing the laundry, making the bed, and singing "There was a farmer who had a dog and bingo was his name-o. B-I-N-G-O" to my 18-month-old son.

Sometimes I believe I am the ultimate multi-tasker and at other times I think I am in desperate need of medicine to cure my ADHD.

The problem is this: my beloved partner is a mono-tasker. It is painful. Here is an example. The other night she was making chili and rice. The chili was made the day before and only had to be heated up in the microwave. The rice needed to be cooked. So there she is cooking the rice and waiting…yes, that’s right...waiting for it to cook. AFTER the rice was done, she put the chili in the microwave to heat it up. So by the time we are ready to eat, the rice is lukewarm and so is the chili. Now, this was hard for me to watch and I nearly screamed from the dining room "PUT THE CHILI IN THE MICROWAVE AND HEAT IT UP.” But I did not.

When I intervene in these situations, I am told "Do not multi-task me from the other room. I’m doing XYZ and not you."

Is my only resource to bite my tongue and slowly grow a tumor b/c all of this wasted time is making me nuts? How can I make suggestions to be more efficient without sounding like a control freak?


Dear D,

I’m in the unenviable position of telling you something you don’t want to hear. There is almost no chance that any suggestion you offer to improve your partner’s efficiency will be met with gratitude or good will. Because this is already a sensitive issue between you, you will probably sound like a control freak if you so much as offer to “help” when she’s in the kitchen. You did the right thing to swallow your advice.

How could this be? How can she not recognize the superiority of your multitasking ways? Well, you joke (?) about wondering whether you have ADHD, but it’s quite possible that your partner is scoping out Ritalin for you right now. You think she wastes time, but she might think you don’t devote enough attention to your tasks. I’m not taking sides, here, just pointing out how things may look through her eyes.

This doesn’t mean you can’t live in harmony. I know a couple in which she is a winter person and he’s a summer person; another where she’s a dog lover but he’s a cat person; and one in which he’s a Democrat and the other he is a Republican. (And I’m not talking about a fiscal conservative/social moderate type of Republican either.) Somehow, they manage to rise above their differences, and you can too.

When you feel your blood pressure rising, try to take a deep breath and remember something you love about your partner. Remember that you are also driving her crazy. Look away. Bite your tongue. Stay out of the kitchen.

Good luck,