Memory Tip #4: Avoid Multitasking!
As the holidays approached, my girlfriend Tina began calling her cat Seymour. Her cat’s name is Garvey. Seymour was the cat who lived next door many, many years ago. Tina wasn’t dementing. She wasn’t losing her memory. She was just another victim of Holiday Haze - a state of mind that occurs when you try to keep track of way too many things at one time and usually gets worse around the holidays.
Multitasking, keeping “too many balls in the air” or mental tracking (as psychologists call it), requires a great deal of attention and it’s exhausting. In fact, in terms of using up the brain’s energy, multitasking is very expensive. Think about it this way: when you have a ton of programs running on your computer, it’s processing speed just isn’t as fast as when you’re only checking your e-mail. Mental tracking is also a cognitive skill that declines dramatically with age. Hooray.
Unfortunately, we tend to beat ourselves up when we can’t manage everything as well as we used to. Even though my gal pals now work full time, they’re still the ones who remain determined to create the perfect family holiday: festive decorations, yummy sweet treats, merry gatherings and thoughtful gifts for everyone. The need to recreate a 1950s vision of the holidays is probably nuts, but it seems that most moms suffer from this delusion. Mom may be the glue that holds the family together but she’s starting to melt!
So how do we avoid the overload of multitasking ? Here’s how:
1) Cut out anything superfluous. Learn to say “no” to commitments and delegate tasks to others. Acknowledge that you only have so much cognitive capacity and if you commit to handling too much, you’re going to probably do a crummy job of it, or worse, drive yourself batty. Keep in mind that this will require some of us control freaks to get comfortable with others helping out and doing things their way. I know, perish the thought. But remember that this is all in the name of saving your brain. Trust us. Real Simple offers some great tips on how to politely say “no” to extra commitments.
2) Don’t try to juggle details or hold information in your mind, write it down, make a list, add it to your “log of the day” and then dismiss it. Keeping things off of your brain’s hard drive will allow it to run more efficiently.
3) Get organized! Don’t waste precious cognitive energy trying to retrace your steps to find those keys and that lost mitten. Organize your life so that it requires as little extra attention as possible.
4) Try to create a quiet, distraction free environment in which to work. Even something as simple as extraneous noise or voices drains attention. In my office, voices permeate the walls. I have found that a simple white noise machine or the background noise from a fan improves my concentration immensely.
5) Focus on one task at a time and finish it before moving on. Tell yourself that until you finish your task, you are not allowed to check your e-mail, answer the phone or roam the internet (yes, that includes Facebook).
Obviously, we can’t completely avoid multitasking, so here’s how you can perform your best while doing it:
1) Complete your multitasking in the morning when you are fresh and rested. As the day progresses and you get fatigued, your skills will decline.
2) Eat a piece of fruit in the afternoon. The brain relies on glucose (sugar) and when glucose is depleted, attention skills suffer. If you don’t have access to fresh fruit, keep prunes, raisins or cranberry juice on hand. Your attention should improve and you’ll be getting those important antioxidents as well.
3) Avoid stress. Worries use up brain energy and diminish our ability to pay attention. (Yes, easier said than done, but we’ll be posting a list of some stress busters soon. Stay tuned!)
4) Avoid alcohol. Surprise, surprise: alcohol impairs our ability to perform tasks that require a lot of attention. Now, before you throw your laptop across the room in protest, there’s good news: At the end of the day, when the multitasking demands are over, that one margarita may not be such a bad thing. In fact, in the long run, it might even improve your memory. Say what? Yes, you read that right! Cheers!
Tags: aging, attention, cognitive functioning, girlfriends, glucose, hippocampus, holiday stress, holidays, lists, Memory, menopause, Menopause Symptoms, mental fog, mind, multitasking, neuropsychology, perimenopause, working moms