To-do list

When your brain can’t multitask.

When I was in Los Angeles recently to visit my elderly parents, one of the first things I did was work on a grocery list. I planned to go shopping later in the day.

Thick in the middle of peanut butter and canned pumpkin on my list, my dad sat down to give me directions to the supermarket. I couldn’t process what he was saying. At that moment, toilet paper and paper towels were my priority, not traffic lights and left turns.

“Dad, hold on, let me finish the list before you give me directions.”
“Well, it’s simple, Karen, you just…”
“Dad, give me a minute so I can pay attention.”
“I’ll draw you a map, Karen. If you turn right on Esplanade…”

My brain is OK with incoming information from multiple sources if the info is easily understood, like writing a reminder note, or hearing a funny story, or being asked if I want my coffee warmed up.

But for complex information, (and even directions around the block are complex for me), my brain can only handle one topic at a time.

My brain can’t multitask.

I can multitask physically, like when I make coffee at home. With my right hand, I pull the kitchen faucet hose extension over to the coffee maker to fill it. At the same time, I can open the drawer to pull out a coffee filter with my left hand, and plop it in the basket, without accidentally redirecting the faucet hose to the floor or my pants. (Usually. )

My brain can’t do that. It has folders for important information, and if the folder is closed, new data doesn’t get in.

“DAD,” I finally said, “the folder in my head for directions is closed. Anything you tell me now has nowhere to go.”

Then he understood.

If your brain is unable to multitask, a closed folder is a great visual.

My brain’s inability to multitask is the reason I haven’t posted here in a while. I’ve had my Memoir Manuscript folder open, and not much else.

No  multitask for this manuscript.
My manuscript–all 86,000+ words of it!

Last week, after 20 years, I finished my manuscript.

My editor will have a red pen lollapalooza with it, I’m sure, but the bulk of the writing is done.

And now, I have to open some folders that have been lying dormant for too long.

The first folder, which I opened this morning, was Website Blogs. And here we are! I’ve been neglectful of this folder lately, so my very belated New Year’s Resolution is to open this folder and post monthly.

As soon as I hit “publish” here, another folder will open: Create and launch my quarterly Newsy Letter.

My Newsy Letter is how I’ll keep in touch with my email subscribers. Here’s what it will include:

  • One totally useless and possibly embarrassing fact about me.
  • A snippet from my memoir, and an update on my publishing journey. I want you to be the first to know when I get a book deal! (Notice I said “when,” not “if.” I’m working the positive thinking magic!)
  • Links to essays I’ve had published. Hopefully I’ll have some new ones out soon.
  • Books I’ve read, and upcoming authors to watch.
  • An inspirational quote.

My Newsy Letter will be a short page, four times per year. I promise it won’t overload your inbox. But if you don’t subscribe via email, you’ll miss out!

It’s so simple–just find the “Enter email” box, then, well, enter your email address. You don’t even need to have a brain folder open–it’s that simple. My 87-year-old dad has done it, and if he can, you can, too.

Speaking of my dad, once I opened the directions folder in my brain, he told me just how to get where I needed to go, and I didn’t get lost. One task completed at a time. That’s how I roll.

How do you roll? Can you multitask? If not, what folder do you have open today?


  • Karen DeBonis

    Karen DeBonis writes about motherhood, people-pleasing, and personal growth, the entangled mix told in her memoir "Growth: A Mother, Her Son, and the Brain Tumor They Survived" forthcoming in spring 2023. Subscribe today to receive Chapter 1: A Reckoning.

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No Comments

  1. Sheba Olenik on March 18, 2019 at 10:40 PM

    Yay! Karen….but don’t worry about memory…just boring things down really helps … I do that and I never really need that piece of paper I wrote it down on.

    • Karen DeBonis on March 19, 2019 at 10:25 AM

      Thanks as always for your comment, Sheba. I wish I could go without my paper reminders, but that would be a disaster. So glad your brain keeps you on track!

  2. Debbie Kirsch on March 19, 2019 at 2:31 AM

    I’m so glad to hear from you. I was starting to wonder why you weren’t posting. I guess I am ok with multitasking, maybe not as good as I get t older. In highschool I used to do some homework while watching TV. I was a B+ to A- student, & maybe I would have been mostly A if I hadn’t. But I doubt it because much of higher math was my downfall.
    Karen, keep up the great work.

    • Karen DeBonis on March 19, 2019 at 10:29 AM

      Higher math wasn’t my thing either, Debbie. But I could never watch TV or even listen to music while I did homework. Even now, I need quiet in order to concentrate. As long as we find what works for us … thanks as always for your comment!

  3. Dad on March 19, 2019 at 6:17 AM

    One recent morning I sort of oozed out of bed, picked up an armful of laundry and the bedroom trash can, on the way into the kitchen stepped on the trash can opener pedal, dropped in the laundry, and headed for the washing machine. Fortunately after lifting the washing machine lid I had to lift the trash can to eye level and the story ends there. I’m Karen’s Dad – ’nuff said.

    • Karen DeBonis on March 19, 2019 at 10:26 AM

      Dad! So nice to see your comment. I thought you’d enjoy this story. The laundry/trashcan incident sounds so like you. Like father, like daughter? LOL

    • Laura on March 20, 2019 at 1:44 PM

      Adorable! I have a blog (2 actually) and my parents wouldn’t be able to figure out how to comment! Karen’s Dad for the win! 🏆

  4. Laura on March 20, 2019 at 1:42 PM

    I used to be an experienced and professional multitasker. I worked in advertising as a project manager. I had deadlines, facts, figures, names, phone numbers all spinning around in my noggin. I did write a lot of notes, and write things down but that was mainly “if I got hit by a bus” (one of co-workers would morbidly say). Then I did. Not hit by a bus, but a car. And experienced a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). My brain has changed a lot. Multitasking is something I can’t do.

    • Karen DeBonis on March 20, 2019 at 6:18 PM

      It’s sad how many sayings we use without thinking about how real they are for some people. I’m sorry you’ve had such a drastic change in how your brain functions. I hope you’ll find other skills to compensate, or ones you didn’t know were within you. And thanks for your comment – nice to connect, Laura!

  5. Paula Ransbury on March 21, 2019 at 4:52 PM

    So wonderful to read your witty prose again Karen!

    I really don’t think too many people are really good at multitasking and I know for sure I am not. It’s ok though and helps keep me organized with lists I guess.

    I’m sorry Laura about you loosing such a useful skill not to mention all the other pain and loss associated with such an accident. You might be interested to know that where I work we no longer use the “hit by a bus” scenario when documenting what we do just in case. The new scenario is “if you win the lottery…”. Way better!

    • Karen DeBonis on March 22, 2019 at 10:11 AM

      I much prefer “if you win the lottery,” and I’ll hope someday you’ll get to put that to practice! And thanks for your comment on Laura’s post. When I started my (former) blog, I had envisioned a community of people supporting each other – it’s finally happening!

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