Multi-tasking can lead to insanity

It started out like an ordinary Thursday.

Although now that I think of it, I actually remember feeling like it was a particularly peaceful weekday morning. The boys got up and to school on time, well fed and happy; I remembered to pack my daughter's show-and-tell treasures before dropping her at preschool. The beds were made, teeth brushed, dishes put away. I patted myself on the back for doing such a good job with the morning routine as I stopped for coffee before I headed back to volunteer in the school library.

As I parked my car - in a great spot, I might add - I left a message with my doctor to inquire about something routine. Then I called my husband to ask about a scheduling issue. The whole time, mind you, I was amazing myself with my organizational prowess, my ability to accomplish so much in one small morning.

I stood in line at Starbucks, ordered coffee for myself and the librarians at school and paid. When I reached the cream/sugar/sweetener stand, I realized I had forgotten how the librarians took their coffee. So I dialed the school directory and as I waited to be connected to the right extension, I grabbed my keys and checked my purse for my cell phone.

My cell phone was not in my purse. I take my phone with me everywhere, in case of emergencies. So I went to the counter and asked around - did I possibly leave my phone there? The other customers looked sympathetically at me, and the woman behind the counter looked thoroughly before telling me the bad news: no cell phone to be found.

Just as I headed back to the creamer station, I was connected to the librarian's extension at school. I was a few sentences into my coffee question before I realized with horror that I had found my cell phone, and it had been in my hand, at my ear, the whole time. While I looked in my purse. While I checked the counter. While I asked the customers. Oh my God.

Yes, I had made the beds, tidied the house, clarified our schedules, even fed my children - but in the process I had LOST MY MIND.

Dazed, I poured cream into all the coffees, walked back to my car, and realized this: I should not attempt to be an organizational goddess. I do not have to, indeed should not attempt to, multi-task at every turn. What is it about me that makes me want to accomplish five things at once? Clearly, I am not up to that challenge.

In retrospect, it is horrifying to think that that particular Thursday seemed rather idyllic. I can see now that I was being a freakish type-A "gotta cross things off the to-do list" kind of person. So now I am working at focusing on one thing at a time.

First on that streamlined to-do list? Switching to decaf.

- Kelly Abate Kallas of Hinsdale is a contributing columnist. This column was first published April 5, 2007.