I was reading through the May 28th New Scientist article 11 steps to a better brain nodding along with stuff I mostly already knew, when I hit this passage:
The second step is to cut down on distractions. Workplace studies have found that it takes up to 15 minutes to regain a deep state of concentration after a distraction such as a phone call. Just a few such interruptions and half the day is wasted.
I looked at that and wondered how I can think at all. How often do I get interrupted when trying to think during a normal day? It is not possible to count. Night before last, I had a really good idea that was absorbing my RAM and managed to focus on it most of the day anyway. This resulted in things like me arriving at the grocery store only to realize that I had not delivered Elizabeth to nursery school and she was still with me. I knew she was there. We had been arguing for five minutes about whether I was going to pull over to the side of the road and retrieve the toy she'd hurled over the side of her car seat. I had just been driving on autopilot and had skipped a stop in our itinerary. And this followed in interesting conversation with Peter while I was in the bath; interesting enough that I discovered later that I had neglected to rinse the cream rinse from my hair. (These are mistakes I rarely, if ever make.)
Reading the New Scientist's accounts of medications that can increase focus is tempting, but for a mommy, focus is a double-edged sword. What I really need is a second head: one head could focus while the other maintained the diffuse awareness necessary for keeping everything on track.
Multi-tasking, so prized by industry, is a really poor substitute for a second head.
Lacking a second head, here is Kathryn's Big Tip: Address the cognitive impairments of motherhood by trying to work on things closely tied to what your biology will code as important, i. e. try to chose intellectual projects closely aligned to the interests and the best interests of your children. I find that I have much clearer recollections of what I was working on and what I was trying to do when I chose this strategy.