At work yesterday I was trying to carry on a conversation at the same time I was working with numbers, and I mentioned that I needed to pay closer attention so I wouldn't mess up someone's paycheck. My boss joked, "I thought you were supposed to be so good at multitasking." So I told him this story:
At work one day in the mid-1970s, when we lived in New York, some of the women in the office were chatting about what they'd cooked for the previous night's dinner. That reminded me that my older daughter, who was 12 at the time, had cooked dinner for our family the night before. It was the first time she'd ever done it. I couldn't wait to tell my co-workers about it, but, being reasonably polite, I waited so I wouldn't interrupt them.
While I waited for a lull in the conversation, I listened intently, but I kept on working. I worked in the marketing department, and my simple task at that moment was to make files for contracts with some billboard companies with whom we planned to advertise.
Finally, I had my chance to speak. "Kim cooked dinner for the first time last night," I said proudly, "and she did a really good job. It was delicious." I told them about the menu she'd chosen and how she had prepared each dish, and they all smiled and made nice comments. I basked briefly in their nods of approval, then went on about my business.
That happened in the morning. In the afternoon, I began to look for a file I'd made for Suffolk Outdoor Advertising Company. It wasn't there. Three times I flipped through the stack of files, knowing I'd made that one and certain it couldn't have disappeared. The files had never left my desk.
The fourth time I went through the stack of files, I went one-by-one. Instead of scanning for that one file name, I carefully read the label on each folder, setting each one aside after I read it, beginning a new stack of files I'd checked thoroughly.
I never did find one labeled "Suffolk Outdoor Advertising Company." I did, however, find a file containing their contract. It was right there the whole time, and I'd been skipping over it. Its label, which I had neatly typed and centered while I waited to talk about dinner, read "Chicken Breasts."