Men can’t multi-task, women can. Universal truth or urban myth?
Multitasking has at times been promoted as a way of getting things done. However, in recent times this advice has come into disrepute. Multi-tasking is a misnomer – for men, and women. So, the men who have been getting by focusing on one task at a time may have been right all along. But why?
Multi-tasking = multi-shifting your attention
With the increasing interest and knowledge of the brain and how it works, there is growing information about conditions that enhance its function. It has been revealed that the brain can only give its attention to one thing at a time. So undertaking a series of things ie multitasking, means shifting your attention from one thing to another. This has to happen sequentially so there is potential for small gaps in attention to any of those tasks in the sequence.
There’s more …
A recent article in L&D magazine reports on a study revealing that multitasking is actually bad for your brain! It suggests that multi-tasking and the rise in the use of technological devices that pull on our attention, cause harmful effects to people’s attention spans and the ability to get things done. Other effects include lower academic performance, poorer working memory function and increased impulsivity. It is a vicious cycle.
Some underlying conditions include:
- a sense of always being “on” and drawn to respond to devices through email, text messages and social media postings
- a fatigue that comes from the shifting attention of our pre-frontal cortex, which is used in conscious thought and tires easily
Many people feel they must multi-task because everybody else is multitasking, but this is partly because they are all interrupting each other so much.
~ Marilyn vos Savant
Breaking the habit
Multi-tasking and getting into the franticness that impacts performance is a habit. It develops over time and so can be reversed in the same way. So instead of doing multiple things concurrently, have short periods focused on completing one thing. Have a break and do another. The level of focus you can achieve from this will be evident in the output.
Self-organising for periods of focus, followed by breaks
No one can be “on” all the time and stay sane. The brain, like other parts of your body needs its down time to rest and recuperate before another day. Organising yourself to have periods of sustained focus will highlight your awareness of the benefits of the approach. Breaks between can also highlight your awareness of the difference between the experience of being”on” and the experience of being “off”.
Such awareness comes into its own when you recognise those differences when you aren’t trying to. It happens in a moment of realisation, when you are least expecting it. At those times, it may be you are able to detach and observe your own behaviour or that of others in intense situations. There is a steady calmness that comes into being when you achieve this – you feel in control as much as you need to be, and achieving productively – without the mania.
In writing about this, it sounds almost like a meditation. It’s a sort of mindfulness brought to daily work. Who would have thought that men who have long been criticised for their monotasking, are in perhaps taking the more evolved path?
Do you have a success story for keeping work manageable? Perhaps you would share it here.