How Well Do You Multi-task?
April 10, 2013
Have you noticed there’s a popular fascination with whether women or men are better at multitasking?
One of the reasons the who-mutitasks-better question keeps popping up is our culture loves the idea of the battle of the sexes. The media reports on anything showing even slight evidence of gender differences because the story will be interesting to everyone, not to mention bound to stir up
Another reason is because we’re obsessed with efficiency and productivity. So research is frequently being done on multi-tasking.
So which gender do you think is better at multitasking?
On a scale of 1 to 10, how good are you at it?
Wondering what researchers are finding? According to one study, women are better at multitasking than men. And according to another study, it’s the men who are better multi-taskers. And then the next study reports it’s women… and the next the men.
So some studies do indeed find a small superiority for women on this, and some find a small edge for men – depending on the tasks tested.
Take a common activity like driving. What if we tested how well men and women drive while talking on a cell phone. What do you think the outcome would be? Who will perform better?
Researchers (Watson and Strayer – 2010) found no difference between men and women on this type of multitasking.
And this is the case for multitasking in general. Overall, no strong, consistent, definitive evidence can be found either way to prove one sex is better at multi-tasking. (Strayer et al. – 2013).
Some people are better multitaskers than others, but there is more variation among the sexes than between the sexes on this.
Interestingly, most people feel that they are good at multitasking.
I suspect we might be overestimating our abilities.
In the study referenced above about talking on the phone while driving, only 2.5% of the 200 people tested were able to drive just as well while talking on the phone. Less than 3% were unaffected by doing both tasks at once – 97% were not as good while multitasking!
The latest in a series of studies that show humans are not built for multitasking reports a “unified bottleneck” in the brain that prevents us from focusing on multiple tasks at once. Particularly as we age. We can task-hop to a degree, but we cannot effectively focus on multiple things at once.
So here’s the bottom line: Multitasking is best avoided for any task that needs concentration. Humans – male and female – don’t multitask very well, unless one of the activities is automatic or routine (like tying a shoe) and doesn’t require much conscious processing to accomplish it.
Changing – enacting personal change – is not automatic or routine. It takes attention, concentration and focused effort over an extended period of time. That’s why the My One Word project is effective. It keeps you from trying to multi-task on a long list of changes you’re trying to make at once.
Focus on just one thing – and you get results. Regardless of your gender.
I KNOW that I’m not doing anything as well when I’m multi-tasking…and yet I continue to try! Thanks for the reminder to concentrate on one thing at a time. I need to view it as a positive and mono-task proudly.
“Mono-task proudly” … that’s terrific, Amy!