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Anushay Hossain

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Women and Multitasking: Asset or Enemy?

Posted: 12/04/2013 1:51 pm

Last month, a study by British psychologists confirmed what women have long known that we are, indeed, better at multi-tasking than men. The study did find that both sexes "struggled to cope with juggling priorities," but that men suffered on average more. The psychologists also concluded that men were slower and less organized than women when switching quickly between tasks.

Like most women, I never really valued our amazing ability to multi-task until I became a working mother. I think although this innate ability in us is always "on," it really develops into our secret weapon as we get older and have more responsibilities. How else could we possibly try to wear all the hats society throws at us, or hats we may choose to wear?

It didn't take long after I got married to discover that one of the secrets to preventing the eventual strangling of your husband's neck was to accept that men are incapable of multi-tasking. This was more of a defining moment for me than it was for my partner, mostly because I think he already knew what I had just found out: men just cannot juggle life like women can. When my husband talks on the phone, and I ask him to pass me the remote, he will look up at me in total shock and awe before actually dramatically hissing, "Shhhh! Can you not see I am on the phone?"

Normally while I am on the phone, I am simultaneously writing a book, growing a baby, feeding the cat, all while redecorating in my head, and trying to figure out women's world domination. And that is all just while I am on the phone.

However, could our greatest asset actually not be that great? In his recent post, Victor Imbimbo, the President and CEO of Caring Today, asks if multitasking is actually a myth, and if we are just wired to switch between tasks:

The truth is, effective multitasking is an oxymoron. Research has shown that your brain can only process one activity at a time. But what the brain is extremely good at is rapidly switching from one task to another...I'll admit that I was one of those people who "practiced" multitasking. And it felt pretty good to tick off boxes on my to-do list, even though I often felt scattered and frustrated..."

Imbimbo goes on to give us a list of better ways of getting our tasks done than to try to do them all at once. The one option that really stood out to me is number three on his checklist, when he states we should ask for help. Now of course, I am speaking generally here because as we know some women are stellar managers and delegators, but Inbimbo's point made me think about how women may be great at multi-tasking, but delegating is a skill we still need to work on. He even suggests it could make us more efficient multitaskers.

So, should women stop giving into taking so much on and feeling overwhelmed, or should we just change how we tackle our loads? I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle. Although the first study by the British psychologists found that not only is multitasking real, but women are actually better at it than men, other experts warn that we may be just good at spreading our attention. I think the key is finding the balance- not just doing things for the sake of doing them, but managing our lives and the multiple roles we play, effectively.

And most importantly, to remember not to the ability to juggle for granted.

 

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