Truth about multitasking

“Women are great at multitasking” is a positive stereotype people believe about women. It is partly true, considering some experiments, where women actually seemed to have an upper hand at multitasking, owing to their being calm and focused even under pressure, while men were slightly impulsive and quicker to arrive at decisions without giving it as much thought as the women did. The fact, however, that multitasking is a bane for both men and women should be taken into account before we proudly proclaim our superiority at multitasking.

Research says that multitasking does not mean that we do two or more tasks at the exact same time. What we call multitasking is actually our brain rapidly switching its attention from one task to another. This shift of focus from one thing to another happens in a fraction of a second, which makes us think we are concentrating on many tasks at a time. If you are, say, cooking a meal and talking to a friend on the phone, you are pretty much juggling both tasks back and forth without realizing it. Your brain focuses on the recipe for a second, then it hangs on to the words uttered by your friend. Again, it shifts the attention back to the cooking, recalls where it left off and you begin preparing the meal once again. You do not realize this process as it happens way too fast for you to understand.

Now you know how our brains actually function during multitasking. Women, as a rule, especially in India, are burdened with a lot of work- their own job, cooking, cleaning, looking after kids and the list goes on. As women are expected to look after their homes along with their career, they tend to multitask too much. Multitasking sure does help them get work done quickly. However, multitasking has its ill-effects:

  • Decreased Productivity: As multitasking rapidly changes focus from one task to another, the brain cannot focus on one task properly. It keeps jumping form one thing to the other, and as a result there are high chances that both the tasks aren’t done well. If you talk to your friend while you cook, you could easily miss out on what she said. Or you could mess up with the quantity of an ingredient.
  • Reduces ability to focus: The more you multitask, the more you train your brain to rapidly change its focus. Your brain gets used to concentrating on two or more things in quick succession. In such a case, imagine what would happen if you really want to focus on one task at a time. The brain, out of habit, would try and find something else on which it can shift its focus. If you are a habitual multitasker, there are high chances that you would find it difficult to concentrate on one single thing. If you sit down to read a book, your mind would have occasional random thoughts, you’d be disturbed easily even by little distractions like the sound of a sudden passing. If you are working on the computer, you’d probably be having too many windows and tabs open with your attention shifting quickly from one tab to another. Your brain would constantly try to find another activity to shift its focus on.
  • Increases stress: As multitasking involves rapid shift of focus between two or more activities, you have to strive to complete each of the activities perfectly. This increases the pressure in your mind. The more regularly you multitask, the pressure would increase, leading to stress.
  • Impairs Memory: Multitasking causes over-stimulation of the brain function. Let’s say you are busy shifting focus repeatedly from say, helping your child to do the homework to working on a project from office. In this situation, your brain would take in some information from the project and some information from what your child is trying to tell you. By having too much information at the same time, the brain, in all the haste, cannot decide what part of the information is important, and which isn’t. Also, out of the information that is fed to the brain, very little of it actually gets stored in the long-term memory, because the brain is busy trying to shift its focus continuously. Constant multitasking makes the brain habitual to storing more information in the short-term memory, thus affecting your long-term memory. Multitasking could make you more forgetful.

Now you know how multitasking could be potentially harmful for you. In today’s fast-paced life, however, it is quite difficult to avoid multitasking, especially for women like us. Yet, here are some tips you can use to reduce multitasking to a great extent:

  • Observe what tasks you do together on a daily basis and see if you can separate them to one task at a time. E.g. if it’s your habit to check your e-mails and messages while preparing breakfast every day, break them in to two separate tasks.
  • If one of the tasks does not significantly contribute to your well-being, let it go. E.g. gossiping on the phone with a friend for hours while doing your household work.
  • Whenever you do one task at a time, be fully present in doing it. Be aware of each moment you spend in completing that task.
  • Prepare a schedule of all your tasks in advance and try to follow it as far as possible. Time management also plays an important part here.
  • If you must multitask, make sure at least one of the activities does not require a lot of your mental energy. E.g. (although it is not recommended,) it is quite possible to eat, and work on a project at the same time. The action of eating is automatic, whereas your brain primarily focuses on the project. On the other hand, if, instead of eating, you are helping your child with your homework, you are reducing the productivity, as both tasks require a lot of your mental effort.
  • If you are overburdened with responsibilities, do not hesitate to ask for help from a family member or a friend. If they comply, you can focus on important things, while they take care of the rest.

It is not easy to get rid of multitasking completely owing to a lot of work and lack of time. But you sure can try your best to keep multitasking at a bare minimum.

You may also want to read other articles written by the same author:  ‘Fun alternatives for ladies on career break‘,  ‘Bridging the gap using online resources‘, ‘Stress: Lets deal with it‘, ‘No Matter what the world says, It is ok to… live your life‘, ‘A little guide to positivity‘ ‘Ways to Selfmotivation- Your key to success’, ‘Why you need to prioritise yourself’, ‘Challenges after a career break and their solutions‘, ‘Home Business Ideas for Women’  , ‘The Habit of Labelling‘ .

About the author:

“Radhika works as a visiting lecturer at the University of Mumbai. She completed her B.A. and  M.A (Gold medal) in Sanskrit from the Mumbai University. She has a passion for languages especially English, Sanskrit, and German and has written articles on Upanishads. She provides content development services. She likes teaching and writing. Her hobbies include reading and listening to music.”

(The author is a guest blogger at Her Second Innings. The opinions expressed are those of the author.) You can reach our guest bloggers by mailing us at

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