Women are crap at multitasking. Whatever you think you know about the superiority of the female race and our innate ability to perform more than one task at once is, quite frankly, a debilitating myth.
Don’t get me wrong, men are utterly crap at multitasking too.
But it’s us women who have embraced the myth and spend the majority of our adult lives whirling around and around in a frenzy trying to turn it into a reality.
Whether it’s speaking on the phone to Person A while writing an email to Person B, or reading the Gruffalo out loud (with appropriate voices) while batch cooking enough bolognese sauce to feed an army and a navy for the next year, it’s IMPOSSIBLE to do both things at the same time.
The fact is our brains JUST CAN’T DO IT.
Instead, they flit between the tasks. And while you’re concentrating on the one, the other has to get dropped.
So either the person you’re ‘having a conversation with’ just gets the ‘hm’, ‘ok’, ‘right’ kinda noises while you block out their convo to focus on writing that important work email.
OR you make a whole load of typos and/or forget to attach the attachment that is the whole point of sending the email in the first place while you remain mentally present in the telephone conversation.
When it comes to performing the Gruffalo and batch cooking ragù, even if you’ve got that Donaldson classic off by heart (and I thought I had), something’s gotta give. In my case it was setting my favourite oven gloves alight. It could have been a whole lot worse.
Not only does trying to do two things at once mean that one of them inevitably goes to sh*t. It also means that our brains are quite literally overloading.
As we flit from one task to another, there’s a pay off. Time-wise, we might only be talking milliseconds that are lost to the multitasking myth.
But energywise, memorywise, sanitywise? That’s a whole other story.
It’s like when you’ve got too many programmes running on your old laptop. The thing starts to get really slow and grumpy.
It’s just not a good idea.
So why do we perpetuate the multitasking myth?
Well, we THINK we’re being super-productive. And that’s what society tells us we need to be.
Also, our (mythical) ability to multitask is one of the few things that men very happily give us our dues for. And it’s easy to see why.
You’re on the phone to your mum, discussing what to buy the kids for Xmas while unloading the washing machine, loading the tumble dryer and extracting the frozen peas from your freezer. You drop the peas all over the floor and unintentionally agree to granny buying the little ones a full-sized drum kit for Chrimbo. ‘Yes, that would be lovely, Mum. Wait, what?!’
Meanwhile, your man is on the phone to his pal. He’s sitting down. SITTING DOWN FOR GOD’S SAKE! And he appears to be actually listening to and enjoying the chit chat.
Later, you drop the hint that you managed to do three chores simultaneously while on the phone, but he is unable to do anything when he’s chatting into the blower. He agrees with you. He’s incapable of doing more than one thing at once. He’s not a multitasker. He’s a mere bloke.
You tell me – who’s the mug?
Hence, I’m quitting multitasking.
I’m crap at it. (So are you, by the way).
And I have no extra bits of energy, memory or sanity that I can afford to squander on perpetuating the myth.
That’s me from now on. One-job-at-a-time-Suzy, they’ll call me.
Sod trying to do everything for everyone while simultaneously losing my marbles.
From now on, I’ll just shrug my shoulders with a little smile and explain, semi-apologetically, that I’m not a multitasker, I’m a mere human.
* This article in The New Yorker presents research that infers only 2% of humans can actually multitask in an efficient, productive way. The remaining 98% of us just can’t.