I arrived home to the delightful aroma of dinner. My beloved met me at the door with a cheerful greeting and the welcoming words, “I’m making dinner tonight.” I knew the smile upon my face conveyed my gratitude to him. I relaxed in my cozy home and watched him move about the kitchen, at which point I reflected upon my dinner preparations the evening before.
It seems appropriate, or maybe just comforting to me, to preface my actions last night by blaming my XX chromosomes. Although I can’t say ALL women, I would like to think that the majority of women have been vying for the multi-tasking award of achievement for years, if not millenia.
The symptoms are classic and the behaviours characteristic of what I call a Mega Multitasking Maniac (MMM). In addition to XX, I think women are born with the MMM chromosome. And the condition is manic, indeed. Ask any woman and you’ll get a variation of the following scenario:
Last night I started making dinner. The cats were screaming that they were famished, so I fed them and noticed that a load of laundry needed to be dried, which was an opportune moment to throw on one more load to wash. The pan I wanted to use was in the dishwasher, so I emptied it and put all the dishes away, then noted that the Tupperware drawer was disorganized so I fixed that, too. The garbage needed to be emptied and while I was heading to the garage I took the recycling. The compost had a slight odour, so that was disposed of and the container I thoroughly cleaned. I made enough food for the next days’ lunch, then chatted with my mother (which is so much easier for my neck now that I wear a headset) while finishing dinner. I pulled the salad utensils from the drawer and, oh my gosh… where do all those little crumbs come from? I quickly emptied the drawer, cleaned the utensil tray, said goodnight to my mother, finished dinner, set the table, poured a massive glass of wine, then stared-down at my sweetheart when he exclaimed, “why are you sweating?”
I was reared in a household, and worked in organizations where multi-tasking was well-regarded—actually praised. If you needed to go up the stairs and there was stuff on the bottom stair, it was expected that you would pick it up, carry it up the stairs and put it away. I usually forgot the reason I was going up the stairs in the first place.
Much research has been conducted on multi-tasking—actually all brain activity. Multi-tasking refers to the simultaneous performance of two or more tasks, switching back and forth between different tasks, or performing a number of different tasks in quick succession.
It’s all part of life these days. We answer emails while chatting on the phone. We schedule appointments while driving, drinking coffee and listening to the radio. And it seems as if we’re focusing on all these tasks simultaneously, as if we’ve become true masters of doing 10 things at once.
But that’s not really the case, brain researchers say. We’re not paying attention to one or two things simultaneously, but switching between them very rapidly. Multi-tasking involves dividing one’s attention between the tasks, and because each task competes for a limited amount of cognitive resources, the performance of one interferes with that of the other. The greater the similarity of the tasks, the more interference there is.
It appears that multi-tasking can be counterproductive. When switching from task to task, you think you’re actually paying attention to everything around you at the same time. But you’re actually not.
I hate to admit this, and I probably would deny this in public, but I think that the men we live with have got it right. Focusing on one task at a time will give you a greater sense of achievement and peace than multi-tasking. As I watch my beloved move about the kitchen, he takes moments to pause, reflect and ponder. He is unhurried and deliberate in his movements. He is being nourished by enjoying the journey of making dinner. He is at peace.
In the meantime, I’m still trying to recall what it was that my mother asked me to mail her. Maybe I’ll just send her the crumbs I found in the drawer.