It is often said that women are better multitaskers than men – because they must be. But today’s digital world is creating a whole new layer of distraction and attention-consuming “tasks”. Does that leave room for successful multitasking – or do we need a new approach?
Designer Paulo Cardini says only two percent of us are “supertaskers” – the rare individuals who can successfully control a multitasking environment. For the rest of us, he says, there’s monotasking.
Monotasking is the art of focusing solely on the task at hand.
In today’s digital world, it is easier said than done. With busy lives and distractions coming from every angle, it can be hard to focus solely on the one thing. Manoush Zamorodi, managing editor of WNYC Studio’s Note to Self-podcast, says, “We weren’t talking about this before because we simply weren’t as distracted… Our gadgets and all the things we look at on them are designed not to let us single-task.”
Yet research suggests we should.
A 2009 study from Stanford University found multitaskers to have poorer attention spans and memory than those who focused on one thing at a time. In 2015, Iowa State University researchers found students who spent more time on social media were more likely to have a lower GPA.
According to Kelly McGonigal, author, psychologist, and lecturer at Stanford University, “research shows that just having a phone on the table is sufficiently distracting to reduce empathy and rapport between two people who are in conversation.”
And, once we start multitasking, our brain has a way of tricking us into doing it more. According to Susanna Newsonen, our brains get a thrill – in the form of a shot of dopamine – from completing lots of things. Thanks to this rush of hormones, we end up mistaking these distractions with being productive.
Worse, our over-optimistic mindset causes us to make more mistakes.
The notion that women are better multitaskers than men probably originally arose from women’s traditional role as primary caregivers. After all, it’s hard to focus on a task properly when you have a toddler demanding your attention.
Today, it’s probably more accurate to say that all parents of young children feel a great pressure to multitask.
Yet even for parents of young children, monotasking is a good skill to hone. Conversations with your children, reading them a story at bedtime, and giving them the attention they need, all work better when you focus single-mindedly on the task at hand too.