Thursday, November 5, 2009

Can Men Multitask?

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, multitasking is a relatively new noun describing “the performance of multiple tasks at one time.” The word was ‘discovered,’ officially, in 1966—probably with the advent of the computer age; it described the computer as being able to multitask.[1]

Many women will of course scoff at the very thought of a man multitasking as it’s apparently impossible. But, I’m not so sure. For starters I think men naturally use a form of multitasking (which I’ll call ‘semi-multitasking’) in many areas of life, but importantly it seems to be a matter of preference, and in some cases, choice. (Do I hear any allusions to another variety or form of ‘selective deafness’… ladies?)

There are many advantages of multitasking, certainly as women can attest—the more we can multitask the less blocky our lives need to be; the more we can compress into a shorter time. Time is then freed up for other more enjoyable things (or that’s the theory). We are more effective and more efficient as a result.

There are some realms where many men can routinely semi-multitask, say professionally; and there are some realms where they just can’t. In certain situations, particularly at home, we men get angry if we’re required to listen whilst reading instructions.[2]

But, multitasking is something we can readily train our brains to do, provided we men can learn to integrate our left and right brains better and become less compartmentalised.

Simply put, the human left brain handles transactional tasks and the right brain handles the transformational, more creative mind, activity.

Perfect multitasking is integrating these diametrically opposed transactional and transformational mental processes dynamically. Women apparently do this; for men it needs to be more linear (i.e. less dynamic) than that.

Instead of being dynamic, he can break the tasks down in linear fashion, managing the seconds and minutes in a more dogmatic style, swapping from transactional to transformational—it still looks like he’s multitasking (until you ask him to talk or listen). He’s still achieving the same ends, though the means varies.

Anyone can train their mind in this way, female or male. The female simply has a biological advantage. Anyone can become extremely efficient in their thought processes: planning, reflecting and acting; and doing so, simultaneously—albeit dynamically (female) or linearly (male) to pay homage to the prevailing generalisation.

So, men, how do we train our brains to better manage the ambiguity of integrated left-right brain thinking?

I’m proposing the following:

1. Practice – managing the various thinking processes that ordinarily overload us. This is likely to involve the logical (left brain) and the emotional (right brain); the rational (left) and the abstract (right). Try playing evocative music whilst fixing the car—key in the emotions as you tighten that filter! Think of a loving relationship whilst you sort that spreadsheet out.

2. Don’t Compete – with the barbing females in your midst. We don’t want to be that much like them, do we? We need to appreciate the natural differences between the genders; the differences are easy to respect, seriously!

3. Maximise the Moment – boil the moments down into the transactional and the transformational, and show no preference other than when you feel drained. Our transactional abilities might be all we have available. Chances are there are plenty of both types of activities we can engage in at any one time. We need to simply go with the flow performing one micro-task after the other.

We really aren’t that different, males and females.

© S. J. Wickham, 2009.



[1] “multitasking.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2009. Merriam-Webster Online. 5 November 2009. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/multitasking

[2] Allan & Barbara Pease, Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps (London, England: Pease International, 2001-2006), p. 55.

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