Jill of all trades?

Women have a natural ability to multi-task because the female brain is hard-wired to switch between tasks. But there is a huge difference between being busy and being productive. Bring in single-focus to any task and you are sure to experience better productivity, suggests Suja Natarajan.


Aruna Vatturi, a systems analyst, talks to her mom on the phone while she feeds her child. She replies to an email that has just come in and grabs a cup of coffee. She answers the doorbell and briefly catches up with the day’s news. Is this a picture of the modern woman trying to wear many hats that society tosses at her or is it chronic multitasking? Are women natural multi-taskers? 
Experimental evidence supports the fact that women are better than men at multi-tasking. 

Although both sexes struggle to cope with priorities, men seemed to suffer more, states a paper in the journal BMC Psychology. Researchers have found better neural associations between the left and the right sides of the brain among women, which controls the logical and intuitive thinking skills. 

The innate ability to multi-task, perhaps, started with the caveman. Men solely focused on hunting, while women stayed home, kept it in shape, raised children, and carried out other activities along with other women. From a young age, girls efficiently juggle with academics, extra-curricular activities, along with social life and family obligations. This quality helps women to become proficient at family duties and work management, later in life. Women have a natural ability to multi-task because the female brain is hard-wired to switch between tasks.

“When I ask my husband to switch on the fan while he is on the phone, he gives me a disapproving look, as if I asked him to do the craziest thing,” complains homemaker Avanti Datta. “I put away dishes while am on the phone, clean the table and even change my kid’s nappy!” Now, before you feel proud about your excellent multi-tasking skills, chew on this. Although there is no better feeling than checking off tasks from your list, recent studies indicate that multitasking can make you unproductive and stressed! 

In fact, psychologists opine that our brains are ill-equipped to accomplish two heavy-duty tasks that demand attention and contemplation. If you feel proud about multitasking, it is because mechanical tasks do not require much brainpower.
 Multitasking can also be risky. Most fatal car crashes occur due to inattentive drivers who are busy texting and talking while driving. According to Dr Edward Hallowell, an American psychiatrist, chronic multi-taskers lose the ability to focus and eventually become under-achievers.

Juggling tasks might have become a way of life for many of us, thanks to the fast-paced and demanding lifestyles we lead today. But a recent study discovered that people who multi-task are actually inefficient as their attention is easily robbed by useless distractions.
 Consequently, their brains are unable to sieve irrelevant data, and they remain unfocussed. “When people do two cognitive tasks at once, their cognitive capacity can drop from that of a Harvard MBA to that of an eight-year-old,” writes David Rock, in his book Your Brain At Work: Strategies For Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus And Working Smarter All Day Long.

“Multi-tasking is the worst way to use time. I am on my toes, completing tasks. I wish I could give undivided attention to one task. When the day ends, I feel exhausted and unsatisfied,” admits Anita Javaji, a civil engineer. So at the end of the day, do you want to derive a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment, as against feeling exhausted and discontented?

There is a huge difference between being busy and being productive. Bring in single-focus to any task and you are sure to experience better productivity in your daily life. For all those chronic multi-taskers who feel inadequate, here’s how to do less and accomplish more:

Calm your mind

Don’t let your thoughts drift to regrets about the past or worries about the future. You will be less productive on the current job when your mind is elsewhere. Practise relaxation techniques to push away stress and anxiety.

Set up a schedule

You will avoid doing willy-nilly things when you plan how to spend your day. Write down every task that is on your mind and then prioritise the most important thing. Work on this task first thing in the morning. Train yourself to stop feeling anxious about small things. Focus on achieving things that really matter. 

Block out distractions

Focusing on a task becomes a challenge with a constant stream of technological stimuli. Shut off all types of distractions - phone, entertainment, email and things that are not required while you work. Plan for distractions in your daily schedule; allow 10 minutes break for every 40-50 minutes of focussed work.

Handle interruptions

An average person gets interrupted every 8 minutes, or 50-60 times a day, which is nearly four hours per day! 80 percent of interruptions are considered of “little value”. Learn to manage interruptions smartly. For urgent interruptions, jot down your thoughts, before pausing, so you can resume with minimal effort.

Build focus

Train your brain to focus on one task at hand. Absorb in an activity and let nothing else matter. Focus on getting your important task done efficiently. Start and work on the task consciously and slowly. You will derive satisfaction once you complete your job wholeheartedly.

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