A new study has concluded that women and men are equally adept — or, inept — at multitasking, suggesting that women are just working harder to get more done. So, stop thinking that women are superheroes, inherently gifted with the magical ability to multitask. There’s no magic to it. Just hard-earned merit.
The small study, published this week in PLOS One, explored whether women are better suited to multitasking than their male counterparts. The researchers were interested in testing the detrimental stereotype that women are better multitaskers than men. The study consisted of a series of simple tasks meant to be completed simultaneously or by switching back and forth, requiring different sets of cognitive skills.
Regardless of the task itself or how the multiple tasks were completed, women and men demonstrated the same capacity to multitask. In fact, the researchers found that multitasking led to reduced performance across the board — especially when we’re required to do two things simultaneously.
Even taking into account the fact that men spend more of their days doing paid work, when you tally up both paid and unpaid tasks, women still end up doing more, according to stats from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Also consider that women are expected to do more unpaid work while in the office; one analysis estimated that women do about 10 percent more than their male colleagues. In the home, the Guardian cited a figure indicating that stay-at-home fathers in Sweden did about 45 minutes less chore work than stay-at-home mothers. (It’s unclear if that meant that those 45 minutes were then delegated to women or if those tasks simply were not prioritized or completed.)
Beyond productivity, multitasking is detrimental to our creativity. “Creativity comes from following your thoughts down new paths,” a professor of neuroscience told NBC News. If you’re switching tasks and therefore thoughts all the time, you’re not allowing your brain to travel down those garden paths that lead to really creative thinking.” That can be detrimental to work, but can also diminish our quality of life in terms of feeling creatively satisfied.
Aside from dismantling the patriarchy, here’s a final, practical takeaway: We may not even realize we’re multitasking — like when we’ve got our heads down on a project but all the while are being pinged by emails or texts. Or maybe we’re doing our work with unrelated social media going on in the background. Sometimes, we multitask because we have so much on our plates and are trying to get it all done at once. Know that if you have the luxury of being able to focus on one thing at a time, you’re likely going to get things done more efficiently.
One way to limit multitasking (when it’s not an essential part of work) is to find a way to limit the flood of tasks you have coming in for small blocks of time, e.g. disconnecting from Wi-Fi for 15-minute increments; that way you know you’re never doing two things at once and are in control of when you’re switching tasks. Another way to limit multitasking is to simply decline to add one more thing to your list and defer the task to the nearest, equally capable man.