Men concentrate; women multi-task

Several years ago I read an article about the differences between men and women. I generally stay as far away as possible from such articles since I see them as drawing distinctions that may be true of some specific people, but certainly are not true of all men or women.

People who describe men and women as being from two different universes, I think, omit a great deal of data that contradict their thesis. In fact, I think of men and women as people, each one possessing his or her own package of talents, abilities, and, yes. foibles.

But this article talked about men and women being different in terms of their ability to be doing several things at the same time and it pointed to some reportedly reputable research to that effect. The article said that men, by and large, concentrate on the thing they are doing. They may be able to do two things at one time (like walk and chew gum) but add a third, and the man is not able to cope. Women, the article says, naturally multi-task. Of course, this too is an over-simplification and there are large numbers of men who also multi-task. This article also applies to them.

Women, especially married women with children, are constantly doing more than one thing—talking on the phone and preparing a meal and braiding a daughter’s hair. Women have a lot of discrete tasks that they must accomplish, all of which take a lot of time, but some of which involve waiting time. So a woman might be mixing a cake batter when a child starts crying. She goes to comfort the child and the dryer buzzer goes off, so she goes with the child to the dryer as the doorbell rings and on the way to the door drops off the child at a toy box. Once finished at the door, she finishes mixing the cake and just as she is about to pour it into the pan, the telephone rings, but she just continues what she is doing, juggling the telephone, putting away the eggs and the milk, and closing the refrigerator door with her foot.

It’s a necessity for women who are mothers of young children to multi-task. Many women become very good at it. However, it can become an insidious handicap.

Over the years, women learn to be thinking of many things at the very same time, thereby accomplishing many tasks, but that also means that no one task has the advantage of full concentration. After years of multi-tasking, it becomes difficult to be fully present in the task and in the moment.

Time and again, I have met women who are so used to not being able to finish a sentence, that when they are finally able to speak, still can’t finish a sentence. They interrupt themselves mid-thought because another thought is present and it seems more important at the time. In fact, women often train themselves to be inattentive and to have very short attention spans.

What was a functional behavior when children were young becomes maladaptive when the woman is finally able to have uninterrupted adult conversations.

There are ways to identify if this is a problem for you:

1. Do you find yourself forgetting what you are talking about in the middle of a sentence?

2. Do you find yourself searching for familiar words?

3. Do you find yourself wondering what you heard on the news immediately after you heard it?

4. Do your husband and children report your having had conversations with them that you don’t recall?

If the answer to three or more questions is yes, then you might do well to begin teaching yourself to focus and be fully present in what you are doing.

There are several ways to do this. You can start by to turning off the radio or TV if you are reading or working on the computer. When you are speaking, keep your mind on the subject, “looking” ahead a few sentences so that you stay on the right path. You need to understand and believe that you don’t have to accomplish everything at the same time. It’s really OK to wait until you are finished with one thing before starting the next. Remember that what you are saying or doing is important enough to pay attention to. You don’t need to be in a frenetic rush to accomplish everything. After all, if you are truly present in the moment, then you will feel more centered and relaxed and you will live life to its fullest.

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  1. “Women, especially married women with children, are constantly doing more than one thing”

    Women with children are always women with children, no matter what they are doing. There is a level of pre-occupation that you just do not find in women with no children. You never get 100% of a woman with children.

    “walk and chew gum”

    In correctly quoted but, it being a family blog, I’ll pass on reporting what LBJ *really* said.