That dreaded question: Can men multitask?
The age-old debate about multitasking men resurfaces! This time, it draws into question paternal obligations and abilities. The modern dad is one who aims to be able-bodied and aspires to be more involved with parenting. This all while being the king on the sales floor, the master at mixing Jagerbombs and tending the veggie patch on weekends.
First off, what exactly is multitasking?
The Cambridge Dictionary aligns with pure grammatical reasoning on this one. Human multitasking is described as the ability to do more than one particular task at any given time. Further studies have put forward a more defined explanation, which describes multitasking as the ability to rapidly switch focus between performing multiple tasks.
The latter suggests that multitasking is something which can be taught, or even improved on, over time or exposure to familiar tasks. Studies have been done to confirm this. So, if training can indeed improve multitasking ability, then it is fair game. If parenting was a sport, then this revelation levels the playing field.
While we must be careful about viewing parenting as a competition, we have often been reminded that women are better at multitasking than men. However, the studies used to prove that, were all inconsistent and had a minute variance using only small groups of participants. In fact, latest studies, following the train of thought that multitasking relates to muscle memory, has shown that men could become better at multitasking the more they do it.
This begs another question: Should men multitask?
This takes the debate into a completely different direction. The best way to look at that question, is to change it slightly: When should men multitask?
The problem here is that multitasking drives on partial attention or attention division. No one can focus 100% on two different tasks. Even that little CPU in your laptop takes a knock when you open multiple windows. As much as you shouldn’t text while driving, you also should not type that office memo while discussing a big sale on the phone. Inevitably, something will be missed. Though the speed with which our prefrontal cortex processes information can be increased drastically through training and practice, multitasking still “gets you there slower.” In other words, multitasking in the workplace should be a no-no.
How does this relate to parenting?
Well, it’s simple. As a dad of three, I simply don’t have a choice. It is a requirement to multitask. At work, you compartmentalise and dedicate your attention to certain tasks. At home, be it during bath time or supper time, while playing in the yard or going to the movies, it quickly veers into chaos and you roll with the punches. You must become a whizz at juggling without dropping any skittles.
As a final note to all dads out there, if you can’t do this, you’d better get cracking at it. Studies are in. We are able. Flex that frontal lobe. No more excuses.
James Fouche is an author, travel writer, entrepreneur and silly daddy of three. He also writes about parenting and wine, whenever his kids allow him to.