multi-tasking verses micro-tasking

People always say women are better multi-taskers than men. My bet is that the stereotype is largely true. Most men I know can only concentrate on one thing at a time. Where many women I know can do multiple things at the SAME time.

For instance, if you want eliminate my productivity, just put on the television. If the television is on, there is almost nothing else I can do. I am absolutely powerless. I cannot watch television and do anything else that takes brainpower. I might be able to fold laundry or run on the treadmill, but nothing where I am really utilizing my brain.

Many women can compartmentalize their brains better and do many things at once. There has been a lot of studies that claim to prove this but I never believed the studies before because it seemed to me that men and women were equally productive in the workplace. But what I didn’t realize was while women really excel at multi-taking, men compensate for this by micro-tasking.

Micro-tasking is the ability to do lots of different things in series while multi-tasking is doing different things in parallel. While parallel-processing is inherently better, you can make up for it by being very efficient when working in series.

You might think someone is a really good multi-tasker because they get a lot of stuff done in an hour but they might actually be a really good micro-tasker (maybe doing 20 different things in order for an average of three minutes each).

Instant messaging is the bane to people that love to micro-task but cannot deal with true multi-tasking. I can’t deal with IM – it makes any other work I was considering doing fall by the wayside. So like many people who understand that they are not a parallel processor, they organize life hacks to compensate for this.

After actively using ICQ in 1997-1998, I eliminated IM from my life. In fact, I tried to eliminate all unnecessary synchronous communication (which is why I love email – it is by far the best asynchronous communication medium ever invented). And while I use IM to communicate with people occasionally (I don’t have an IM client, I always use Meebo) and recognized the power of IM (I even invested in Meebo), IM should be for people who truly can multi-task and not poor chaps like me (and most men) who have to resort to micro-tasking. And, of course, IM is for people that don’t want to be productive (most people in the world).

Another life hack I made four years ago was to eliminate TV. I canceled my cable subscription because TV, to me, was like chocolate cake – it is so addictive that if it was available in my home it would be consumed.

If you’re a man, chances are you’re not wired for parallel processing. So if you want to gain efficiency and output, you’ll need to set up your life inputs to better gel with your internal systems.

(special thanks to my office-mate, Vivek Sodera, who pointed out these differences to me)

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