The term ‘multitasker’ is one that is used often — and let’s face it, it’s a necessary trait in our ADD age. (Seriously, try to imagine only doing one thing at a time, for real.) And, while there are always, of course, exceptions to the rules, women are typically wired to be better multitaskers.
“For unclear reasons, it does appear that women are able to engage multiple tasks more effectively than men,” says David Perlmutter, M.D., a neurologist in Naples, Florida. “This has been well documented in research — in scientific experiments, it appears that women are better able to look at tasks by embracing the ‘big picture’ and recognizing and analyzing the multiple parts as opposed to men, who seem to focus more on the individual parts, while ignoring the whole.”
So, while you may be born to be better at taking on a crazy to-do list and banging it all out simultaneously, there are ways to maximize your try-to-do-it-all potential. “We don’t really multitask in the strict definition of the word — what really happens is that our brains are able to switch quickly back and forth between various thoughts or tasks,” says Perlmutter. “This process is enhanced when the actual function of the individual brain cell and its connection are enhanced.”
How can you help that happen? It could be as easy as eating: “Nutritionally, anything that increases a substance called BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic hormone) will be beneficial,” he says. “One of the most important players to turn on BDNF and thus enhance the process, from a nutritional perspective, is 800 to 1000 mg of DHA supplement, or eating foods rich in omega-3 oil from algae or fish (high levels of ‘good’ fats) while restricting carbohydrates from your diet.” It’s important to note that we now recognize that gluten sensitivity can markedly reduce the brain’s ability to perform, especially as it relates to complex tasks, he says.
Another productive game-changer: any form of aerobic exercise for a minimum of 20 minutes daily. “All of these are things that you can do right away to improve your ability to deal with multiple ongoing mental tasks and these all depend upon increasing the function of individual nerve cells by increasing the brain’s ‘growth hormone,' BDNF,” he says.
Recent research by scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, used brain scans to reveal that the brain attributes more of its focus on what you are working on at that time (i.e. if you are at work and planning a project, you’re less likely to be thinking about, say, when you are going to walk your dog) and other parts of the brain will jump on the bandwagon to help out if need be.
So, what does that mean for how you ‘multi-task’ or what you decide to group together? “The specific tasks matter in terms of the parts of the brain that are recruited to participate, but its also interesting to note that new research indicates that specific brain areas can actually process different types of information in response to demands,” explains Perlmutter. “For example, we now know that an area of the brain dedicated to processing visual information in terms of categorizing items can also process information that relates to movement.” Have a ton of stuff to get done? Well, get on it.