Thursday, March 15, 2007

Are You a Multi-Tracker or a Uni-Tracker?

Some people are tall and some people are short, some people have black hair and some people have brown hair, and some people tend to be heavy set and some people tend to be slender. People are different. Likewise, some people tend to be multi-trackers and some people tend to be uni-trackers.

In one of the two companion self-help books I currently am writing, My Adult Loving Relationships, I tell about a former client who I refer to as Jane – an attorney who came to see me because she was extremely frustrated with her husband, Alex. Early into our first session, she said to me, “On almost a daily basis, Dr. Emener, I simultaneously pay attention to my job, my three beautiful children, my tennis, my husband, Alex, and I also pay attention to our relationship. I can attend to all five of these things simultaneously. For example, while driving the children to little league practice, I can also be thinking about my job, and on the way back, I can think of stopping at a store to pick up a special treat for Alex. Alex, on the other hand, drives me crazy. Whatever he does, he does it incredibly well. The only problem is that he can only do one thing at a time. For example, if he is trying to negotiate a new contract at work, where he is a construction supervisor, it seems like that’s the only thing he can do until the contract has been finalized. If the children or I talk with him, or if I want to go to dinner with him, he seems to be preoccupied. It’s like he’s somewhere else, out in space.”

I quickly suggested to Jane that she and Alex might want to talk about this at their earliest opportunity. My sense was that she was continuing to become more and more frustrated with him, she was interpreting his uni-tracking lifestyle as an indication that he did not care about her or the children, and that she was feeling “alone” with an increased sense of responsibility to take care of everything. In a subsequent session with both Jane and Alex, we discussed this and it was very helpful to them. For example, Jane committed herself to trying to be more patient and understanding of Alex, and Alex committed himself to trying to be more multi-tracking in his lifestyle.

In a general sense, I am suggesting that it is important for you to be aware of the extent to which you may be a multi-tracker or a uni-tracker, and also be aware of your loved one’s multi-tracking or uni-tracking lifestyle tendencies. Furthermore, try your best to be aware of the extent to which any differences between you and your loved one might have an impact on your relationship. For example, Alex shared with Jane that to him her multi-tracking lifestyle appeared to be very chaotic, shallow and at times out of control. “Sometimes it seems that you just focus on getting things done rather than on getting things done right or with any attention to quality. Sometimes this really frustrates me,” Alex added. In the final analysis, it was helpful for both Jane and Alex to understand each other’s lifestyles and how their different lifestyles impacted each of them and their relationship.

When I address this in lectures at the university, I tongue-in-cheek say, “Uni-trackers think multi-trackers are crazy, and multi-trackers think uni-trackers are lazy.”

Question: Have you ever struggled with multi-tracker/uni-tracker issues?



Mostly Happy Thoughts said...

Last night I told my boyfriend I didn't want to start making cupcakes until I had finished making and eating dinner. he replied "you are not a multi tasker" and I replied "oh but I am, however I want the cupcakes to be perfect . I want to dedicate all of my attention to them"....

I love the adrenaline rush of multi tasking at work but at home I like to pay a little bit more attention to detail....

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hello MHT,
Thanks for the excellent point -- based on our priorities, we can chose when to and when not to multi-task. I know that if I have to have surgery, I would prefer that the surgeon not be multi-tasking -- I want him or her to be totally focused on what he or she is doing.
I hope you enjoyed the cupcakes,