I’ve just noticed that I cannot write and talk at the same time.
Maybe you too?
I don’t know what it is. When I write, I cannot be talking and vice versa. I never noticed it before yesterday. But yesterday while in the shower I was asking myself, “What do I want to write about today?” It just dawned on me, seemingly out of nowhere; I never write while I am talking.
This started my thinking about the virtues and pitfalls of multitasking. You know, doing more than one thing simultaneously.
Recently, multitasking has had a run of bad luck in the popular press. The Wikipedia entry on multitasking notes, “Multitasking can result in time wasted due to human context switching and apparently causing more errors due to insufficient attention.”
Generally, I agree that in some tasks I can only do one thing at a time without losing my attention span. Writing is one of the tasks that I cannot do at all without losing focus and concentration. Like trying to talk while breathing through your nose. I can’t do it.
I’ve known others who felt they were a whiz at multitasking but they weren’t. I know I am not. I don’t even try anymore.
However, digging into my own experiences with multitasking, I’ve noticed there are some things I can do very well while multitasking.
For example, when driving, I like to listen to talk radio. It helps move my concentration from a boring task, like driving, to something more pleasurable. I am a below average driver, unlike the 78% of Americans who believe they are an above average driver.
So, in fact, listening to talk radio while driving actually improves my driving because I don’t become bored and overly distracted from the truly important task, i.e. safely driving my car.
When driving a car and listening to the radio, I am actually time slicing (to use a computer term). I pay attention to the radio when driving is boring. I am entertained by the discussion on the radio.
I pay attention to driving when driving requires attention. This works rather well for me.
And for some activities, multitasking is a huge improvement in productivity but not in ways you may think. I’ve noticed that some of my best ideas come to me while in the shower.
You’re probably not too surprised. It’s a common phenomenon, the correct mix of monotony and engagement triggers a revelation. I am sure there are reasons why our best ideas come in the shower.
Mitch Ditkoff, the Co-Founder and President of Idea Champions and the author of “Awake at the Wheel”, as well as the very popular Heart of Innovation blog, has twenty reasons why the best ideas come in the shower (you can read them here).
While showering I am doing two things simultaneously, showering and thinking, usually free thinking.
So I am now of the opinion that there are three types of activities:
1. Activities that require full concentration;
2. Activities that require some concentration but I can do other things; and
3. Activities that require almost no concentration but my mind wanders to doing other things.
The key to all of this, for me, is that it is important for me to understand which activities require the correct level of concentration…
…and don’t push it.