Multi-Tasking: How to Create Extra Hours for Creativity

The following guest post comes from Kirsten Simmons, of multiplepassions.com.

Multi-tasking. It’s the punching bag of the moment in time management circles. I’m sure you’ve all heard about how your brain can’t focus on more than one thing at once, and how you may claim to be able to do two or more things at once, but you won’t be doing any of them well.

Do You Need to Be Doing Them Well?

Think about that for a moment. Are there tasks in your day that aren’t judged on the scale of good, better, best?

Everyone has something in their day that requires less than their full attention. Those are the tasks you want to multi-task with.

For example, I have a lot of friends and family scattered across the country, and I like to talk with them on a fairly regular basis. But if I call them all over the course of a week, or even if I just call half or a quarter, I could potentially squander hours if I did nothing else while I was talking on the phone. So I schedule phone calls and dog walks concurrently, and multi-task along the way. After 40 minutes the dog has been emptied, I’ve caught up with my friends and I’m free to jump into the next activity.

Which Tasks Should You Combine?

Typically the best tasks to pair together are those that use different senses or different parts of the body. If you’re a gym rat, reading on an exercise bike or treadmill is a classic example. Your legs move along without too much input on your part, and you can dive into a new novel or catch up on that management book you’ve been meaning to read for weeks.

Don’t Take My Word For It… or Anyone Else’s.

There’s no way to know which tasks are suitable for multi-tasking without some amount of experimentation. Sometimes bad combinations are obvious – no electronics in the shower – but sometimes you may find that conventional wisdom doesn’t always apply to you. Within reason, don’t ever take someone else’s productivity advice at face value without trying it out for yourself. The results might surprise you.

Let’s take brainstorming. Everybody and their brother will tell you not to multi-task brainstorming. I obeyed their advice for years. Then one day I was working on a short story and I hit a wall. I had no idea how to get my characters from point A to point B, and the deadline for the competition I had entered was looming. In desperation, I decided to take a break to walk the dog. I was about a mile into the route, talking to myself as I turned the problem over in my head, when to my amazement the answer presented itself!

I’ve since discovered that my brainstorming is actually more creative while I’m moving, so when I need a new insight I’ll grab the dog and a small recorder and hit the trail. Or I’ll record myself talking through a tough problem while cleaning or doing the dishes. Sometimes I need to refer to the recording later, but often the simple act of trying to condense my thoughts into a sentence is enough to ensure that I remember them.

How to Figure Out Your Preferences

Knowing your preferences for single and multi-tasking takes a bit of self observation and testing, but you can break it down into three simple steps.

  1. Write down your thoughts on which of your tasks might be best suited to single tasking or multi-tasking based on your past experience.
  2. Run a few experiments to see if you’re right.
  3. Tweak your list and repeat.

Once you have the basics down, start incorporating multi-tasking into your days. You’ll be surprised at how much time you save for the big, full attention tasks.

What about you? What items do you do at the same time?

About Kirsten Simmons: Kirsten is the author of Multiple Passions, a blog and business that helps multi-passionate people embrace all their interests and use them to change the world.

Photo credit to Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

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  • fbsnyder

    As I wrote on my blog “I don’t multi task. Neither do I single task particularly well.” (http://flashesoftheobvious.blogspot.com) But, as one who is often required to do two different things at the same time, I’m open to suggestions.

  • fbsnyder

    As I wrote on my blog “I don’t multi task. Neither do I single task particularly well.” (http://flashesoftheobvious.blogspot.com) But, as one who is often required to do two different things at the same time, I’m open to suggestions.

  • http://www.buzzofficesupplies.com buzzoffice

    I just wrote a blog post about multi-tasking at work (http://blog.buzzofficesupplies.com/) and we’re alarmingly poor at trying to do more than one thing at a time!! However, I particularly enjoyed the activities that you combined, such as making phone calls while you walk the dog. I know that regardless of how bad we are at multi-tasking, I’m not unrealistic about the fact that it’s not going to stop anyone anytime soon. Thanks for helping us see that some items don’t necessarily require our full concentration!

  • http://www.buzzofficesupplies.com buzzoffice

    I just wrote a blog post about multi-tasking at work (http://blog.buzzofficesupplies.com/) and we’re alarmingly poor at trying to do more than one thing at a time!! However, I particularly enjoyed the activities that you combined, such as making phone calls while you walk the dog. I know that regardless of how bad we are at multi-tasking, I’m not unrealistic about the fact that it’s not going to stop anyone anytime soon. Thanks for helping us see that some items don’t necessarily require our full concentration!

  • http://www.timokiander.com/ timokiander

    Great article!

    I know that multitasking is a big no-no (as you mentioned at the beginning of the post), but there are situations when it is OK to do that.

    For example, I might be listening to music to get any mundane or repetitive task done and I know I would have much harder time doing the task, if I didn’t listen to the music at all. So, in some sense the music “fades away” the boring part when doing this.

  • http://www.timokiander.com/ timokiander

    Great article!

    I know that multitasking is a big no-no (as you mentioned at the beginning of the post), but there are situations when it is OK to do that.

    For example, I might be listening to music to get any mundane or repetitive task done and I know I would have much harder time doing the task, if I didn’t listen to the music at all. So, in some sense the music “fades away” the boring part when doing this.