It feels like about 20 years ago that I read an article, maybe in Esquire, called Twilight of the Multitaskers. But I'm sure it wasn't. I'm sure I'm not that old. The point, anyway, is that we've long known multitasking is bullshit. We've known it as a species, and I realised it personally ages ago. It doesn't stop me from spraying my attention everywhere like a drunk housing down a toilet seat at three o'clock in the morning. But at least when I do it, I know that I'm drunk and it's time to go home and concentrate on doing one thing after another.
I'm not sure then why this Op Ed piece in the New York Times pissed me off so much. (It’s not like I’m BillH and I get auto-pissed at the NYT ;-)
A few months ago, I was teetering on the brink of feeling overwhelmed by life’s responsibilities, afflicted by the ambient anxiety that seems to be an intrinsic part of life in the 2020s. In an effort to maintain — or maybe restore — my sanity, I embarked on a personal endurance challenge.Other people, at similar moments, begin competing in gruelling triathlons, or head off on intensive meditation retreats. Me? I decided to give up listening to podcasts or music while running, driving, loading the dishwasher, or doing almost anything else. To just focus, in other words, on what I was doing, one activity at a time.
A few months ago, I was teetering on the brink of feeling overwhelmed by life’s responsibilities, afflicted by the ambient anxiety that seems to be an intrinsic part of life in the 2020s. In an effort to maintain — or maybe restore — my sanity, I embarked on a personal endurance challenge.
Other people, at similar moments, begin competing in gruelling triathlons, or head off on intensive meditation retreats. Me? I decided to give up listening to podcasts or music while running, driving, loading the dishwasher, or doing almost anything else. To just focus, in other words, on what I was doing, one activity at a time.
The writer, Oliver Burkeman, goes on to recap all of the well-established arguments against multitasking and invites us to enjoy the Zen-like calm that comes from just doing the dishes with him. Not listening to a podcast or music while doing the dishes. Just getting your hands into the sink and getting sudsy with it.
Okay. I get it, Ollie. I like to focus on things too. I’ve even stopped listening to music while I lift weights so that I can concentrate on just lifting weights. But come on. Do you really want to be here now, in the moment, for every single moment? Like, I’m going to peel some vegetables for dinner soon, and you better believe I'll be listening to music or a podcast while I do it. I don't think there's a massive amount of Zen mojo to be had leaning into the experience of taking the skin off a sweet potato. And if I'm not going to listen to a podcast when I do that, when am I going to listen to a podcast? Is Burkeman seriously suggesting I block out a couple of hours a week to sit and listen to the lug-heads at Mindpump talking about deadlifts?
He seems to be doing just that.
Distracting yourself from challenging tasks by, say, listening to podcasts doesn’t actually make them more bearable over the long term; instead, it makes them less enjoyable, by reinforcing your belief that they’re the sort of activities you can tolerate only by distracting yourself — while at the same time all but ensuring that you’ll neither accomplish the task in question nor digest the contents of the podcast as well as you otherwise might.
For me, this is a hard yeah, nah, don’t think so. I take the point. I really do. And I have been trying to be more singular in my focus for the last six months. I will testify under oath that it does work. But there are some tasks which are just begging to be multied.
More disinformation . I find the Times quite useful. In fact I used the Sunday version of the Times to housebreak my Corgi pup. I would elaborate on its usefulness further but I’m preparing a couple ribeyes while listening to Rogans latest.
I agree with everyone that it's a very hard fuck right off. I'm in the middle of moving house and I can reassure Ollie that the only way I got through weeding the garden of the rental I'm vacating with my sanity intact was by listening to podcasts while I did it. I don't need to get zen dragging thistles out of the soil.
I don't know if anyone else has this issue, but I find I can't sit still and listen to a podcast if I'm trying to focus just on the podcast. I need to be doing something else, like walking, or weeding, or doing the dishes, while I listen. I think it's because the act of listening doesn't give me something to do with my hands the way reading a book does or kicking back on the couch to watch a movie or TV show. With audio alone I need to be otherwise occupied, otherwise my mind drifts and I find myself not listening properly. Another reason Ollie and his "live in the moment and be one with the podcast" advice can GTFO.
From the title, I expected this article to be about something completely different. But I'm glad it wasn't. This is some genuine wisdom. Life is too short to be too pedantic about anything.
I listen to podcasts,l a LOT by some measures and there is no way I would have kept up with all the podcasts I listen to if I had to do them sitting down in a room and solely focussed on listening. Do I need to be laser focussed on my podcast to absorb every single factoid presented this week on the science show, no, I just need to be focused enough to remember that there was a piece earlier in the year on how some Australian frogs have any bacterial chemicals under their skin which are being investigated so I can find it again later. Am I going to loose out on the benefits of being 'in the moment' waiting to collect the pizza I ordered at the local takeaway.
Unless of course it's the Smart Enough To Know Better podcast that requires complete and undivided attention.
I’ve only recently stopped peeling sweet potatoes. They don’t need it. I feel liberated.
I was listening to a report about the recent successful campaign of the Qld State of Origin rugby league team. It said, coach Billy Slater tells players to ‘be where your feet are’.
Then I was reading about the English cricket team and their new ‘Bazball’ strategy which is reinvigorating test cricket. The report said, coach Brendon McCullum is very big on ‘be where your feet are’.
It’s a different way of saying ‘be in the moment and concentrate on what you are doing’, but I’ve found the newer one a stickier phrase that benefits from being a bit droll.
Yeah, nah, that's a strong get fucked from me. Blah blah beauty in all things but ffs, using podcasts to alleviate drudgery is the only way I stay sane.
Washing up for the umpteenth time today, cooking food for kids to stuff into faceholes, hanging the washing, doing the ironing, forcing the meatsack to go through physical jerks.. these are all things that are improved by giving the brain weasels something to fight over.
Multitasking remains bullshit, of course. When it comes to actual work product I can only focus on one thing at a time - although I have found that specific music helps me maintain focus a lot easier and more effectively. Cue up the right track and I'm a fucking demon.
I still run 3 monitors but I don't use them like I used to. I had twitter on one, a movie or TV show in the middle and a game typically Diablo 3 on the last one. It worked well at the time, I had the overhead to deal with the cost of multitasking.
Wish I'd been less distracted about 2 weeks back when I tried to carve a piece off my left index finger while cutting beans for dinner...
I think real multitasking just happens. That's just life. It's when you actively consider yourself to be multitasking that it becomes bullshite. I like to have music playing, or something like Noizio, as essentially white noise while I'm working on something somewhat complex, because it takes away my immediate life, or drowns it out, so I can focus, but I wouldn't call that multitasking.
I agree there's not much Zen involved in peeling one potato, but there might be in peeling one hundred potatoes. I get great pleasure from making pasta, the kneading and then the rolling, even if that bit is done by machine. It's soothing to the mind.