I suppose it comes from a time when I had four kids who all needed school lunches, to be driven to afterschool sports and who would wake me up to finish their English essays. Or does it just come naturally to most women. John is hopeless at doing more than one thing at a time. He melts down if I ask him to discuss what we'll be wearing to an upcoming banquet while he is driving. I, on the other hand, have written a chapter in my head, planned my entire convention wardrobe and thought out dinner for that night during a trip to my health club.
So is it that women are natural multi-taskers and men can only use one part of their brain at a time? Maybe it dates from cavemen. "Ugh. Must keep following mammoth in case lose it!" While the women were, "Oh here are some berries, and I bet that grass has got seeds, and I spy some birds eggs and I'll take back some of those pine needles to make a basket."
Or is it just that all writers are multi-taskers? After all, we have to be able to pick up clues, notice body language, formulate ideas in all kinds of circumstances. We sit at a restaurant and overhear snippets of conversation from the next table and file them away for future use. we notice a woman playing with her hair while seemingly relaxed. We have future plots neatly compartmentalized in our brains. We are, to put it bluntly, superwomen. So my question is: "How come the cavemen got to rule the Earth and we're still picking berries?"
Dear Reds and Readers, are you good at multi-tasking?
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I hear you, Rhys. But we didn't have to kill the mastodons. Or, now, take out the trash, if we're lucky.
I am of two minds on multitasking. On one hand--when I am trying to completely focus, on writing, particularly, I cannot, will not multi-task. I turn everything else off. Writing has to get 100 per cent. No matter how difficult that often is!
And when my producer thinks she can talk to me and read her email at the same time? I refuse to answer her. I say (very nicely, of course)--do your work. Then, when you're finished, we'll talk. And I am annoyed when I can hear people reading their emails while they talk to me on the phone.
"Oh, interesting," they'll say. Which is obviously shorthand for "I'm not totally listening." Your brain cannot do two things like that-- well--at one time.
On the other hand. If I am doing something that doesn't take my full brain, then It is impossible for me to do only one thing. Laundry, cooking, talk on the phone (briefly) plan dinner, defrost stuff, organize files, put together mailings, answer administrative emails. Jonathan has even asked me--can't you JUST watch TV without doing something else?
I must admit this is...sometimes worrisome. Wouldn't it be better, quieter, not to try to do everything at once? But it does make one feel powerful. And then--tired.
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I have become a complete mono-tasker by necessity in my middle age. I feel a little TOO much like Rhys's Cro Magnon woman - first I spot the berries, then I instantly forget them as I look at the grass seeds, and as I head for them I come across the birds' nest and poof! the seeds are gone from my train of thought. The Smithie says I have adult-onset ADD. My personal theory? Rising three very active kids wrecked my brain.
I USED to be able to multi-task well, and the challenge for me has been to institute new routines and tricks to keep me on task. So I'm using lists now (when I remember...) which I never used to need, and I'm trying to build in new habits to clear more off my plate. For instance, I now throw a load in the wash right after I get dressed in the morning (the bathroom/laundry room is next to my bedroom.) There are four adults living in the house, so there's always a load needing to get done. This way, I stay on top of it without having to think about it. I'm reading THE POWER OF HABIT by Charles Duhigg [Rhys: the url for the book at Indiebound is http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780812981605 ] and finding it thought-provoking and helpful.
HALLIE EPHRON: Multi-tasking? Like Julia, maybe once upon a time. I keep lists. Great, if I remember to read the lists. Prioritizing has become more important than multi-tasking.
And like Rhys some of my best ideas for twisting my plot come to me when I cannot physically write -- in the shower, cooking, driving, napping. But when I'm actually writing I can't even have music on.
LUCY BURDETTE: Rhys, you're too funny, it's hard to follow that intro with anything much! John has an astonishing ability to concentrate on one thing and block everything else out. (Sounds like Hank writing...) I, on the other hand, am all over the place. But if I really need his attention, I use a technique our daughter's soccer coach used with his team: Get right up close so they have to look you in the eyes and say firmly "Focus on me."
DEBORAH CROMBIE: Rhys, so funny. Rick is like the two Johns--when he's focused on something, nobody had better bother him with anything unless the house is burning or flooding. Who cares if the dogs need to go out, or there's nothing for dinner,or that two weeks worth of laundry need folding?? It may be genetic programming that allows men to do this, but I say it's bloody annoying!
What's very weird is that I although I multi-task while doing ordinary household things all the time, I SAY that I can't do anything else while writing. No music, no television, no checking email, no being interrupted by husband telling me every detail of the latest video he's watched on YouTube... And yet, I can take my lap top to a cafe or restaurant and pound out the words while all kinds of chaos goes on around me. Why is this? Is it because the distractions aren't personal? Nobody is expecting me to clear that restaurant table or do those dishes...
And for the record, I, alas, also make lists. And then I forget to look at them...
RHYS: So it's your turn. Are you a multi-tasker or do you have to focus on one thing at a time?