Sunday, November 4, 2007


Connect, connect, connect has brought us to a place where we feel overwhelmed, overstimulated and unfulfilled. We're under constant stress because our orientation is: ‘I don't want to miss anything.' " Linda Stone, former executive for Microsoft and Apple
Multi-tasking. It's so last week.

I think I can do three things at once. Maybe four. I can check my email and talk on the phone at the same time, certainly. And have lunch at that same time. If someone holds up a piece of paper with a question on it, I can nod yes or no without losing track of the rest of the goings-on. ANd if there's a breaking news pop-up on my computer, I can read that, too.
If I'm on the phone and have to answer an email at the same time, I'm very careful to type quietly so the person on the phone doesn't know I'm doing it.

I used to think this was a very supergirl accomplishment, cool and competent and efficient. Now it's just beginning to drive me crazy.

My producer Mary, colleague and pal, is even better/worse at it. She wears one of those earheadphone things so she has two hands to do other stuff. And so it happened one day recently, I was trying to tell her something important.

And she was "listening" to me, but she was also checking her email. I stopped talking. A fraction of a moment later, she said--What, again?" And that was the moment my life changed.

You're not listening to me, I said. Maybe in more snippy a tone than absolutely necessary. She insisted she was, but she wasn't. Okay, she was, but only half her brain, if that. And that was so annoying.

So, I've stopped checking my mail while on the phone. And I feel better about it. I still eat lunch at my desk. But if you're talking to me, I promise you'll have my full attention.

Multi-tasking. It's so last week. For me. Maybe. Do you multi?

JAN: I meditate every morning for fifteen minutes just so I WON'T multi-think, let alone multi-task. Stay in the moment and all that. Very this week. Or maybe next week.

But the truth is I'm not efficient enough to multi-task with any aplomb. My children make fun of me because I make everybody stop talking when I make a left turn. And if you were talking to me while I was also checking email or paying bills, you can be 100 percent sure that my brain will screw it up.

So simply to maintain quality control standards, I don't multi-task. And some days I have to concentrate, real, real hard just to task.

RO: There's a certain level of activity where I happily juggle four or five things - e.g., checking emails, talking to my 85 yr old aunt on the phone, watching the game, paying bills - but, as the importance rises, whether it's personal or professional, I like to limit it to two or three. When I'm writing that's all I can do.

I multithink all the time - Africa, promoting Daisies, writing book two, my weight, gardening, my friend who needs a job, oh yeah, my husband, it's all there, all the time. The quiet time comes when I garden or row.

HALLIE: Multithink. I like that. But really, that thing where you talk to someone and they start doing something (filing nails, reading the paper, answering the cell)? That's rude. And you know, great for that moment in writing a book where you're looking for the TELLING gesture to show DIS-R-E-S-P-E-C-T. And how come all the great ideas come when you can't possibly write them down (in the shower, driving)?

HANK: It's supposed to make you more efficient. Multi-anything. When it makes you LESS efficient, then there's a problem.

Although we all have our different ways of looking at the world. If I have to make 2 turkey sandwiches, I put out 4 pieces of bread. Mayo on 2. Then, lettuce on each sandwich. Tomato on each. Turkey on each. Close. Result: 2 sandwiches. When my husband does it, he makes one whole sandwich. Then the other whole sandwich.. Neither of us can fathom why the other would do it their way.
That's maybe off the point. But it does show brains are funny things.
Do you multi? Are you a one sandwich at a time? Or two?

** P.S.
Breaking news (you can read this while doing something else)
A very nice article about me and the Charlie MCNally Mysteries.


  1. Yes, I read that very nice article in the Patriot Ledger. It appears the media adores Charlie McNally as much as the reading public.

    As for multi-tasking, I think I saw myself when Hank described her producer (who we can expect to be a wonderful person, just busy). Next time someone want to talk to me, I will physically turn away from the computer and give that person my full attention. Thanks for the reality check.

    Amy MacKinnon

  2. I'm a two sandwich girl - whipped up while I'm watching the mini TV in the kitchen. And I listened to a lot of great books this summer while painting the outside of our house. And I, too, get those fantastic, breakout-novel ideas when in the shower with no writing implements other than a bar of soap. (Of course, they dry up as soon as the water's turned off.)

    I multi-task when at least one of the activities is something I can do on autopilot, and other living beings aren't involved.

    But when it comes to listening to someone (someone that I want to listen to) I'm a single-tasker. Some of it is because their words won't sink in if I'm multi-tasking. But mostly because it bugs me when I'm talking and my listener's giving me only half an ear. If someone is talking to me, I think they deserve my attention, which for me, requires every functioning brain cell I got, plus caffeine and maybe some chocolate thrown in.

    Great article, Hank!

  3. But there comes a time...I used to be able to watch television, read a magazine, and carry on a conversation at the same time. No more. I used to be able to drive a car and listen to a football game on the radio, but even that's risky now--I'm too busy visualizing the the game to pay attention to the road.

    Add to all of this the fact that whatever story I'm working on keeps popping up without warning--oh, that's why she killed him!--and I think I'm becoming a disaster in the making.

    Can you talk and think at the same time?

  4. Amy--we're just waiting for all the articles about YOU to come out--next year, is it, when your HUGEly awaited Tethered hits the bookstores? (And yes, my producer is a dream colleague. Terrific.)

    And Cathy--that's what I was getting at, exactly. I'm all for listening to NPR while I do the dishes, or watching a movie while folding the laundry (yes, you've gotta admit, it's a glam life).
    But anything more important than that--and I think something will suffer.

    As for you Sheila, I burst out laughing.

    I had an intern who I was trying to teach how to write a news story. She kept saying--she couldn't do it.

    I said: just pretend we're having lunch, and you're telling me what happened. You'd say--A massive fire almost destroyed the home at 124 Fourth Street. If it hadn't been for the firefighters' quick action--etc. I said: Just type the story the way you'd tell it to me.

    She looked at me, so dismayed. And she said, and I quote:

    "I can't type and think at the same time."

  5. The post says 0 comments, when there are four. Why? I'm putting this in to see what happens.

  6. Just read an article on this in the American Airlines flight magazine. Conclusion: multi-tasking is inefficient, stressful, counterproductive.

    Tasks that use different parts of the brain can be combined (folding laundry and watching TV or talking). Tasks that use related parts of the brain are performed less effectively when done together (paying bills and watching TV, driving and talking on cell phone, even hands-free).

    Brain scans showed that multi-tasking redirected tasks to parts of the brain that do not store information for longer term memory or easy retrieval. So more time was spent completing tasks, repeating tasks, creating reminders, etc.

    None of this is very helpful for those of us (most of us) who don't have the option of working uninterrupted on a single task. I waste a lot of time making reminder lists and then trying to find them.


  7. Hey Mo,
    Having failed at multi-tasking a long, long time ago, I LOVED your post.
    I agree that everyone does SOME multi-tasking (even I can pull off the laundry and TV thing. and I even listen to an audiobook WHILE on the exercise bike)and that some people do it very well, but I just can't believe its good for your brain -- or being.

  8. that part about the turkey sandwiches by me again....

  9. Mo! You're so right! I have thousands of lists, and I feel so productive making them. Then I lose them.

    I just wonder if thhis is going to be a trend now. Backlash from overload. One can only hope.

    My producer (we love her) asked me to make a decisions about something today when I was in the midst of something else. In the past I would have kept doing what I was doing and talked to her. Today I said--can it wait two seconds til I'm done?

    And of course it could.
    Woo hoo.

    Ro, the turkey thing. We'll talk about it over drinks at Crime Bake! (I can, at least, still drink and talk about the same time. Um, I guess. Or maybe the martini just makes me think I can.)

  10. Multi-tasking IS so last week.
    Uber-tasking is so THIS week.

    I would never have been able to get books written if I didn't take full advantage of multi-tasking. Even now, I'm dropping in, but I'm also doing research on a new book, checking several e-mail accounts, getting driving directions to a signing, and placating frisky, pesky dogs.

    About the only time I don't multi-task is when I'm actually writing and need to stay completely focused or with friends and family. Is that damaging my brain? I don't think so. I liken it to a full body workout as opposed to an abs workout. More bang for the buck, I say.

    Hank, I'll just have to find a quieter keyboard. Everytime I'm on the phone and try to sneak an e-mail reply in I get caught!

    Felicia Donovan

  11. Hmm. Food for thought Felicia! And I could have some snacks while I write this. And also be thinking about all the things I should be doing.

    Maybe, as in all things, it's about, um, moderation. Or knowing one's limitations. If I didn't think about six things at once, when it's productive to do so, it would be such a waste. And so inefficient.

    But there's a freedom I'm finding in, just as when I'm writing, I'm ONLY writing.(Oh, yeah, ok, the specter of the laundry is looming, but that's easy to ignore).

    So do we think--just do it when it feels right? But have the power to--just say--one thing at a time if we want to?

    Maybe the pressure plays a role. If we choose to multi- great.If external presures are forcing us us do it--that doesn't work as well.

  12. I am one of those who can't do just one thing at a time. If I watch TV I am also reading or writing letters. I am on the computer while talking on the phone. I watch TV while cooking or folding laundry. I can't just do one thing at a time.

  13. Joan: I know how you feel, I think. I almost feel---guilty, doing just one thing.

    I promised myself, for instance, last week, I was just going to watch a movie. Sort of a treat for havng finisihed a first draft of Air Time.

    I literally lasted two minutes.
    Laundry! I thought. I could fold.

    I also cleaned out a junk drawer.

    I'm just not sure about it. I wonder if we're taking away real enjoyment, by trying to be efficient.
    Maybe I'm wrong.

  14. AliasMo!
    Are you out there? Tell us the name of your blog again--I know I wrote it down somewhere. Alas. I can't remember where.
    And we're getting ready to post photos of Crime Bake--and I know you got the best shots ever! I can't believe how you seemed to be everywhere..and cover everything. What a pro.
    Send them to me, okay?
    And we will post like mad.
    with much gratitude

    thanks so much

  15. I've never been good at multi-ing. I once talked on the phone while making brownies and forgot to put the eggs in. I had to roll the results into little balls and delicacy forbids saying what they looked like.

    I COULD FOLD is a great title, Hank.

  16. OOh. Becky. You're right.
    Now I'm thinking about a plot for it...

    SO--the brownies turned out to be truffles? See? This is maybe how big discoveries get made..