How I’m multitasking these days

Multitasking gets a bad reputation in productivity circles, and for good reason. It's really hard to do two things at once, or at least do them well. Yes, it's tempting to read email while you're on a phone call, but then you miss things. Perhaps the call is not important enough that it matters if you miss things but then…why are you on the call?

However, there are ways to double up on activities in order to fit more into a full life. Here are five strategies I'm currently employing to get a bit more done.

I clean while practicing speeches. I am not sure how useful this is for anyone else, but it is for me! I speak without slides, always from memory, but I slice and dice my material in different ways, depending on group demographics and the duration of my talk. I like to practice several times before any given engagement. But, since I do have the material memorized, it's not like I need to stay in one spot. So I practice while roaming around the house, often doing cleaning or organization projects. Laundry needs to be folded? I'm talking time management while doing it. Pile of review copies of books needs to be purged? I'm talking time management. And earlier this week, I purged old make-up from the bathroom while plodding through the speech I'm giving Sunday. Highly efficient!

I listen to podcasts while driving. If the kids are in the car I try to talk with them, which I suppose is its own form of multitasking. But if I am by myself, I listen to various podcasts: Best of Both Worlds (of course! Listening to the finished product helps me improve), Am Writing, Happier, Another Mother Runner, What Should I Read Next?, etc. I am trying to listen critically to figure out what works and what doesn't, so Sarah and I can put this into practice.

I exercise with friends. Since I run every day, I am mostly running by myself. But of late, it's been 1-2 times per week with others. This is a great way to catch up and make the miles go quickly. I especially like doing longer runs with company. Much as I like running, it's easy to get bored by an hour in (since I generally don't listen to anything while running — I like to be aware of my surroundings).

I read during kids' activities. One way I've built more reading time, structurally, into my life, is to always have a book with me (often via the Kindle app), and to read it during karate, or gymnastics, or whatever activity my kids are doing. That's easily 30-45 minutes at a pop. This is at least part of the reason I'm now 80 percent of the way through War and Peace!

I sing at church. As I think about it, this is multitasking in a way too. I wanted to get back into singing, and I did by joining my church choir. The upside of this is that I'm combining singing time with time I would have been attending church (at least some proportion of weeks!).

There are all kinds of ways people do multitasking in its nicer forms: supervising a kid doing homework while making dinner, for instance. Now that I am often stuck lying next to my 2-year-old while he falls asleep (long story) I may start trying to listen to podcasts via my headphones while he stops squirming (this is partly to keep me from falling asleep...) One woman told me she got a waterproof iPod type thing and listened to audiobooks while swimming laps (whoa!) When Inc magazine ran a piece on Slack co-founder Cal Henderson's schedule, he mentioned walking to work while listening to audiobooks. I think that's a 3x multitask there (commute, exercise, read...)

Do you have any out-of-the-box ways you double up to fit more in your life?

Photo: Completely unrelated photo of chrysanthemums

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  • Great ideas! I don't have speeches to practice, but I often listen to audiobooks and podcasts while cleaning, doing other chores, walking my dog, cooking, and knitting. It has definitely upped the number of books I finish in a year (and my dog gets walked more often and my house is probably cleaner than it would be otherwise...)

  • I read blogs like this one and comment while walking down the hall to meetings such as... oh, right now! Easiest way to get bits of fun into the work day. Same thing for Facebook and Instagram. They don't occupy their own time; they're fit in at the margins, generally while on the move.

  • I love listening to podcasts on those rare instances I am in the car alone! Makes the driving much more pleasant! I listen to them often while doing mundane household chores too like switching loads of laundry, making supper, etc.

  • Singing in church as multitasking... brought to mind the adage attributed to Augustine http://pastoralmeanderings.blogspot.com/2009/08/he-who-sings-prays-twice.html?m=1

    • @Jennifer - nice, although I like the suggestion in the blog post that the translation might be "he who sings *well* prays twice." Some joyful noises are perhaps better than others?? :)

      • Consider that singing 'well' in church is less about performance quality; it can be encouragement to those around you, that it is valuable to you, that you participate, that you bring your child(ren). http://hymn-addict.blogspot.com/2007/09/singing-in-church.html?m=0

  • I am a big fan of podcasts for the commute, too. They make the time feel like it was useful, not wasted. I used to read or work at my kids' gymnastics class, but they got mad I wasn't watching. So I decided to take up crocheting, based on watching another mom there crochet and watch her kid. Of course, I am not good enough to crochet and watch gymnastics at the same time yet: I still need to look at my hands! But it is easier to settle into a rhythm by which my kids see me watching them at least some of the time. Also, I strongly believe it is good practice to be bad at something- it exercises my "I suck but that's OK, I'll get better" muscle, and right now crocheting is something I'm really bad at! The other multitasking thing I do that comes to mind right now is make the kids' lunches while chatting with them while they eat their dessert/before bed snack.

    • @Cloud - true, I need to look up occasionally at karate. But gymnastics there's really almost no room to watch, so I see the beginning and the end and that seems fine. And I get another 35 minutes of reading in!

  • I love listening to TED talks or BBC history shows while cleaning up in the kitchen or cleaning the bathroom! I also sometimes listen to walking meditations while walking back from dropping my son off at school (it is a half-mile walk each way, so that's ca. 10 minutes each way to listen to something relaxing or interesting). I also read Kindle books at the poolside during my son's afterschool swimming lessons and sometimes do emails on my tablet or editing that way, too.

  • Baking or cleaning the kitchen while playing with my 2 year old daughter! I put her in the toddler tower and give her things to measure, pour and scoop. I let her 'put in' or dry dishes, depending whether we are baking or cleaning, and we count things, but otherwise I sort of just chill out and do my thing in the kitchen. She's entertained and I like to think it's quality time because she's participating in what I'm doing, but it's also a mommy brain break for me. On a similar note, running with her in the running stroller is multitasking. We always stop to look at the ducks and count them, so much so that she associates the stroller with that activity and starts demanding ducks anytime she rides in it. Yoga while supervising bath time. I already have a mat of sorts in the bathroom, right? :) I don't get a full yoga workout in but a few deep stretches like pigeon pose feel really good and make her laugh. Emptying the dishwasher while making tea. Maybe not so much multi tasking as using a gap of time waiting for tea to brew.

    • While waiting for the kettle to boil, I practise a Spanish Dance exercise or two :) I also do this in the kitchen at work waiting for my food to heat.

  • Great ideas! I currently listen to podcasts on my commute but need to start reading during my kids activities. I would love your thoughts on another time management issue. I am a full time lawyer with two elementary age children. I am also doing my Master's degree part time and over the next two months have a lot of readings to do along with a 2000 word exam and an 8000 word research paper. My job is demanding but flexible in that I have a fair amount of control over my schedule and don't need to be at my desk M-F 9-5. Do you have any ideas on how to organize my time or strategies I can employ to make sure I'm not doing my exam and paper at the 11th hour? Maybe set aside daily time to work on it? Or go away for a writing weekend? I respect your opinion and would love your thoughts. Thanks Laura!

    • @Terri-Lee - great question. Naomi (other reader) has some great suggestions in her comment -- doing a little bit daily, and then blocking in some concentrated time for work enough ahead of time that it will be helpful. Don't be afraid to claim some "homework" time on weekends either. Maybe while kids are doing reading or math practice or instrument practice, you do your stuff too. I tend to find that writing goes best in the morning and reading best at night, but that probably differs to some degree by person.

    • hi Terri-Lee obviously not Laura but thought I would chime in having supervised many Masters and PhD students several working. What I find works (particularly for those working) is: 1) to do something to do with project daily even if very small, 2) block a few hours each week to get the focused work done and 3) plan two writing retreats. I suggest first writing retreat about half through and second two weeks out from submission date . Best of luck getting it all done.

  • I recently re-discovered a digital scrapbooking app called Project Life that I had tried before but didn't love. (I love the tactile feeling of real paper crafts.) However, I realized I could load all my vacation photos onto my iPad and "scrapbook" while my kids are at various activities. I can get a LOT done in 45 minutes and it's way better than scrolling social media. If I'm not feeling like scrapbooking, I can read on my Kindle app. We also all go together to walk the girls to school in the morning which is a 1.5 mile round trip (family time + commute + dog walking + exercise + couple "date" on the way back) ;)

    • I love the walking to school one!!! I use any waiting time to edit (and delete) photos on my iphone, and if it's something I want to post to Instagram, I even start the post there and then, write captions and such, and save to draft.

      • @Marcia- I really should start spending more time organizing my photos. I hadn't thought to do that in those bits of time, but I could definitely get some done quickly. And it does add up!

  • My favourite forms of multitasking are: listening to audiobooks and podcasts while commuting to and from work (I easily add in two books a month just from implementing this practice) listening to podcasts while in the shower listening to podcasts while cleaning and organising