Multitasking whilst Reading

Those of you that have been following my reading progress, and I am sure there must be at least one person out there, hang on, no, I forgot my mother doesn’t blog anymore, so it is possible that I truly am talking to myself, will be pleased to know that I have finally finished Zola’s ‘The Fortune of the Rougons’. Not before time, I hear you say, and rightly so. This book has taken me an inordinate amount of time to get through, given its limited length. There are twenty books in this series, ‘The Rougon-Macquart Cycle’, and given the speed of progress thus far, I am looking forward to a finish sometime in early 2015. I may even throw a small celebratory shindig, to which you shall all be cordially invited.

I have been pondering the reason for my slow progress and I think that it comes down to my current limited ability to multitask, when one of those tasks is reading. When I was younger this never seemed a problem. I could do almost anything and read at the same time. I could read in the car, whilst watching television, whilst eating, whilst playing the guitar, whilst walking, like I say, pretty much anything. And I did.

Now though, it seems like a much larger chunk of my limited brain capacity is required to carry out individual tasks. I need to concentrate on things more directly. I guess the reading in a car as a child was easier. Reading whilst driving is apparently considered a pretty dangerous pastime, and not one I can comfortably consider, although I have been known to read in a traffic jam. I always find that the sound of irate drivers sounding their horns lets me know that the traffic has begun to move again. Pretty handy really, as it is shit boring looking at the arse of the car in front, just to see when it starts moving.

I am working on restoring my ‘reading multitasking skills’, but I am interested in other people’s views. Does it get harder to multitask as you get older, particularly when one of those tasks is reading? Is it just a temporary blip that can be overcome? I believe that it is. Finally, what weird and wonderful things can you do whilst reading? Can you read whilst riding a unicycle or taking a shower, for example? Let me know.

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140 thoughts on “Multitasking whilst Reading

  1. I think it depends on the combination of tasks. I can still read or write while the television is on. One takes vast concentration and the other can be partially paid attention to. I always need some type of noise when reading or writing, so I use music. Less concentration needed on that.

    When reading, I can walk around the house, ‘watch’ television, or slowly pass out. I prefer the first option because it makes me feel like I’m exercising. Drives people nuts when I wander around ‘aimlessly’.

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    • Just make sure you don’t walk into a wall or something whilst walking around the house reading 🙂 In fairness I think this is the one that I can probably still do okay. But tv and reading, no chance, and music only if it isn’t distracting and doesn’t have singing or talking. I hope to regain this ability soon though.

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      • TV and music become noise to me after a while. I can’t bring myself to sit there and pay attention to it without doing something else. Only if I’m in a theater or rented a movie.
        As for the wall, I’m pretty good at moving through familiar areas without tripping. I was the night owl in the family, so I had to do a lot of sneaking around a dark house to get to bed. Recently, I’ve had to improve those skills to avoid toys left on the floor. All about sliding the foot instead of stepping.

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      • Sliding instead of stepping. Good advice, I will remember that. I guess stepping is a good way to turn an ankle.

        I think that that was how I used to be with tv and music, but nowadays the voices distract me, I keep wanting to answer them and now what they said.

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      • I’m lucky. The voices of my characters drown almost everything out while I’m writing. I’ve dropped a lot of shows too since I went full-time author.

        Tip-toe works too, but that takes practice. With enough practice, you can go silently and that’s just fun at work. Appearing in the ‘door’ of a cubicle while a co-worker is on the phone never gets old.

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      • I guess if you are engrossed in your writing that must kind of drown the general background noise out.

        Tip toe at work could be fun, although with the mezzanine floor it is difficult to be silent. It helps to sharpen my ninja skills though.

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      • Zoning out is an author’s best friend at times.

        I’m a toe-walker since I was a child, so I did it without realizing it. Makes me surprisingly graceful, which I have yet to decide on being a good or bad thing. The offices in the US tend to have carpeting. I think it’s to hide the footsteps of approaching bosses.

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      • We have carpets too, unfortunately the whole floor squeaks so us terrible members of management cannot sneak up on anyone easily.

        Umh, not sure on the graceful thing either. Are you a ballet dancer? I am sure it would be good in that instance.

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      • I did fencing for a while and ballet was suggested when people noticed I spent most of my time on my toes. I didn’t like the idea of tights. With fencing, I moved around with the jumping move (forgot the name) where you landed on your toes. It was quicker movement, which helped me against bigger opponents with reach. That would be just about everyone.

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      • Fencing is certainly something where being graceful is not shameful. I suppose that there are many things really. Let’s go with graceful being a good thing.

        Best steer clear of the tights though 🙂

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      • Nah. I have other distractions from that. Mostly my mind is already wandering over to writing the website blurbs for my third book since the second is practically locked down.

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  2. Holy fuck you posted a real post, and it wasn’t boring. Also, I love you. I can read with lots of distractions and I am thinking that you had better be able to figure that out in the coming months as well. I cannot read when there is loud music, but other than that, I can read anywhere, anytime and during anything, turn the page Jules. 🙂

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  3. I’m impressed that you could EVER multitask and read. I inevitably drown everything else out while reading, that my mother used to insist I put the book down and look her in the eyes when she told me to do something. I cannot watch TV and do anything else useful–whether it’s reading OR writing. Maybe that’s just me…

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  4. I can’t do anything while I’m reading, personally. Even if a radio is on somewhere in the background, my reading speed slows to a crawl. That said, multitasking has never been one of my strong points in any circumstances.

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    • I am getting this view from quite a few people, so you are not alone in this. I just know that I could do this, now I cannot. I want to regain that ability. Thanks for your comment

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  5. My husband is a multitasker and he doesn’t understand me sometimes. I use to multitask to the extreme when I was Nursing, much more so than when I was waiting tables. I also use to recall phone numbers two weeks later without ever having written them down. 🙂 I think the use of readily accessible technology has sort of brain rinsed me (Not the same as brain washed). Yet my husband, the rocket scientist, reads three books a week, works two or more crossword puzzles a day, all while watching T.V. or working on some auto-cad type program on the computer and he is 6-7 years older than me!

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    • I love the brain rinsed, great image. The advent of readily accessible technology has changed things I think. Some people can still multitask in that kind of environment but it does seem to have dumbed a lot of people down I think. The reliance on calculators killed the ability to carry out basic arithmetic in a lot of people, in my opinion, so that argument can surely be taken further.

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  6. I am only commenting to complain. Really. I think you need to change that heading up there that says “Just another WordPress.com weblog.” You my dear, are not “just another” anything.

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  7. Julian, I admire your ability to read so frequently. I long for those times as well, back when I read at every possible opportunity. In between appointments, in a car, it didn’t matter if I only had five minutes available. I wanted to read.

    I still do, but multitasking is hard for me too.

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  8. I read constantly and try to “do life” at the same time. Obviously I love beautifully bound books with illuminated illustrations but i also love paperbacks and libraries and just recently audio books which one can listen to while one is doing chores.
    I am old and so I talk with experience. I think of the temporary blip option. Sometimes life is just too busy!! Then it settles down a bit. Then it is just too busy! Multitasking is an awful thing because nothing gets enough attention. I do it all the time. Even now! 🙂

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    • I agree multitasking results in none of the tasks receiving the appropriate attention. I like the idea of audio books, allowing you to multitask that way, but I cannot bring myself to ever listen to them. I so much prefer to actually read the book. Thanks for the comment.

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  9. *jaw drops* Reading while DRIVING?? Nope. I can ONLY read. The TV might be on – but I won’t be watching it. I certainly can’t do ANYTHING else while reading – I don’t EVER pick up a book and ready to myself when the grandchildren come to stay and when my children were little I didn’t read for over 5 years. Because I knew that if I DID pick up a book, they would be able to set light to the house and fall into the washing machine and I wouldn’t notice… But then, I’m a DREADFUL multi-tasker. Always have been. And I recently read a couple of comforting articles that says when we DO try to split our attention and do more than one chore at a time, both suffer.

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    • The reading whilst driving was meant to be tongue in cheek, I would never do that. Reading in the car whilst younger was far easier as I didn’t need to drive. I am glad that there is documentary evidence of the reduction in our ability to carry out each task well if we multitask. I feel better now 🙂 Thanks for your comment, I enjoyed it.

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  10. I can’t multitask anything when I’m reading. I think there have been some studies showing that every time we are distracted from one task to another, it takes more time for us to regain our focus and momentum on the former task. Ultimately, multitasking makes us less productive, less efficient (I know this is true from my job). When it comes to reading, I need and prefer silence—no music, no talking, no interruptions. I can read in a cafe if that’s where I’m stuck. I used to read on the bus and train when I lived in an urban area. But when I read, I want to be fully engaged in the book. Part of me wishes I could read anywhere so I could read more often, but what I enjoy most about reading is the immersion in the other world, with no tethers to my real world.

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    • It appears to be the consensus that many people cannot read and do anything else. I do agree with your point about wanting to be immersed in that other world and to not keep being drawn back into the real world, which inevitably happens if you are not giving the book your full attention. I also prefer silence when reading, but I am working on changing that 🙂

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      • That’s kind of my thinking. There are all sorts of noises that we need to be able to be aware of but able to filter out to some degree to continue reading, for example children playing and traffic, obviously depending on where we are reading.

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      • I remember now that what I am reading–a novel, a textbook, an essay–is also dependent on ambient noise. When I was a grad student in the English department, reading in a noisy environment was rarely a problem for me because so much of what I read were novels and essays. I could “fall into” what I was reading and not be too distracted by noise around me. But when I was a grad student in the social sciences, it was a whole other experience. I’ve come to believe that textbooks are the worst form of book publication ever. With textbooks or social science articles, not only did I need complete silence to stay focus on what I was trying to read, but then my reading also slowed to a painful crawl. Like my brain had a natural antipathy to reading about the various tests of hypotheses. I digress … but that’s what happens when I get on my soapbox about textbooks 😉

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      • I like this distinction that you make between being able to read certain books with background noise, but not others. I have to agree with this. I have always found that certain books require a greater degree of attention to comprehend, and text books certainly fall into this category.

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  11. I think it is just a phase you are going through. I find that I can read and write with almost anything else going on, watching the TV, listening to music, ignoring my kids while they are talking to me (they are 15 and 20 so I don’t think they expect anything more from me at this point). I don’t think a unicycle under any circumstances would be something I would could fit into my multitasking, I’m not that graceful. 🙂

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    • No, I think unicycling is pretty much out for me too. I hope that you are right and that it is a phase I am going through. I expect that it is. I imagine that it is because I have little extraneous noise in my current when I am reading. I think it just needs practice to get back the ability.

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  12. I can’t multitask while reading at all. If it’s a good book, I shut everything out and if my children dare interrupt my reading, I lose patience with them VERY quickly. If the book is just okay, I can look up and deal with minor requests, but a good book draws me in completely.

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      • I actually didn’t mean a hard book, just a book that really draws me in. Sometimes that can be chick lit (I am almost ashamed to admit) or a good mystery. I had less trouble with kids interruptions when I was reading The Gulag Archipelago than when I was reading Welcome to Rosie Hopkins’ Sweet Shop of Dreams :-).

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      • Okay, sorry, I see what you mean. Yes I agree that in that situation you probably get so drawn into the world of the book and the characters that outside interruptions are more disturbing.

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