How Creative Is Multitasking?

There's more creativity to be found on a hike in Big Bend than at my Mac.

There’s more creativity to be found on a hike in Big Bend than at my Mac. ©2012 JannAlexander.com


Mixing multitasking with creativity and “you and your true love – your smartphone. Think about it. Are you lost without it? Inconsolable if the two of you are separated? Willing to walk into a lamppost rather than look up while texting? Is it the object of your desire? Isn’t it?”

Ira Flatow, Talk of the Nation host at NPR

And if it turns out that constantly buzzing from one tweet to the next website to the next text to the next blog post to the next email to the next link to the next song to the next YouTube is killing your creativity, can you give it up? Can you even recognize that it may be killing your creativity?

That’s the compelling case being made by more than a few researchers, including Clifford Nass, a psychology professor at Stanford University. Nass told NPR that “the research is almost unanimous, which is very rare in social science, and it says that people who chronically multitask show an enormous range of deficits. They’re basically terrible at all sorts of cognitive tasks, including multitasking.”

So the laugh’s on the multitaskers, who are so terrible at multitasking that they don’t realize they’re terrible at it. In the meantime, their creativity suffers, since they cannot filter out irrelevancy, Nass maintains.

Sue Shellenbarger reports in The Juggle blog for WSJ online that multitasking blocks your best ideas. In her terrific piece Tactics to Spark Creativity, she suggests that “even people who lack ideas can set the scene for inspiration; just walk away.”

Creativity doesn’t seem to find me when I’m searching for it in the midst of millions of other distractions. It comes to me randomly when I’m on a hike at Big Bend, or sautéing some kale, or driving along a Hill Country road (without the radio) or when I’m just relaxing on my deck. There’s no room for creativity to drop in unexpectedly when I’m in the midst of a million things. Multitasking, that is.

And now it’s time for me to just . . . walk away. To preserve my creativity for another day. 

I’d like to hear from you about when you are most creative—at the computer? With iPhone in hand? Or elsewhere?


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4 replies

  1. Great post Jann! I feel most creative while on a walk, driving through the redwoods, out photographing, or piddling in my studio…with music going….with nothing particular in mind…just letting things come as they will. I could be doodling, writing or playing with a painting but it does not involve sitting here at the computer.

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  2. Hmmm… I definitely do get my best ideas when I go for a run or have a shower or right before bed – those times when I am not supposed to be working. I didn’t realize how bad my multitasking was until I tracked my hours writing. Very little time spent writing; most time spent on email/Twitter/Facebook. Since then, I turn off the Internet for 1 1/2 hour chunks at a time, and I do seem to get more writing done. The problem is staying off the Internet, or only going back on to check important emails instead of Facebook. I’m a work in progress. 😉

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