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Multitask and Make Your Commute Matter

18 May 2015

Barbara read Peter Bregman’s blog post, Get More Done During Your Commute, and realized that maybe there is a safe (and meaningful) way to multitask in the car.

Tags: balance, barbara read, peter bregman, time management and prioritization

The debate continues about whether multitasking helps you accomplish more or just causes unfocused wasting of time. I've noticed that the more people brag about multitasking, the more they seem justified in saying the current status phrase of “I’m so busy.”

I certainly tried multitasking when I had little children, and most mothers in the work force swear they can do it because they had to with small children. Yes, you had to cook, listen to who was about to break into a fight and try to head it off, keep your peripheral vision on the new puppy about to have an accident, and catch a lamp before it hit the floor, but few of us would want to be evaluated on how well we pulled all that off.

At first Peter Bregman agreed with the current shift in thinking about doing two or more things at once. “By now, we all know multitasking doesn’t work. Our brains are incapable of focusing on more than one thing at a time. We might think we’re multitasking as we scan our email while on a conference call, but we’re not. We’re actually switch-tasking—quickly shifting attention from one thing to another and then back again—diluting our focus and losing precious seconds each time we switch. Those seconds add up to many hours of wasted time every week.”

But Bregman recently realized he was multitasking when he was riding his bike five miles down town to a meeting in New York and it was efficient and safe because he was using two different parts of his brain. “As I breathed hard and felt my heart beat, I suddenly realized that I had overcome the multitasking hurdle. I was simultaneously getting 30 minutes of exercise and commuting to my meeting."

We all spend a lot of time commuting in our cars, on trains, on planes. Hopefully no one is texting in a car, but many are on their phones. In 1984 I listened to a relaxation tape as I drove a 100 miles each way to Tampa to work on a PhD. You might flinch at the thought of my trying to relax while driving, but I was so wired and tight in the car there was no chance I would go to sleep. The tape helped me loosen my grip on the steering wheel.

In his post, Get More Done During Your Commute, Bregman suggests using your commute to close important gaps in your life, "Do you need more relaxation? More exercise? Are there things you’ve been longing to learn? Are you feeling disconnected from others? What in your life do you feel gets short shrift?" I especially liked his idea about using the time to think through your day and plan for important conversations. I recommend people start their day with "morning pages," but I know some days they struggle to find the time. Perhaps thinking mindfully about your day on your way to work is another good option. I also liked Bregman's suggestion that you could reflect on lessons learned from the day on your way home.

I’ve started listening in my car to CDs of the next kind of book I want to write. I’ve written several work related books, a self-help book, and have almost finished a memoir. My next goal is a novel. I‘ve been in a writing class the last two years that has such a wonderful teacher and interesting writers that I’m determined to find a project that allows me to continue to join them on Thursday nights.

Often I want the “sound of silence” in the car, but lately I’ve been trying something different. You may use your commute for peaceful quiet that restores you or you can’t live without NPR, music, or phone conversations, but if you slip into negative hamster-on-a-wheel self-talk, try one of Bregman’s suggestions. Let me know how it goes.


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