True Misconceptions: Multi-tasking and concentration


I have just published my second novel, a much shorter process than the first, and in a recent conversation with Amy Burvall, digital trail blazer and the ultimate multi-tasker, we talked about the writing process, particularly as I balance my time between life as a middle school principal and the world of fiction, a dystopian world in this case – my novel, not my middle school. The entire thing was written in my living room, the most active place in my house. I have a quiet desk tucked away in a spare room and have tried, but it doesn’t work for me. Also, I have a whole parallel universe of other tasks happening – music, movies, TV, email, Twitter, Facebook, family conversations, work tasks, coffee & snacks etc.  Does it help me write? Recently my students at school tried to argue that multitasking helped them to concentrate better, so they wanted to be able to multi-task in various ways, so they could be more productive at school. Imagine that.

They are completely right of course, although the argument is based on a misconception. In my case, my concentration when writing the novel was horribly disrupted, but I was more productive as I could work longer. I become (bored is not the right word) restless without the distractions. So the positive correlation between multitasking  & concentration wasn’t supported, but true if ‘concentration’ is used interchangeably with ‘productivity’. Perhaps concentration is over-rated & productivity should be our chief concern in schools? It would take us a little closer to the real world, at least to the world in my living room. I wonder if people used to be this restless, back in the bad old days.