99%: Remember to layer!

A couple of days ago the 99% posted an article on “layering” versus multi-tasking and how that affects productivity. Let’s forget for a moment that author Elizabeth Grace Saunders has the dubious title of “time coach,” and instead focus on the merits of layering. 

Saunders defines “layering” as: 

I define “layering” as strategically deciding to do tasks that require different “channels” of mental functioning such as visual, auditory, manual or language. As David Meyer, one of the world’s leading experts on multitasking, explains in this New York magazine article , “The only time multitasking does work efficiently is when multiple simple tasks operate on entirely separate channels.”

It’s true that you can’t do two verbal tasks at the same time – such as driving and talking. You may not think driving is a verbal task but it is because you are constantly processing “verbal cues” like signs and signals. Talking while driving disrupts those processes.

So Saunders iterates that you can mix up these channels to do two things at once like listening to a podcast and tidying up your desk or eating a sandwich and reading a book.

Some of her examples seem weird to me. For example, I would not talk to friends or read a book while running on a treadmill because, really, some tasks require your full attention so that you don’t injure yourself. You know what I mean, gym rats.

On the other hand, sometimes I need to do “physical” tasks in order to work through some mental ideas. I drafted this blog post, a cover letter and a to-do list while I was washing the dishes not 10 minutes ago. Because I tend to do this daily, I have pens and notebooks scattered about to make sure I capture a brain wave (even if it turns into more of a brain blip).

My rules of layering are:

– Make sure one of the tasks you’re doing won’t cause you injury without your full attention

– Keep a notebook by you at all times to jot down random thoughts

– Don’t get too lost in your thoughts otherwise you’ll have a very irate Burger King cashier screaming, “NEXT CUSTOMER!” at you while simultaneously deciding whether or not to spit in your mayo

Safety first.

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