This wasn’t a talk that worked so well for me, but it is not that there was nothing of worth here. Our speaker was entirely and enormously correct to say that we should make a high priority of managing our-selves, of ensuring we practice good habits of sleep, diet, and exercise; that we renew and refresh and take the breaks we need to be more productive in our working times.
The importance of regularly taking breaks in our absorption of content for processing and synthesis is great, and certainly all educators should advocate this for their students and practice it for themselves.
Focus is important, of course it is; but to be reductionist or simplistic about multi-tasking isn’t helpful. There is an incredibly wide array of activities associated with what is labeled multi-tasking, and to generalize loses all this.
Writing while we listen, sharing and connecting ideas we are receiving to other ideas, considering the implications of what we are learning, managing multiple points of view or considering other ways of understanding ideas: these can be called multi-tasking or they can be called sophisticated thinking. Athletes and performing artists multi-task brilliantly; it is an enormously valuable human quality of genius to be able to coordinate oneself doing multiple things in a productive way, just as it is a sadness to not be able to recognize when we are diminishing our ability to enjoy or be successful when we are doing too much at once.
I am no extremist on this: Tony’s point of view bothers me, just as Cathy Davidson’s argument, to my mind, goes far too far the other direction. Read my thoughts about Davidson’s defense of and advocacy for multi-tasking here: What about when the goal is counting the basketball passes? Responding to Davidson’s Now You See It.
For a fuller treatment of this Tony Schwartz talk, please click over to read Jennifer Lockett’s post.