What’s up my dear readers. So, you want to learn how to save some time? That is very admirable indeed, since we are so incredibly busy every day, it would be nice to save some time to spend on relaxing, perhaps with loved ones. Now, there has been some controversy about multitasking in the past, some say it is impossible, some say that it can save you time in the end! Well, I am here to provide the answer for you once and for all: multitasking is impossible. Period. We can only really focus on one thing at the same time. BUT! There is something else that looks like multitasking that we can do, and does work! I call this: stacking activities (© Polymath University). How this works exactly is explained in our YouTube video, and with a summary underneath.
Summary: Stacking Activities
Today I want to talk about a simple principle, namely stacking activities so that you do multiple things at the same time. This is distinguished from multitasking; It has been proven by research time and again that humans are really bad at this. This is most eloquently formulated by psychiatrist Edward Hallowell in his book Crazybusy from the year 2006.
But you might be thinking hold on a second, I multitask all the time by listening to the music whilst driving, or even walking and listening to music. So, what’s up with that? The point here is that you are doing one or even both of these activities without much conscious attention. We do a lot of things in life automatically. Things like walking or even breathing So you’re not really multitasking when you are driving and listening to the radio, but just doing these things automatically to a certain extent. I want to note that you shouldn’t text while driving, because texting requires most of your attention, and this will inevitably lead to errors. This is multitasking, and it is impossible. Don’t do it! But we can do more things simultaneously if one of them or more can be done automatically. This is the key to doing multiple things at the same time. The automated activity can be done by us or even by a machine.
This is exactly the reason why many automated machines are invented. We as humans can do more, if certain things are done automatically. Nowaday, we can combine doing the laundry with watching Netflix, thanks to the invention of the washing machine.
Stacking Activities: Examples
Now that we understand how to stack activities without losing efficiency due to the perils of multitasking, let us take a look at some of my favorite ways to stack tasks and get more done.
The first one is combining your commute with something productive. You probably have some sort of job, study, or other things that you need to travel for. Well, you can combine this travel with some other activity. The most difficult way of traveling to combine with other things is when traveling by car.
A lot of people listen to music here. But how about listening to audiobooks, or other forms of informative audio? You can learn so much more, just by spending this time learning new things. It doesn’t even have to be the most difficult things, it can be something fun like learning a new language.
Now, learning while traveling is easier to implement if you take public transport instead of the car. With public transport, the entire driving aspect is taken away from you, so you don’t even have to focus on that anymore! This allows you to get more work done and study more effectively whilst on the road.
The second way in which I love to stack activities is with cooking. Let us look at an example. Say you have to cook a relatively simple pasta, which consists of the following activities: cooking the pasta, cutting and cooking the vegetables, and finally cooking some tofu to go along with it. Of course you also need to add spices and salt and stuff at some point, but let us ignore this for now to keep the example simple. Right now say cooking the pasta costs 15 min, the vegetables 10 min, and finally the tofu 5 min. In which order should you do this?
Of course, you should start with cooking the pasta, because while it is cooking, you can prepare the veggies, and while that is being cooked you can prepare the tofu. In the last 5 minutes you are doing 3 things at the same time! I always take around 15 or 20 minutes to cook my meals, it never takes me longer than the ingredient that needs to be prepared the longest. And also, in the last 5 minutes when everything just needs to be cooked, and people usually spend this time just waiting around, I already start with cleaning up the kitchen. That’s 4 activities at the same time right there! This always makes me so happy when I know that I am piling on so many things simultaneously.
Right, so now you get the picture, here are bunch of ways in which I stack activities in order to save time.
When I am making coffee or tea and have to wait for the water to boil, I drop down and do push ups or planks. Note, that these are compound exercises, which means that you are training multiple muscles at the same time. So I am not just making coffee and training my chest, I am also training my arms and shoulders, so that is basically doing 4 things at once.
Furthermore, if I am eating a meal alone, and I am not tired, meaning that I don’t need to relax, then I combine eating with watching a lecture or listening to an audiobook. Sometimes I even just read a book. Always trying to learn something.
If I exercise I usually bring along an audiobook.
When I am editing my videos, the things that can be done easily and automatically, I combine with listening to lectures.
Stacking Activities For You
So, I named a bunch of examples which work for me, but of course your life is entirely different than mine, so you could perhaps find many other ways to stack your activities and save time in the end. I want to emphasize one more time, that you shouldn’t pile tasks that require most of your full attention, because this will inevitably lead to errors, and that can mess up your productivity a lot! One mistake can even cause billions of dollars worth of damage, which is exactly what happened with the Exxon oil disaster of 1989.
This is some of the best advice that I can give you. Try to be more efficient, but don’t sacrifice your rest time to do this. I mentioned before that I don’t stack eating with other activities if I had a long day and just want to relax a bit. Relaxing is fine, you shouldn’t be stacking all the time. If you are tired then you are not productive at all, and this is much worse than missing an opportunity to stack two activities. Thus, listen to your body, take rest whenever you need it. But look critically at your daily routines, and find out if you can order these in ways so that you can stack them.
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Hallowell, E. M. (2006). Crazybusy: Overstreched, Overbooked, and about to Snap: Strategies for Coping in a World Gone ADD. Ballantine Books.