Stories about Software


Multitasking that Actually Works – Suggestions Requested

There are a lot of ways in which you can do two or more things at once and succeed only in doing them very poorly, so I’m always in search of a way to do multiple things at once but to actually get value out of both things. As a programmer with an ever-longer commute, a tendency to work well over 40 hours per week, and a wide range of interests, my time is at a premium.

Two things that have come to be indispensable for me are listening to developer podcasts (.NET Rocks, Deep Fried Bytes, etc) while I drive and watching Pluralsight videos while I run on machines at the gym. Podcasts are made for audio consumption and I think probably invented more or less with commutes in mind, so this is kind of a no-brainer fit that infuses some learning and professional interest into otherwise dead time (although I might also start listening to fiction audio books, potentially including classic literature).

Watching Pluralsight while jogging is made possible with the advent of the nice smartphone and/or tablet, but is a bit interesting nonetheless. I find it works best on elliptical machines (pictured on the left) where I’m not bouncing much or making a ton of noise and can lay my phone sideways and facing me. I don’t think this is a workable strategy for jogging outdoors or even on a treadmill, so having a gym at my office with ellipticals is kind of essential for this.

These two productive examples of multi-tasking have inspired me to try to think of other ways to maximize my time. There are some important criteria, however. The multi-tasking must not detract significantly from either task so “catching up on sleep at work” and “watching TV while listening to the radio” don’t make the cut. Additionally, at least one task must be non-trivial, so “avoiding bad music while sleeping” also does not make the cut. And, finally, I’m not interested in tasks that depend on something being inefficient, so “catching up on my RSS reader while waiting for code to compile” is no good since what I ought to be doing is figuring out a way not to be blocked by excessive compile time (I realize one could make a philosophical argument about my commute being inefficient, but I’m asking for some non-rigorous leeway for case by case application here).

This actually isn’t trivial. Most tasks that are worth doing require the lion’s share of your attention and juggling two or more often ensures that you do a haphazard job at all of them, and my life already seems sort of hyper-optimized. I work through lunch, I don’t sleep all that much, and double up wherever I can. So, additional ways to make this happen are real gems.

Anyone have additional suggestions or things that they do to make themselves more efficient? Your feedback is definitely welcome and solicited in comment form!

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[…] over the last few weeks and am thus short on posts in my drafts. A while back, I wrote a post about multi-tasking where I described that I listen to podcasts on the drive to and from work each day. I thought […]