Slow-Motion Multitasking Nurtures Creativity

How do creative people grow? It’s through ‘slow-motion multitasking’ says author Tim Harford at TEDxMerck KGaA, Germany. He defines how Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin and Michael Crichton found their inspiration and productivity through cross-training their minds.

Multitasking by browsing on your social media platforms while reading a book might not increase your productivity but jumping to & fro from one project to another with a time-lapse could be highly productive.
The clear difference between the two cases is the intention!

Most of you would be wondering what is slow-motion multitasking & how is it helpful in being more creative & productive in life?

Multitasking is often considered as an act performed out of desperation & lack of time. This would imply that only certain tasks could be done at a time. Hence, it might feel counterintuitive to most of the people. But research has shown that slow-motion multitasking has helped people be more creative & productive.

How does Slow-Motion Multitasking help?

  • Creativity is when ideas taken from an original context is applied elsewhere.
  • Provide assistance when we are stuck.
  • Be goal focused & spread interests

It is important to cross-train your mind. Different fields cross-fertilise the ideas. We process these ideas unconsciously which later helps us solve the problems. Multitasking exposes us to multiple sources of ideas & inspiration.

For e.g. a very renowned German scientist, Friedrich Kekule once dreamt about atoms dancing around and linking to one another. This dream helped him discover the organic structure of the Benzene ring. This resonates him multitasking even while he was asleep. It was his creativity that helped him to nurture this idea & apply it in order to solve a different problem.

When creative people are simultaneously working on different projects, they often face the situation of ‘creative mind block’ where they feel stuck & are not able to ideate & produce anything fruitful. Harford’s theory suggests that we should spread our interests across fields so that in case we succumb to the mental block, we may hop on to another field. Hence, working on multiple projects at the same time is beneficial for having new perspectives at work.

Generally, we end up procrastinating due to the fear of failure, hence changing the view or getting involved in a totally different activity is helpful. A walk in the garden, listening to music or doing a different project altogether might be the change. At times, taking rest could also be the change.

Often the conventional thought is that a person who is tidy, organized & focused is the most productive person. But turns out these concepts do not apply for a creative person.

You would notice a designer’s table is mostly surrounded by things i.e. electronic gadgets, artworks or stationaries etc. These help them by being a source of inspiration. The mess around is good or bad is debatable in such situations.

Though being disorganised, distracted & procrastinating is bad but there is no black & white area. A very common example is people trying to organize their emails when they fail to find a particular mail from their friend or colleague.

Organizing emails would be a highly time-consuming task as this is a huge amount of data whereas searching the particular email by typing it in the search bar would be far easier & less time-consuming. Hence, it shows organizing stuff might not always increase productivity.

Switching quickly between tasks only drains us of energy while making it nearly impossible to get anything useful done. Harford recommends multitasking over the long term instead. This would avoid being over-stressed & allows to focus on the goal.

For e.g. Charles Darwin took almost 30+ years to complete his book ‘Origin of Species’ which is the greatest understanding of evolution. Meanwhile, he was also writing a book dedicated to his son & other books related to earthworms, geology, psychology etc. He would work on a variety of projects at the same time and keep switching the topics. Though the switch was not instant, he would take many years with each of his projects.


Though we might not be able to take years to complete a task but not hurrying and involving yourself with complete focus would help yield better results.

Watch Tim Harford’s talk here:

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