Art at Work: Multitasking and creativity (and why I sound like a crazy old lady today)


Ok, short story:  I have fairly big art show coming up in oh, like, a month!   I’m not freaking out (yet), but I am working very, very hard to get all the artwork completed and a full collection of jewelry ready.

So, Friday, I’m in the studio, my girls are napping, my table is covered in work, I am instagraming photos to keep people informed and excited, sending out a tweet or two, reading emails as they pop-up on my phone, thinking through replies in my head, checking facebook, drinking coffee, switching art projects constantly… and listening to NPR.
This is a totally, totally normal afternoon for me.

There was an interview on NPR with Clifford Nass.  He has studied the affects multitasking has on people, and especially on their creativity.

Well that got my attention real quick.

Wait, aren’t creative people wired to be amazing multitaskers?  I know I am.  right?  Can’t our minds divide and follow multiple patterns at once?  I mean, I can clearly do at least 3 things effectively at the same time… right?

Clifford Nast studied students at Stanford University (where he also teaches) and discovered that people who multitask consistently have a hard time filtering out irrelevancy, can’t manage their working memory, are always distracted, and, (the part that got my attention,) they are far worse at the creative thought process because they have trained their brains to be scattered.

Creativity is all about following a unique and intricate idea through to the end; finding relationships and combinations all along the way.  As an artist, this means being present in all phases of the process, from the conceptualization to the tiny last details. 

So, being the testy soul that I am, I decided to put my iPhone on the other side of the room, I turned down the screen to my laptop, and set to work.  I really thought I would see very little difference in my productivity.  Unfortunately, he was right.  By getting rid of extra distractions I became free.  My mind was able to focus.  I was able to create.  I didn’t feel that I had to check anything, I didn’t feel bored, and I accomplished at least 30% more work than typical.

But, how does this fit into life in 2013?  We are so connected and many of us have to be very present online in order for our businesses to survive!  Dr. Nass suggests taking a few moments thorough the day to hone in on those aspects of life.  If you are going to check your emails, then do that.  Twitter? Do that.   You get to decide what is worth your time.  Purposefully allocating that time lets you be focused, sharp, and in control of your mind.

I am going to be trying this all week and I expect to see amazing results.  In fact, to hold myself accountable, I will do a follow-up post on Friday.  I’ll share my thoughts, struggles, and show what I have accomplished.

I know this is an unusual concept for our highly “connected” society.   I know it’s going to feel weird and I’m going to have to work hard at focusing, but I really think that controlling my mind will help me become a more effective communicator AND creator.

Care to join me?  Maybe we will even take over the world with our super-focused-creative-minds…..



  • You and me too. Maybe I’ll disconnect the wi-fi so that I focus on the jobs in hand. But I actually love the distraction and interaction facebook etc give. I have a solo exhibition next week and thought all was in hand but realised I haven’t titled anything. EEk. .. but pressure and brainstorming have come up with some great titles. Good luck with it all. Nice to know we are in the same boat. 🙂 (like.. why am I reading this and replying!!)


    • Haha! Exactly. I’m only going to purposefully single-task while working …and that doesn’t include turning off the music!!
      I too really love being president on social media. While working alone in my studio it’s nice to have that connection with friends. It’s going to be a challenge for sure!

      Good luck with your show! And congratulations!!! Naming work can be so difficult. I’m glad it’s coming to you easily.


  • I’m going to try this, too! I have several deadlines this week and my business could certainly benefit from my undivided attention a few hours a day. I’ll let you know how it works out on Friday. 🙂


  • good for you. we just finished a book called 7 in our book club, and one of the chapters was committing yourself to putting all of that social media stuff and even regular media aside for a month. the author came away so refreshed and free….although she did miss her friends and connections. i think it is so helpful-even when raising small children-to not be constantly checking everything for updates. hard…..but helpful. 🙂


  • Me too!!! I always find something to listen to in the background while I’m creating thinking I am killing two birds with one stone, not killing my creativity! I’m in. A week of less mutli-tasking and more focus. Great post Emily! x


  • So good. Just this afternoon I’ve been working on some blog stuff during my kids’ naptimes and have gotten so distracted just by “checking facebook for 2 minutes.” gaaaaaahhhhh!!! I know I would get more done if I just did 1 thing at a time. Okay – I’m in. Let’s take over the world! 😉


  • Lol ive been wondering if this was true. Guess I have to try it now. However, I did notice about a year ago my mulit tasking was becoming more a hinderance than a help.


  • Reblogged this on eclecticelite and commented:
    Multi Tasking is it really as effective as you think??? Try to not mulit task for a week with me & lets see if we become more productive! Tuesday = Day 1….


  • Hey girl, I heard a similar sentiment this weekend. In some ways, I’m not so brave to put all the distractions away. They are a crutch in many ways, you know? If a project doesn’t turn out exactly, than I have an easy out.

    But, I’ll be brave, and try it out this week. Meetcha back here on Friday. xoxo, MJ


  • Yes it can get crazy. I’ve sat down to pay some bills and now I have 4 screens open and doing everything else that I hadn’t planned to do, my mind is racing through it all… time to be mindful & finish one job at a time. And most importantly give myself time to breathe.


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