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Thread: Reading multiple books simultaneously, and listening to music while writing: has there been any research into how this affects productivity?

  1. #1 Reading multiple books simultaneously, and listening to music while writing: has there been any research into how this affects productivity? 
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    I know the consensus is that multitasking = bad. I agree wholeheartedly.

    Has there been any research into whether reading multiple books at the same time detracts from one's absorption of the material? (Obviously not literally simultaneously; I mean reading 4-5 books at any given time, rather than waiting to finish one before beginning the next).

    And what about listening to music, say, while writing a thesis? I would imagine the best bet would be to listen to music without lyrics, but is silence better? (for being more focused, getting more done, producing better quality work, etc)


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    I know the consensus is that multitasking = bad. I agree wholeheartedly.
    Not sure that's true. There are also a number of studies which show that some multitasking, such as listening to music can improve performance, such as this analysis of school kids solving problems:
    " This paper reports two studies exploring the effects of music, perceived to be calming and relaxing, on performance in arithmetic and on a memory task in children aged 10-12. . The calming music led to better performance on both tasks when compared with a no-music condition." Taylor & Francis Online :: The Effects of Background Music on Primary School Pupils' Task Performance - Educational Studies - Volume 28, Issue 2

    Others show increased concentration for driving and behavior changes for good and bad while they listened to music.

    I'd probably qualify as ADHD (no such test existed when I was in school) and listening to music on headphones when I had to work in busy places helped tremendously.


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    Interesting, thanks for sharing. I'm surprised that music would help with ADHD, I would've guessed it'd have a worsening effect, but what do I know.
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    If you live in a quiet sub-urban environment: listening to music will hamper your concentration. Listening to music only work in noisy urban enviroment because it shift your attention away from the noise.

    Also, music influence your emotion.... and emotion effect your judgement. Eg: happy music make you buy more stuff. This can be played in supermarket to make you 'happy'.
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    Multitasking versus strong focus is something that has primarily been researched in the workplace, with the view of making people more productive.

    Within those limits, the results are unambiguous. If a person focuses on one task at a time, and finished one before starting another, they are much more productive. Those people who flick from one task to another instead, will not achieve as much.
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    Daniel Willingham is always good value for questions related to cognitive matters.

    http://www.aft.org/pdfs/americaneduc...Willingham.pdf

    The main thrust of this article is that there is always a cost when attention shifts from one task to another. (One of his main points is that we don't multi-task at all - we constantly shift attention from one to another of the 2 or more activities we're trying to do at once.)

    But when you're talking about reading a chapter or two of one book, then another and another, I think it depends a lot on what you're reading. If you find a textbook hard going and you think you need to re-read a chapter to get on top of it, it might be a good idea for some students to have a brain-break before repeating the task. If you know your eyes and your mind will glaze over if you read one more dreary sentence of something you absolutely must understand, a glass of water, a dip into a chapter of somethng easier to read or a good night's sleep might do more good than harm.

    Similarly, good time management of study projects would suggest that it's often a good idea to stop doing something that's taking too much time and effort and get another more straightforward task out of the way. Then get back to it later.

    But by and large, I agree with skeptic. If it has to be done, it has to be done. Get it over with.
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    I'd probably qualify as ADHD (no such test existed when I was in school) and listening to music on headphones when I had to work in busy places helped tremendously.
    Music probably reduces multitasking, among the easily distracted in a tense and crowded environment. I'm not sure someone listening to music while doing something else is necessarily multitasking in the first place - sometimes, for sure, but sometimes it seems more complex than that.

    Some multiple sources of input combine and enable each other - words set to a rhythm or melody, prose delivered in a context of facial expression and gesture, etc.

    Books being read contiguously can probably interfere or obstruct each others effect, but I have had the experience of finding them mutually illuminating - most recently, reading "Shop Class as Soulcraft" contiguously with "The Master and His Emissary" deepened both readings, despite their much different natures as books.
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    One person I mentioned reading several books at a time to wondered how I could keep them all in memory. The study I guess would have to separate people who were capable of reading more than one book at a time and those that are capable of concentrating on one book only without drifting (someone mentioned ADHD). Would those who could read only one at a time be the control group for the absorption of material? I don't know of a study to the effect, but heard on radio, long time ago, some report about research showing that listening to music at work improves work performance.

    I can remember only one time where I didn't listen to music while attempting to write a paper.. Result: Though I thought I understood the material better, I never finished the paper or the class(geology). I've been listening to music and listening to tv while doing homework since I was in middle-school at least.
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    I've been listening to music and listening to tv while doing homework since I was in middle-school at least.
    If you are listening to words, you are probably missing the sounds of the words of whatever you are reading - that cuts you off from a source of memory solidification and stability of comprehension.

    Homework is usually easy, and can be done half-assed without shortfall. Serious intellectual work can require the entrainment of the whole of one's mental powers for extended times - hours, at least. If you can't bear down like that, you're handicapped.
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    missing the sounds of the words of whatever you are reading
    Many adult readers don't use any "sounds of the words," as part of their comprehension of what they read. I only do so when I slow down and try to understand the emotion of a passage rather than pick up its visualization or facts.
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