It hinders straightforward productivity, but it enhances creativity.
Really interesting. Is there not perhaps a difference between switching and multi-tasking per se? When we tell students not to multi-task we are usually referring to things like watching music videos at the same time as 'studying'.
I'm not convinced that task switching is all that bad if you have expertise, though it is demanding of attention and other executive functions. After all, pro sports players are task switching all the time during a game. So probably fine for a writer (for example) as long as they feel focused and motivated. I can definitely see why there could be creativity benefits.
I think this may vary between people. I am a very mercurial type--I love lots of mental stimulus and my superpower, according to my colleagues, is synthesizing myriad inputs and finding and articulating the important stuff. When I read Cal Newport, and I finished re-reading Deep Work this morning! I sense that he has a very different kind of mind, with different superpowers. That said, I want to communicate ideas of lasting value, which is why I am re-reading Deep Work and preparing to change my habits.
I'm a firm believer in maintaining multiple (or at least two) creative projects at the same time and moving between them. But what makes me nervous here is the definition of "creativity" being used. Too often, creativity gets narrowly defined as primarily divergent thinking or, in this case, divergent (coming up with fresh options) and some convergent (selecting the best option). But there's an entire range of creative tasks and processes that don't fall into those classifications. Too often, it feels like when people talk about creativity, it is mostly ideation and not the execution or all the other areas you raise, Annie, regarding the extended mind. I have a hard time imagining writing a novel, where you have to be immersed in your fictional world, and switching out of that every five minutes but I can see the benefit if you're just brainstorming.
Wow! I wasn't expecting this - very interesting advice.
This was validating to read! I came up with a similar method for writing my dissertation. That was before smart phones, so I programmed a little Flash app with two sliders to adjust time-on-task for my two activities and ring a pleasant bell to switch. I've been doing that for about 20 years, so the method probably qualifies as "a weird old trick" by now.
I find that twitchy switching (every 5-7 minutes) is great when I get into a new task. That's because there's a lot of problem-posing and problem-solving at the beginning! However, longer intervals of 15-20 minutes work better once the direction of the new task is clearer, and I need to maintain the flow state. (See also: exploring vs. exploiting.)
I also made collections of activities that pair up well. For example, "gross motor" spatial tasks such as tidying up, climbing, and gardening work great with writing. It's a sweet feeling when words start flowing again in my mind, ready to become another paragraph on the screen, as I move around and touch stuff.
How great that for those of us whose creativity involves sitting at a desk, this ties in to our need to get up and walk around? Multitasking! LOL