An Experiment in Multitasking and Reading

Recently I watched a little documentary on Youtube called “BOOKSTORES: How to Read More Books in the Golden Age of Content” in which Max Joseph explores bookstores across Latin America while also investigating how to read more in his everyday life. I enjoyed this documentary for many reasons, so there may be several posts pertaining to it in the near future. For now, I would like to discuss the idea of quantity vs. quality when it comes to reading.

In the documentary, Max Joseph calculates how many more books he could read per year if he managed to carve out just half an hour of reading per day. A key component of this is to make it a habit, to try to pick up a book around the same time every day (such as reading before bed or on your lunch break). By making reading a routine part of your day, it will gradually feel less like a chore and more like just part of your daily routine, like putting on clothes or brushing your teeth. Then Max Joseph went to Howard Berg, the world’s faster reader, and asked him how to read faster. But by the end of the documentary, Max Joseph had reached a different conclusion: it wasn’t about how much you read, but the experience of reading and what you got out of it. 

After watching this documentary I thought about the summer of reading I have in front of me. There are roughly twelve weeks of summer until I start law school. I work an hour away from my house, which means I drive at least ten hours a week. If I listen to an audiobook while driving as well as for 30 minutes every morning while getting ready, that means I would have 12.5 hours of audiobook time each week. Multiply that by twelve weeks, and that’s 150 hours of listening to audiobooks. If the average audiobook is ten hours long, that means I could get through fifteen books this summer on my commute alone. 

Listening to audiobooks is clearly the most efficient way for me to read in terms of getting things done with a busy schedule. What better way to get reading done than while doing other things you would ordinarily do? From cleaning and doing dishes to getting ready in the morning and driving to work, listening to audiobooks allows for so much extra reading time.

So I decided to do a little experiment. To free up my nights after work, I decided to only read by listening to audiobooks as I did other things for a week. In quantity, this experiment was successful: I was able to make it through more than one book just by commuting. Yet even though I was flying through the pages as I drove, I still missed the simple act of physically reading a book. Like Max Joseph, I came to the conclusion that my love of reading cannot be separated from the experience of reading. I missed just focusing on the book I was reading rather than multitasking. I missed the relaxation it brought me, knowing that all I had to do in that moment was read. And I missed having time set aside each night after work just for that special activity that I love so much.

What’s the verdict? Personally–and this is definitely a personal preference–I’m not the kind of reader who can rely on multi-tasking alone to fully enjoy reading. I need that time to fully engage with a text, especially if it’s one that’s more difficult or longer. But this doesn’t mean that I’m going to stop listening to audiobooks; rather, I’m going to try to make more time for reading physical books, even if that is only for twenty minutes each night before bed.

Have you ever seen this documentary? What do you think of my experiment? Are you more of a multi-tasking reader or a single-focus reader? Let me know in the comments section below!



30 thoughts on “An Experiment in Multitasking and Reading

  1. I’ve been listening to audiobooks in the car for about a year, and I’ve come to really enjoy it. I don’t like listening to an audiobook at home as much, though, partly because I’m multitasking, and so I don’t absorb as much of the book that way.

    Start with a lighter audiobook for the car and see how you like it. I have found some new favorites thanks to listening to them during my commute.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post!
    I actually really enjoy both. I love sitting down with a cup of tea and just my book. But audiobooks make things like going to the gym way more enjoyable for me!
    But I do get why audiobooks might not be for you, since you won’t be actually reading!


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  3. I have a similar commute time to you, and I have definitely found myself reaching for audiobooks because I have so much less time to read physical books. I have found that I’m better off with non-fiction because it’s easier to concentrate on driving than having a plot driven book I need to focus on too much.

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  4. I don’t like listening to audiobooks for that reason. I’m always doing something else at the same time, and I don’t concentrate on the story as well because of that. I always end up having to rewind cause I missed something. Nothing will ever beat reading an actual book for me.

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  5. I love listening to audiobooks for the very reason of multitasking – It’s not often I can sit down for a long time, I’m too fidgety. Having audiobooks on while I do things like journalling is amazing for me. BUT I can’t deny I still rather read myself. And it’s too easy to not pay attention to audiobooks. Usually I use audiobooks to speed up my own reading speed – I can have the narrator on 1.75 – 2 x speed and read at the same time, and I not only get through the book quicker, but I’ll be so much more invested too having both my eyes and ears engaged!

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  6. I agree that reading more isn’t necessarily better. What are you getting out of reading more? Are you enjoying it? Are you processing and remembering what you read? Personally, I find reading a physical book relaxing and I feel like I engage with the text more than if I listen to it. Listening to audio books while doing something else may be a great way to sneak more reading into my life–but I don’t think I’d ever see it as a replacement for just sitting down at the end of a day and reading a bit.

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  7. The most interesting part of the documentary were the bookstores! I want to visit all of them, but I want to get into the Harry Potter one after hours so I don’t have to deal with the crowd.
    I’m not a fan of audiobooks (am I the last one?!) but I usually take public transportation so I can just hold a book in my hands.
    Did I just find the solution to climate change?

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  8. This is such an interesting topic! I am definitely the type of person who looooves multitasking…but I’ve also never really gotten into audiobooks. I’m not very good at focusing on auditory things in general – I need a visual in order to really pay attention. On top of that, I’m fortunate that my commute is very short (right now at least) so I wouldn’t have a whole lot of time to listen to and from work. I do like the idea of listening to audiobooks while cleaning…maybe that would actually inspire me to clean! I don’t think I will ever be able to give up actually sitting down and just reading though. It’s my most consistent form of self-care right now, the thing I use as a reward after a long day of doing things for other people. Your post has definitely made me think about a lot of things! Maybe I will give audiobooks a try after all…

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  9. Oh, I love this! My friend always has on YouTube or Netflix in the background while she reads, and I just do not understand it. Most of the time, I don’t even like music with lyrics while I read. I’m totally a fully immersed kind of reader, and multi-tasking leaves me either forgetting things or missing parts or just generally not enjoying the book.

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    1. Agreed! I hate having any sort of TV on in the background while I read. I don’t mind the sounds of a cafe or something like that where the sounds all blur together, but nothing specific!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Sounds like an interesting documentary. Haven’t seen it yet.

    I think i’m lucky cuz reading never felt like a chore. I do have a pattern though, and usually read before i go to sleep, and again when i wake up. When it’s the weekend, i sometimes read during the day too.
    Audiobooks are cool – for me it has to be a specific type of story, so i can pay attention. Mysteries and crime stuff would be hopeless… too many things happening 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I am so envious of people who can run and hear the audiobooks. Trust me I have done that and then had to reread the pages again after reaching home. I cannot do the multitasking when it comes to reading. Period.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It took me ages to get the hang of it! Personally, I found that the more I tried listening to audiobooks while doing other things, the easier it became over time. But it’s definitely not everyone’s cup of tea!


  12. I can listen to a book or podcast while doing mechanical tasks such as washing dishes or folding laundry, but that’s about it. I have tried to listen while cooking or paying bills, but my brain completely tunes the audio out as I focus on the recipe directions or the bills or any other task requiring my brain.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oooh true, I can only focus on audiobooks if I’m doing tasks that are routine– for instance, I can listen to one driving to work everyday but not driving somewhere new for the first time.


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