The secret was in my feet.
By Brad Beckstrom
Many people think they they can multitask effectively. Companies put it in job descriptions, people put on their resumes, and talk about it in interviews. Neuroscientists say that we’re not actually multitasking but quickly switching from one task to another. Even if we believe we’re getting more done, multitasking makes us less effective.
But, what if we were to combine a single focused mental task with a simple physical one? A single physical task like walking. This way we’re able to do the physical task almost from muscle memory and focus on the mental one with minimal interruption. We can also minimize interruptions by being in motion instead of sitting in an office, for example.
For me, I like to take long 1, sometimes 2 hour hikes, I also like to read, but I have this challenge of not being able to sit still for more than 30 minutes. I’ve found that if I combine audiobooks with hiking, or just taking a walk with the dog, I actually retain more of what I’ve read.
The Multitasking Experiment
This was my experiment. About three years ago, I started listening to podcasts while walking and then later added audiobooks. I quickly found that I retained more from the audiobooks than if I were to simply read a book on a Kindle or iPad. In addition spending too much time reading from a tablet after staring at a computer screen for much of the day can really add to eye strain which lowers concentration and can impact sleep. Listening to audiobooks is a nice break from the digital world.
This is especially true with long business books. Trying to get through one of these on a Kindle will have my eyes at half-mast in no time. However, listening to an audiobook read by the author or a talented narrator while on a nice walk can really help you plow through these books quicker and retain more information.
Amazon has a feature called whispersync where you can begin reading a book on the Kindle or Kindle apps and have it sync with the audiobook. You can add this feature to many books for between two and four dollars.
Many local libraries are adding apps like Overdrive that allow you to download audiobooks and eBooks for free. Due to licensing issues some popular books have long wait lists, so I found it’s best to just keep a wishlist of books you’d like to read and when they become available the app will notify you. You can download them at home before you set out on your hike so you won’t incur any data charges. Some of these books, like Winter of The World by Ken Follett, are almost 32 hours long. That’ll get you through quite a few walks while your wish list is filling up. A long book to read but you’ll find it’ll fly by on a hike.
Think about this, let’s say you want to learn more about business. In fact, your company may reimburse you for business courses books or other materials. You could choose to sit through a boring sales seminar with endless power points or choose to download one of the greatest business books ever written in audio and whispersync format. You then choose to listen to this book narrated by someone like Seth Godin while hiking or even walking on a treadmill in the dead of winter. You hear the dramatic pauses, key phrases repeated, excitement in the narrator’s voice when making a point. Which would you choose? If you choose the second option, your brain and your heart will thank you.
For fiction and nonfiction novels that are well written and narrated, I find myself becoming absorbed in the material and wanting to walk even further. As it turns out, great narration can make even a long book you may never finish into a great companion on a long walk. On Audible.com, you’ll find that narration is an important part of the quality score on many books.
Most of us have trouble finding time to get enough exercise, not to mention keeping up with reading something other than Facebook and Twitter feeds. So, by combining a mental activity with a physical one, you’re on a path to health and discovery.
Here are a few great books for a hike.
The Obstacle is the Way Ryan Holiday
The 4 hour Body Tim Ferriss
The War of Art Steven Pressfield