Whistling while you're pissing - A brief study of Multi-Tasking In Humans

Whistling while you're pissing - A brief study of Multi-Tasking In Humans "Never whistle while you're pissing" - Hagbard Celine

"I've done stuff, and things you've never heard of" - Ian McCulloch

In a restless urge to push the boundaries of both scientific knowledge and human experience, I have recently (as of April '00) completed an extensive and thorough subjective investigation of human multi-tasking. The subject is much neglected with some claims even being made that humans in general (and men in specific) are not capable of multi-tasking. (Comical American ex-president Gerald Ford in particular was reputed to have no multi-tasking ability). Extensive tests show that this researcher for one can walk and chew gum while also smoking a cigarette, singing and listening to a walkman.

Multi-tasking in the kitchen

One of the most common places for human multi-tasking is the kitchen. The reason for this is presumably that, to most right-minded individuals, cooking is an extremely tedious activity and the only reason for expending any intellectual effort on it whatsoever is to avoid repetitions of near-poisoning incidents when insufficient intellectual input was given to the cooking process. (For example, ordering is critical in the sequence "Cook steak. Eat steak." - this may seem obvious to some but the marine iguana actually eats its food in a raw and indigestible form then cooks it by lying in the sun on hot rocks. This may seem attractive but does not work in humans.)

A number of potential multi-tasking opportunities occur in the kitchen. In fact, famously, "a watched pot never boils" therefore you might well wish to take a shower or write a novella while it is boiling. Experience has shown that this works best if the pot being boiled contains something which will smell bad when it begins to burn. (For example pasta sauce). If you ensure that your secondary actvity (what you are doing while the pot boils) is in a room which is near enough to smell this then you will have a nasal warning when your unwatched pot has completed its boiling process and moved on to the less desirable burning and catching fire stage. An important caveat here is that if you're combining boiling a pot with taking a shower then shower with the door open so you can smell any combustion and use extreme caution when exiting the shower to extinguish the burning pot. A mistake at the "naked and sopping wet and fighting small everyday household fire" stage could radically alter your perspective on life and lead to pain in the short term and embitterment and feelings of loss in the long term.

More cautious experimenters might care to try combining washing up with other activities, for example, washing up while reading a book or eating. This sounds difficult but actually, most people are capable of washing up with just one hand while using the other hand to read or eat. It is vitally important that you do not confuse the washing up hand with the eating/reading hand. To do so could impair your enjoyment of the book/foodstuff greatly. If, like me, you strongly favour one hand (I'm very right handed and can't use my left hand for any delecate work) then I would recommend using the favoured hand for the washing up since holding a book is actually pretty easy whereas washing a knife covered in soap using only one hand is not. If you want to take a more "hands off" approach to washing up then you can simply fill a bowl with water and leave it until you've forgotten about it. This doesn't get things much cleaner but does give you the satisfaction of having all that washing up out of the way under the water where it isn't cluttering your kitchen. If you do use these washing up tips then I would advise a secondary precautionary wash (or at least rub with tea towel) before giving any washed items to guests who you like (with guests you don't like simply conceal poor washing-up with items of food or liquid).

It is not recommended that you attempt any kind of attention occupying multi-tasking while chopping vegetables or pouring boiling water.

Multi-tasking in the bathroom

The bathroom is rife with multi-tasking possibilities and, indeed, many people habitually multi-task in the bathroom. This is especially tempting since the bathroom gets peak occupancy during the morning rush hour and efficient bathroom usage can earn you those extra few minutes in bed (or, more commonly, be the difference between being 10 minutes late and only being 5 minutes late). So, what bathroom related multi-tasking is advisable and/or successful?

Many many activities can be multi-tasked with bathing - for example, eating and reading - even eating and reading simultaneously can be done while bathing quite successfully. Writing is more difficult and, until the design of the floating lap top, computing is quite out of the question. Certainly I can vouch for eating and reading in the bath as pleasurable experiences. If you memorise your face then you don't need a mirror to shave and, like me, you can shave while bathing - this is helped by having a goatee beard and helped even further by not caring much about missing the odd bit (or occasionally carving a bit off my face and bleeding copiously).

You can save a lot of the time in the shower and many other bathroom related tasks can be easily performed in the shower with only minor side effects. Shaving is obvious. If you don't mind spitting on your own feet (I don't) then toothbrushing is also fine. To really save time, you can shave and brush your teeth while your conditioner takes. Reading while in the shower is inadvisable but surprisingly, eating in the shower is perfectly fine. In a ground breaking experiment, I ate a bagel while boiling spaghetti and showering. This worked out surprisingly well. In fact by gripping the bagel between my teeth at appropriate moments I was able to shampoo while eating. The bagel was slightly damper than I would normally like but, as with many things in life, lowered expectations are your friend - as I expected the bagel to be soggy and unpleasant, finding it merely to be damp was a pleasant surprise. (The spaghetti was, however, slightly overcooked for my taste.)

Finally, and most delecately, use of the toilet can be efficiently multi-tasked. Most people choose to combine seated use of the toilet with reading (and, indeed, I am a voracious reader in this circumstance, even resorting to reading the back of shampoo bottles in the absence of other reading materials). However, the zealous multi-tasker can also eat, brush teeth and hair and remove or insert contact lenses. Brushing teeth can be difficult if the sink to spit into is distant and often the multi-tasker is placed in the difficult situation of either swallowing or holding a mouthful of toothpaste for a stressfully long time. While using the toilet standing the multi-tasking is more difficult. Indeed the time saved is so minimal that it is not really worth trying this multi-tasking. Toothbrushing is possible but unfortunate resonance effects make this only worthwhile for the devoted multi-tasker as it is a difficult skill to master. On a side note, for men interested in personal efficiency, the most efficient standing toilet sequence is to unzip while walking towards the bathroom, enter bathroom, move to bowl, begin to urinate, flush, finish urinating, wash hands, leave bathroom, zip up. Flushing as urinating begins to ends can shave fractions of a second as can zipping/unzipping on the otherwise wasted walk to/from the bathroom (unless your bathroom is large there will not be time in the walk from the bathroom door to the toilet). This may seem extreme but, assuming that one can save a half a second every urination, over the course of a life-time, one could potentially save nearly seven hours (assuming someone urinating efficiently twice a day for 70 years) which could be used for other tasks (such as writing web pages). It is, however, not recommended to use this method when visiting, unless you know the people you are visiting very well indeed.

Multi-tasking in the bedroom

Actually, the bedroom seems to be remarkably poor for multi-tasking activities. Readers are welcome to write in with their favourite bedroom multi-tasking. The only ones which spring to mind are watching TV (particularly the teletubbies) while using my rowing machine, and, of course, the old standby of visual surveillance of the plasterwork in the bedroom during intercourse (but I don't spend much of my time inspecting plasterwork in any case). Watching television during sex is not worth the effort because you won't really enjoy either.

Caveats - the failure of multi-tasking

It could well be that the belief that humans multi-task badly comes from the fact that multi-tasking ability is impared before most other abilities in the presence of alcohol or in the absence of sleep. I provide this brief cautionary tale from my personal life. After a moderate amount of drink I found myself attempting to multi-task boilng a kettle, removing my contact lenses, going to the lavatory (seated) and reading about the German assault on Stalingrad. Imagine my confusion when I found myself reeling around my hotel bedroom with my trousers around my ankles, unable to support myself because I was carrying a kettle, coffee filters, glasses and a book. Certainly this was not optimally efficient and, indeed, didn't show me at my suave and sophisiticated best.

In conclusion

Human multi-tasking is both possible and efficient in a wide variety of circumstances. The imaginative and efficient multi-tasker can escape a life-time of drudgery. Indeed, as I write this, my cooker is covered in washing up liquid doing its vital cleaning work unaided while I type, listen to music, drink coffee, watch TV, eat and consider whether or not to clear my computer desk. Any spelling and grammatical mistakes in this piece are probably attributable to my busy mind at this time.
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