Slow Motion Multitasking: Tim Harford on Creativity

In order to consistently hone my creativity and creative thinking, I vowed to watch at least one TED talk on creativity for the whole month of February. I came across with a TEDx talk by Tim Harford, and for him, the secret to creativity is ‘slow motion multitasking’.

I like that he cited a lot of examples that include the classic great minds in several disciplines, including Albert Einstein and Charles Darwin, even Archimedes during the Eureka! moment (Harford said, he may not have reached the said moment if he was not ‘taking it slow’ by taking a bath and brainstorming at the same time). His examples reminded me so much of Cal Newport (the digital minimalism guy whom I first discovered from another TEDx talk where he looks hot on his powder blue shirt lol). Anyhoo, Cal Newport also cited examples like Benjamin Franklin’s routines when he was explaining the concept of Deep Work.

While listening to Tim Harford, it reminded me of Leonardo da Vinci and Galileo Galilei. Since high school, I’ve been questioning the fact that how come they are also both scientists and artists at the same time, as if everyone can only have one expertise to identify them and nothing else. Boy, I realized I was wrong when I myself have started questioning how can I identify myself and how I can introduce myself to people.

Turns out, I actually have been practicing slow motion multitasking all along.

My full-time job is an Assistant Professor of International Relations and Southeast Asian Studies. I also call myself an artist, a photographer, an aspiring filmmaker, a traveler (like is that even a noun to identify one’s self?), among other things that I have ventured in in the past. Sure, not all aspiring artists will be as great as Vivian Maier or Diane Arbus or Anthony Bourdain or Wes Anderson, but it’s not a reason for me to consider my artistic pursuits pointless and stop doing them altogether.

I focus on the process of every artistic stuff I pursue: Are they making me happy? Are they therapeutic? Are they giving my life more meaning? As long as the answer to these three questions are yes, then I’m going to continue my slow motion multitasking until the day I die.

Learning from Twyla Tharp’s ‘Cardboard Boxes Idea’

Tim Harford’s talk introduced me to another artist, Twyla Tharp (which reminds me of Debbie Allen because of dancing!). He mentioned Twyla Tharp’s habit of having different cardboard boxes for every project she wants to pursue, so that any idea or any material thing that she comes across related to a specific project, she will keep that written idea or thing inside the corresponding cardboard box, so that nothing will be forgotten.

That’s so amazing! For the longest time, I am having a hard time organizing and taking note of my creative thoughts and ideas, so I need a system. My cardboard box can be in a form of a notebook or another organizing shit that I’m possibly yet to buy online, but whatever it is, this idea from Twyla Tharp makes sense to me.

So, being a Jack of all Trades is okay?

It always scares me the idea of not having an identity outside of my day job. Are we only supposed to be defined by what we do, and nothing beyond that? Is being a ‘master’ of something more acceptable than having multiple pursuits? (I always like getting crazy with all these kinds of philosophical thoughts for a reason ugh)

I’ve heard a lot of people demonizing the ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ idea (I’m looking at you, one of my past Law School professors), as if pursuing it will be a disaster. At the end of the day, wearing different hats means you can change outfits depending on your mood, and it makes you a more interesting person (with zero offense meant on anyone, of course).

I still see myself doing slow motion multitasking between academia, photography, and the arts in general.

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